Chris Christie Lets Loose on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ivanka and Jared, 2020 and...Meatloaf

Chris Christie, ocasio-cortez, trump, 2020, kushner
Former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie visits 'The Daily Briefing With Dana Perino' at Fox News Channel Studios on January 30 in New York City. Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Chris Christie is a man of Donald Trump’s ilk. Both grew up in the shadows of Manhattan, dreaming of the riches that come with success and notoriety. Both are boisterous but make up for their bombast with a certain charm. And both men always take it personally.

Their political paths diverged starkly from there. Trump became president, while Christie, once America’s favorite bully, saw his White House ambitions engulfed in scandal over, of all things, a traffic jam. The two-term governor of New Jersey ended his tenure as the least popular chief executive in state history, after being fired from running Trump’s transition team.

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, Christie’s thirst for vengeance reaches Princess Bride levels in Let Me Finish, his first book, published by Hachette this week. The book works to settle scores with former Trump strategist Steve Bannon and the president’s current adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Christie calls Bannon “the only person I have ever met who can look pretentious and like an unmade bed at the very same time.” Kushner, he writes, was a serial salad eater (this, apparently, serves as an insult in Christie world).

Much worse, he says, was the time Kushner killed his vice presidential prospects. Kushner apparently told Trump that Christie, as U.S. attorney, “tried to destroy my father” by prosecuting Charles Kushner for tax evasion and witness tampering in the early 2000s. The president’s son-in-law, Christie writes, later had Bannon fire him from the transition team. He believes his dismissal led to two years of disarray in the White House.

Christie, however, says he wrote the book to show everyday Americans how to overcome serious lows. He spoke with Newsweek about the president, the Boss (Christie is a fanatical Bruce Springsteen fan) and keeping the door open to another White House bid—in 2024, of course.

Chris Christie, ocasio-cortez, trump, 2020, kushner Former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie visits 'The Daily Briefing With Dana Perino' at Fox News Channel Studios on January 30 in New York City. Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Why did you write this book now?

I wanted to write a book for a long time but I was ethically precluded to do it as governor of New Jersey. After Hurricane Sandy, there was a lot of interest in a book, but before I signed any contract with anybody I ran it by my ethics guy and they came back to me and said I couldn’t write a book. So it’s been in my mind since 2013 and then life just got more and more interesting from there, so after that “Bridgegate” happened and after that I ran for president and after that I endorsed Donald Trump for president and now I’ve been involved in being an adviser to him over the last two years.

So it was screaming out to me that there were more and more reasons to write a book and I wanted to tell people the truth about how I see things, because I think that’s what they expect from me given the way I conduct myself in public. I hope to inspire people a little bit as they read the story so they see that everything in my life has not been a straight line up, there have been some down moments and some high moments, and that if you stay persistent, things usually work out. This book is about me saying, I have run, and I know what life can dish at you: both incredibly positive, amazingly ego-satisfying moments and other moments that are just soul crushing.l

Did you write this book as a new beginning?

No, I like where I am. I didn’t feel like I needed a new beginning. I’m back in the private sector now, and I’m making money for the first time in a long time [Christie’s salary as New Jersey governor was $175k] and I’m back being a much more present father as my two youngest children get ready to go to college. Once I didn’t win the presidency I felt the clock ticking on my time as a father. I also knew that all the money I had saved from working in the private sector before my 16 years of public life was gone. So I needed to replenish that. I’m happy where I am right now, I wasn’t sure I would be but a year into private life I’m pretty happy where I am. That doesn’t mean I won’t go back to public life at some point and part of the title "let me finish" is a little bit of a wink to that.  

The way I see it is, to go back to this administration, it would have to be something very, very special.

Some people are saying you wrote this book because you do want a role in this administration…

No. I think if people look at what I’ve said no to, like I could have been in the Cabinet from the beginning of this administration—I got offered secretary of Labor, I got offered secretary of Homeland Security, I got offered special assistant to the president, all of these things during the transition period after I’d been fired. So no, I don’t have any desire to be in the administration. I told the president right from the beginning, I only want two jobs: vice president or attorney general. I’m not interested in anything else and I think I’ve been pretty true to that, I’ve been offered three Cabinet positions, a White House staff job, we talked about chief of staff five weeks ago. Four or five years from now, things might be different but right now my priorities are clear.

