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My (Imaginary) Conversation with Chris Christie
Plus: Our friends have some bad takes
First a confession: I was once a fan of Chris Christie’s distinctive brand of porcine pugilism. Over the years, he refined his in-your-face bullying style into a kind of performance art. And, in another life, I was very much there for it.
But that was before he turned himself into Trump’s hostage-cum-shine-box-flunky. You remember the scene:
None of that worked out well for him. Here’s Michael Barbaro (who has since gone on to podcast glory), in March 2016:
What, you might ask, could be worse than a thoroughly failed presidential candidate returning home as a lame-duck governor to a $10 billion budget deficit and a recalcitrant legislature?
Chris Christie is finding out.
In a remarkably swift descent, Mr. Christie’s endorsement of Donald J. Trump for president, his repeated side-by-side appearances with the real estate mogul and his adoring, 31-minute televised gaze at him on Tuesday night have turned the Republican governor into the subject of unusually biting and intense ridicule.
Fast forward. Last week, Christie gave a speech that was widely noted for what looked like a pretty decisive-ish break with Trump. "We need to renounce the conspiracy theorists and the truth deniers,” he said. “The ones who know better and the ones who are just plain nuts." He didn’t name names, but the message seemed clear enough to win him permanent exile from the MAGAverse.
His speech, though, left obvious questions: How deep would he wade into genuine independence from Trump?
On Friday’s podcast with Tom Nichols, we discussed the problem of Christie (starting at about 46:15 here). I admitted having mixed feelings. It’s hard to overstate the impact of his sycophantic enabling of Trump’s candidacy, and then of his presidency. He had more than five years to speak out… and didn’t. So the opportunism is unsubtle.
What Christie said is necessary: the GOP has to step away from the crazy. As Nichols noted, Christie’s call was “coming from inside the house,” and it may take someone like Christie to tell the rubes that they are being played. Matt Bai makes a similar point.
Christie can never be fully exonerated for his role in bringing the hateful margins of our politics into the mainstream. But if all those Never-Trumpers can’t do a thing to loosen Trump’s hold on the party, then maybe only a pro-Trumper can.
And maybe it takes a Bully to take on the Orange Bully. If Chris Christie does, in fact, go Full Chris Christie, he could pose a challenge within the GOP that DJT has not faced until now. Trump has climbed to power on the backs of wimps and weaklings. But what if he had to deal with someone who would stick a finger back into his gelatinous chest?
We don’t know, because it hasn’t been tried.
So I tried to imagine how my conversation with Christie might go. Probably something like this:
“Governor Christie, thanks for coming today.
“Fuck you, and everything you did, you pathetic fucking sell-out. What the fuck did you think would happen? What the fuck were you doing standing there like a total asshat? Aren’t you embarrassed?”
But having vented, I’d say:
“I’m listening, and I’m going to watch.”
It was Nichols who added: “All I want to know, when the blowback comes: Are you going to go Liz Cheney, or you going to go Nikki Haley?”
Christie’s third option is to go back to that fucking beach where he sat on the fucking lawn chair.
The early returns aren’t encouraging. As our colleague Amanda Carpenter notes in today’s Bulwark, his tough new line “didn’t even cut it through the weekend.”
The nice things Christie had to say about the “need to have the difficult conversations with each other” and the “need to engage each other again” melted down like an ice cream cone at a private “Governor’s Only” beach party when Roland Martin confronted Christie on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
“I appreciate the speech, governor, but the reality is this,” Martin said. “You have to admit the role that you played in putting the person in leadership who is driving conspiracy theories. It’s one thing to condemn them after the fact, but you have to own up to the role that you played in putting the person in power.”
It did not go well.
Christie, who should have expected just this kind of blowback, seemed oddly taken aback and his response was defensive and thin-skinned. As Amanda writes:
Christie’s response: “First off, I don’t have to admit anything to you.”
Martin pressed on:
When a person has principles, morals and values, they do not support then even if you lose. . . . And what they say is, I choose patriotism and country over party and power. And the problem was, too many Republicans chose power and riding with Donald Trump, as opposed to patriotism and America.
Christie’s response: “I will sleep fine tonight with you judging my morals.”
So much for bold, blunt “passionate engagement.”
It turns out that the bully can’t take a punch. Who knew?
Our friends had some takes.
Over at the Daily Beast, our spirit animal Matt K. Lewis writes: “Biden Makes Like DeSantis and Tries to Bully the Locals.”
