Why Americans Hate Politicians: Chris Christie Edition

There are elected officials who could endorse Donald Trump without disgracing themselves. But given his past positions and rhetoric, the New Jersey governor isn’t one of them.

Karen Pulfer Focht / Reuters
“Showtime is over. We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief. Showmanship is fun, but it is not the kind of leadership that will truly change America.”––Chris Christie in a speech earlier this year

Seven months ago, Chris Christie launched his presidential campaign promising straight talk. His announcement featured the proud slogan, “Telling it like it is.” During his candidacy, he repeatedly criticized Donald Trump, declaring on at least one occasion that his temperament and experience are unsuited for the White House.

“Showtime is over,” he said in January. “We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief. Showmanship is fun, but it is not the kind of leadership that will truly change America.”

ABC News notes other critiques leveled by the New Jersey governor:

“He has not the first idea of how to run a government, not the first idea,” Christie said of Trump on Feb. 7 in Hampton, New Hampshire, when he urged voters to “get off the Trump train before it’s too late.”

As a candidate, Christie ridiculed the Republican frontrunner for having a “make-believe” campaign that amounted to little more than reality TV and sought to remind voters that they aren’t electing an “entertainer-in-chief.”

“The guy who’s running first in the polls. You know it’s all make believe, right?” Christie said days ahead of the New Hampshire primary. “It’s just not real. It’s all for TV.”

“Being president is also nothing like being in a fake boardroom in Manhattan and looking across the room and saying, ‘You’re fired,’” Christie told a town hall in the days before the Iowa Caucuses.

Now Christie has endorsed Donald Trump at the very moment when doing so appears to be the best option for advancing his own political prospects. As Josh Barro observed:

The incentive to get in with Trump is EVEN STRONGER than with a normal presumptive nominee. Most nominees have an entourage already: Senate staff, state house aides, large campaign staff, longtime political allies. When you endorse a normal candidate, you’re getting in line behind all those people for jobs. With Trump, you’re at the front of the line. Chris Christie has made himself, instantly and by a large margin, Trump’s most important ally. No endorser can do that with Rubio.

It’s hard to know whether Christie’s bygone attacks on Trump, or his more recent extravagant praise of the candidate, did more to mislead the public about his core beliefs (if he actually has any). But his attempt to square his past statements with his present position on This Week with George Stephanopolous confirms that his words then and now cannot be credibly reconciled.

This is what it looks like for a man to disgrace himself:

For more on the substantive incompatibility between Trump and Christie, here’s Jonah Goldberg:

Christie spent a year telling the world that the entitlement crisis is the gravest threat to the future of the country (for instance, in the January 14 debate: “The reason why no one wants to answer entitlements up here is because it’s hard”). But the day after Trump insisted that we don’t need to touch entitlements and that we can balance the budget by finding “waste, fraud and abuse” and eliminating Common Core, Christie comes out and celebrates Trump as the guy the country needs. Christie boasted constantly about the need to tell the American people hard truths and he endorsed the guy who tells little more than easy lies. What a profile in courage.

And here’s Jonathan Chait:

When you look at the two of them on the surface, Donald Trump and Chris Christie look a lot alike. They are blustering northeastern Republicans with a bullying style that substitutes for a lack of conventionally attractive communication skills. When you look a bit beneath the surface, they diverge:

Christie is a doctrinaire neoconservative on foreign policy and an ally of the donor class on trade and retirement programs who has eloquently defended Muslim rights. Trump has attacked neoconservative shibboleths in shockingly blunt terms, alienated Republican donors by embracing crude protectionism, promised not to touch retirement spending, and steeped himself in anti-Muslim bigotry.

I find it hard to respect scores of politicians who mislead the public in a manner that has no apparent purpose beyond political advantage. Unusually, however, even some of Christie’s closest political allies are publicly voicing disgust. Meg Whitman, the national finance co-chairman of his presidential campaign, put it this way:

Donald Trump is unfit to be president. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears. Trump would take America on a dangerous journey. Christie knows all that and indicated as much many times publicly. The governor is mistaken if he believes he can now count on my support, and I call on Christie’s donors and supporters to reject the governor and Donald Trump outright. I believe they will.

For some of us, principle and country still matter.

Said South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley: "Chris is a dear friend, but none of us understand why he did this."

The New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed Christie. Its publisher, Joe McQuaid, said that he called the New Jersey governor after hearing rumors that he would endorse Trump. The Hill quoted McQuaid: “I sent a message off to Gov. Christie and he called me back and… he said, ‘No, no, I would never do that.' He told me to tell the other guy to ‘take his head out of his ass’ for saying he would support Trump.”

The New York Times reports:

Tucker Martin worked for the “super PAC” that supported Mr. Christie, but last week joined the conservatives expressing blanket opposition to Mr. Trump with the hashtag #nevertrump. “I was honored to support Governor Christie, and I believed he would make a great president,” Mr. Martin said. “But I absolutely and unequivocally disagree with his endorsement of Donald Trump.”

In Commentary, longtime Christie supporter Noah Rothman vents his disgust and feeling of betrayal:

Chris Christie set his legacy on fire... endorsing the most unfit man to seek the presidency in my lifetime for the highest office in the land, Christie’s base careerism and disregard for the nation were exposed. Gone was the prosecutor who had ruthlessly fought corruption in New Jersey. In his place was a man defending Trump’s handling of the scam operation Trump University, which pitilessly bilked thousands out of their savings. Gone was the man who had scolded conservatives for indulging to bigotry by presuming an American Muslim jurist had to be an advocate for Sharia Law. Instead, there stood a figure linking arms with a demagogue who had proposed banning any Muslim entry into the United States... Gone was the “straight talker” who “tells it like it is.” In his place is a man endorsing a serial compulsive liar who seems constitutionally incapable of honesty about himself, his record, or his beliefs, and who tells outrageous and slanderous lies about the heroes of his country and of his party...

For another few fleeting moments in the intoxicating light of the cable news cameras, Chris Christie has sacrificed every principle for which he once stood. Christie will spend the remainder of the campaign season aggressively compromising his integrity and shouting down anyone who refuses to abide the intolerable stench of hypocrisy that now accompanies his presence. This is a man who pounded the table when the facts were with him. Imagine the spectacle we will be forced to witness now that they’re not.

Being publicly criticized and called an unprincipled liar by allies is an unusually heavy price to pay for an endorsement, especially when endorsing a candidate who called you a liar earlier in the campaign––Trump declared that the New Jersey governor knew his aides were plotting to needlessly shut down a bridge to settle a political score.

Now Trump and Christie praise one another, and both men talk about how they’ve been close friends for more than a decade. Do you treat any friends like they treat each other? Politicians: They’re not like us. Don’t forget that the next time a man like Christie looks you in the eye and asks you to believe that he’s being truthful.