Do you think Trump is going to run again in 2020?

I could certainly see one day the president standing up and saying, “You know what? I don’t want to do this anymore.” And, because he’s not somebody who’s been in politics his whole life and it’s not part of his fiber, I think it would be much easier for him to walk away than for other people to.

Is he considering that now?

I don’t think so. What happens to him is when the times are toughest, that’s when he digs in. The chances of him not running would be much more because he’s bored and bored by the trivia of the job. Then he would walk away. When people push him, he pushes back. So at a moment where he’s had a bad six or seven weeks, this is when he’s like “I’ll show them.”

Was the shutdown a mistake?

It was a mistake, and I told him that at the time.

How frequently do you speak with the president?

I speak to the president once every few weeks. I call him or he calls me, I usually call him in the evenings in the residence. I’ll give him a call and see how he’s doing and check in on him and sometimes it’s because I have an opinion that I want to share with him and sometimes it’s not about business, I ask him how he’s doing, what he’s watching.

In the book you say that the president didn’t want to plan the transition, that he wanted to wing it…Has his attitude changed?

He now knows that wasn’t possible. He said that a couple of times during the campaign, when I sat down with him to plan things, he thought it was bad karma to work on the transition, he saw my book [of transition plans] and said I shouldn’t be doing it. And then he said to me, “Chris, come on, you and I are so smart, you know when we can work on the transition? We’ll leave the victory party two hours early.” I looked at him and said, “If only it were that easy but don’t worry, I’m handling it for you.” That’s what’s so disappointing about what happened, because we had a day-one plan, a hundred-day plan, a plan for every week of the transition. We have three people for every Cabinet and senior staff position fully publicly vetted and executive orders written based upon what he said he wanted to do. All of that, and I mean all of it, was thrown in the trash.

You have kids, would you let them work for you?

No. I wouldn’t, not in public life. Here’s what I think about families working in public life: There can be circumstances where they make a mistake and then you’d have to fire them. And it’s hard to fire a relative and then have Thanksgiving with them. I know Trump came from the background of a family business that had no shareholders and no board of directors, so I understand it in that context but I think it’s very difficult when you do it in public life because you’re also going to be much more sensitive to any criticism of your children than of any other staffer. Now, I never liked when any of my staffers were criticized but I can only imagine if it were my son or daughter or their spouses. I’d be like “who the hell are you criticizing, you don’t even know them.” I could see myself getting my back up.

The president and I disagree on this, and I’ve talked to him about it. I’ve said, “You made the decision to bring your children to the White House in jobs and I just think that it makes life more difficult for the president and impossible for whoever the chief of staff is.” Because the chief of staff can’t have those folks report to him, because in the end if they don’t like the decision of the chief of staff they’re just going to go the president because they can. Because they’re with him on the weekend or they’re with him at dinner in the evening and the chief of staff isn’t.

So you think Jared Kushner is there to stay in the White House?

I don’t see any indication that Jared and Ivanka are any less committed to being in the administration and being in Washington than on the first day.

Is the president worried about being primaried by his party in 2020?

I think he’s always keeping an eye on it, and he’s doing everything he can at the Republican National Committee and other places to preclude it. Right now I think it would be folly for anybody to decide to run against the president, the president would win any primary over any opponent I can think of.

But even if he makes it through, a primary doesn’t bode well for a second term win in the general…

Well sure, it has often happened that way for serious primary challengers. There was Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford so there is that history and I think the president and his people are aware of that. They want to make sure there is no primary. What I think is, no matter what intra-party disagreements people have with the president, he is still the leader of the party and in the last poll I saw said his popularity among Republicans is 81 percent.

I think it’s highly unlikely under the current set of circumstances that the president will get primaried but circumstances in politics always change and you’d have to re-evaluate then but right now I don’t see it that way.