“I’m pro-vaccine and believe they save lives,” he writes. “In this regard, Biden’s objective is much nobler. But in principle, both examples are equally pernicious. [Emphasis added.] DeSantis was telling private businesses that they could not implement a vaccine requirement. Biden is trying to use the force of government to compel private businesses to enforce his policy preference.”
Lewis’s attempt at drawing a moral equivalency between Biden and DeSantis reminds me of William F. Buckley’s famous quip:
"To say that we and the Soviet Union are to be compared is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes the old lady into the way of an oncoming bus and the man who pushes [her] out of the way … are both people who push old ladies around."
Over at the Dispatch, Jonah Goldberg (who has been a strong and consistent advocate of vaccines) was also critical of Biden’s speech last week, accusing him of trying to “change the subject.”
Hard-hearted cynics might say that Biden reversed course to change the subject from the debacle in Afghanistan and his sagging poll numbers, particularly as we head into the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Well, the hard-hearted cynics are right.
Jonah concedes that some other things might have been at play here… including the fact that thousands of Americans are dying every day.
I’m sure there are other motivations at play. Human beings rarely admit to themselves that cynical self-interest is their only reason for doing something. We like to gussy up our baser instincts with high-minded rationalizations. And there are plenty of such rationalizations available. More than 1,000 people are dying every day. The economy is sputtering in the face of the Delta variant. Getting people vaccinated is in the public interest. [Emphasis added.]
Actually, the 7-day average of deaths is now more than 1,600 deaths a day from COVID — the equivalent of the 9/11 deaths every two days. Meanwhile:
So… maybe a presidential course reversal is not a distraction, after all?
Finally, our good friend John Podhoretz writes that Biden’s speech was a “Rube Goldberg message aimed at neurotic vaccinated people. Biden was saying that they shouldn’t worry … but if they’re worried, their worries are justified.” [Emphasis added.]
But are the vaccinated really neurotic for worrying about the unvaccinated? Here’s a worthwhile thread on the question of whether we should care:
I’ve unrolled the thread:
So if you are fully vaccinated, why should you care?
1. Hospitals full of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. Don't have room for people who have appendicitis, heart attacks, or a car accident
2. Spikes in cases shut down schools, which is terrible for kids and parents
3. Raging infections shut down restaurants, stores, make it hard for folks to get people back to offices
4. High infection rates put vulnerable people who can't get immunity at risk. Pandemics sicken and kill a lot of people But they also disrupt the social fabric
The idea that the vaccinated can get back to normal while unvaccinated are getting sick in massive numbers? It’s a fantasy. Seems right only if you don't think about it But the disruption of large scale outbreaks affects us all
We should get people vaccinated because:
1. The unvaccinated are our friends, our neighbors and we should care
2. It will keep hospitals open for everyone
3. It'll protect the vulnerable And it'll let us get back to our lives & spend less time worrying about the pandemic Fin
Plus, the variants, the breakthroughs… So… not neurotic?
Yeah, social media has fueled our polarization.
Big new study out today from NYU’s Stern School is very much worth your time.
Some critics of the social media industry contend that widespread use of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube has contributed to increased political polarization in the United States. But Facebook, the largest social media platform, has disputed this contention, saying that it is unsupported by social science research. Determining whether social media plays a role in worsening partisan animosity is important because political polarization has pernicious consequences. We conclude that social media platforms are not the main cause of rising partisan hatred, but use of these platforms intensifies divisiveness and thus contributes to its corrosive effects.
Trump-Era Corruption Eclipses Even Teapot Dome
Casey Michel writes that the legendary Tea Pot Dome Scandal, which originated 100 years ago, involved Americans paying off Americans. Trump’s corruption is transnational.
All told, Teapot Dome was, as Walsh recounted, “the most stupendous piece of thievery known to our annals, or perhaps to those of any other country.” And for a century, he was right. Nothing—no administration, no presidency—could top Teapot Dome’s legacy of outright fraud, or of outright abuse of the public trust.
Until, that is, Donald Trump. A century on, it’s clear that Teapot Dome is no longer the lodestar of presidential larceny, the shorthand for shortchanging the public, the metric against which all other corruption scandals are compared. Thanks to the reign of Donald Trump, the United States now has a new yardstick against which all future administrations will be measured—and an insight into just how much corruption has changed over the past century.