When you look at the Democratic field, who has the best shot at winning in 2020?

I think that if Joe Biden decides to run, he will be a formidable challenger because of his years of service and because of all the chips that he's collected across the Democratic Party over all those years. I think Vice President Biden is a legitimate candidate, he’s one of the people who could challenge the president in those white working class areas in Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, places the president needs to win. In terms of age, however, the vice president will have to prove that he’s up to the challenge and a campaign forces you to prove that.

What’s your take on Howard Schultz?

Run, Howard, Run! Republicans got this done to us by Ross Perot in 1992 and it’s time to have the Democrats have it happen to them. If 28 years later, it turns out Howard Schultz is the new Ross Perot then I’m all for it. Let’s go.

Let’s talk about climate change. How do you feel about the president’s denials?

We never talk about it, I’ve made my position clear that I think climate change is real and I think that human behavior contributes to it and we have to deal with that issue. I think that, and I’m kind of reading his mind here. There’s a lot of economic impetus behind the president’s denial of climate change and that he really feels for the people in West Virginia and the coal industry and I think that some of it is a means to an end for him, and some of it is to try to keep that industry going and keep those people employed.  

But when you weigh the cost of climate change versus the cost of regulating the coal industry…

Well I don’t know that he has is the point. Look, in New Jersey I closed all the coal plants. When I left office we were the second largest solar-producing state in the country and those were all initiatives I put forward to deal with that. I took concrete actions as governor to deal with that issue, to move the state towards what I thought were affordable and workable replacements for coal.

How do you feel about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

There ain’t nothing moderate about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I think it’s really fascinating that you have people in the Democratic Party, and this is what gives me great hope as a Republican, who are essentially advocating socialist policies like Medicare for all, 70 percent tax rates while we’re watching Venezuela implode. You just have to be a thinking, breathing human and look at what happened in Venezuela and the old Soviet states. Socialism just doesn’t work to me as a moral incentive for people to want to improve themselves. And I think it’s ridiculous when someone like Ocasio-Cortez says that being a billionaire is immoral.

So what are your thoughts on her proposed tax on income over $10 million?

We keep playing around with penalizing people for success. I don’t want to penalize people for success. In New Jersey, we have the most progressive income tax of any state in the country, the top 1 percent of our state, when I left office, paid 58 percent of the income tax. How much more fair do you want to be? Where is the number? Is it 70 percent is it 80 percent? At some point it seems to be that penalizing success is just bad for society in general. So I look at folks like Ocasio-Cortez and I say to myself, advocate for that if you want but I don’t believe anywhere near a majority of Americans are in the position where they’re going to say “I don’t want to be rewarded for my success.”

But national polling shows that the majority of Americans are OK with a marginal tax on income over $10 million.

Sure, everybody is OK with taxing somebody else. But when you explain to them that this will create disincentives for opportunity and you may not get your chance, things change.

But the majority of these people will never come anywhere close to making $10 million

Listen, in New Jersey, a lot of people are making that much—relatively speaking. The fact is, those people are the most mobile and will find a way to get their money out of here. The banks in the Cayman Islands got creative for a reason, because people were looking to avoid taxes. And I don’t advocate that but it’s a reality of life. I think that when there’s a robust conversation about that, if there is, depending upon who the Democratic nominee is in 2020, I think that Americans will reject that.

What Bruce Springsteen song best sums up the current political landscape?

“Rosalita.” Because just remember the line, “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.”

Tell me about the meatloaf incident when you visited the president.

The president ordered meatloaf for me and I was fine with that because we had ordered meatloaf together a number of times during the campaign and at Mar-a-Lago, where they have a great meatloaf. That was much different than when he ordered me scallops and lamb, I’m allergic to one and hate the other. I would never do that, order for someone else.

2024?

Oh god, who knows. I’m not ruling it out. I’m 56 years old, I’m not going to rule anything out. I still have a lot of life to live and a lot to contribute and Let Me Finish is about saying, “I’m not done yet.” I don’t know how that will manifest itself, whether it’s an appointed position or an elected position, but I’m not done yet. 

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