Donald Trump is vetting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a potential vice presidential running mate, and according to the Washington Post’s Robert Costa and Karen Tumulty, Christie is internally viewed as one of the top two contenders for the job (along with Newt Gingrich).
Picking Christie would seemingly make some sense for the billionaire. He has governing experience, which could reassure voters who think Trump is a political novice. He famously endorsed Trump when hardly any other Republicans had, which makes him a loyal subordinate. And though Christie’s presidential campaign never really took off, he repeatedly demonstrated his skill as an attack dog — most memorably when he provoked Marco Rubio’s debate meltdown.
But oh, does Christie have weaknesses. He is incredibly unpopular in his own state. Personality-wise and regionally, he adds nothing to the ticket, since, like Trump, he is a loud and obnoxious Northeasterner. Social conservatives don’t like him. And a Christie pick could undercut Trump’s attempts to attack Hillary Clinton for various scandals, since two of the governor’s former aides are scheduled to be on trial for their alleged involvement in Bridgegate at the height of the fall campaign.
Who is Chris Christie?
Born and raised in New Jersey, Christie became a lawyer and a well-known figure in the state’s Republican circles in the 1990s. He made a few brief and mostly unsuccessful bids for local office during that decade, but he got his big break during the 2000 election, when he became a major fundraiser for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign. When Bush won the presidency, he accordingly rewarded Christie with the job of US attorney for New Jersey — even though Christie had never practiced criminal law.
Christie served as US attorney from 2002 to 2008, and he became a star. Appointed shortly after 9/11, he had a few high-profile terror prosecutions (some of which have proved controversial). But the foundation of his future political career was really built on his prosecutions and convictions of about 130 public officials, which established him as a corruption fighter in the infamously crooked state and led him to win the governorship in 2009.
Policy-wise, Gov. Christie cut public workers’ pensions and refused to raise taxes, though many of his proposals were blocked or watered down by a Democratic legislature. But he really became known for his combative personal style — he was willing to insult constituents, political rivals, and even his Republican allies whenever they crossed him.
Christie's popularity soared after he led New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy, one of the worst disasters in the state's history, in 2012. The following year he was reelected in a landslide, and his success in a blue state seemed to position him as a top contender for the 2016 presidential nomination.
But in January 2014, news of the Bridgegate scandal broke and badly damaged his reputation. Emails revealed that a few months prior, Christie administration officials had intentionally created a massive traffic jam in the town of Fort Lee by closing down two key access lanes to a major bridge for a contrived reason. (The true reason was apparently to get political payback against the town’s mayor.) Investigations ensued, and eventually two of his (now ex-) aides were indicted for conspiracy, while another pleaded guilty to similar charges. No evidence has emerged indicating that Christie was personally involved, but this and other scandals involving top aides made his administration appear lawless and corrupt.
So when Christie actually ran for president this cycle, he was badly damaged, and accordingly his candidacy never got off the ground. He had little impact on the trail until a pivotal moment in a debate just days before the New Hampshire primary. There, he launched an extremely effective attack on Marco Rubio, who had been trending upward in polls of the state, for constantly repeating a "memorized 25-second speech" — an attack Rubio immediately vindicated by repeating the same line three times in four minutes.
Rubio ended up finishing fifth in New Hampshire — ahead of Christie, who then dropped out of the race, but well behind Trump, who won his first convincing victory. And just two weeks later, Christie stunned the GOP establishment by becoming Trump’s most high-profile endorser yet, giving the outsider billionaire a key validation before the Super Tuesday contests. Since then, Christie has frequently (and sometimes comically) been at Trump’s side during campaign events, and was named to lead Trump’s transition team.
The pros of vice presidential nominee Chris Christie
Christie has several major strengths as a VP contender: governing experience, attack dog skills, and loyalty to Trump himself.
As far as political experience goes, Christie is a two-term governor who’s also spent seven years in the Justice Department as New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor. (Oddly enough, while in that role he prosecuted Ivanka Trump’s future father-in-law Charles Kushner, a developer and major Democratic fundraiser, which could be a pro or a con depending on how Trump looks at it.) It’s not clear whether Trump believes his own lack of governing experience is a problem for his campaign — he may think it’s a strength! — but Christie could conceivably reassure some swing voters who might think Trump is too untested.
What would likely be even more appealing to Trump is Christie’s famous pugnacity. The governor became well-known for responding to criticism with insults and derision, often on the fly, creating many YouTube-ready moments. Trump reportedly believes the fall campaign will mainly be won or lost in the media, and he may think Christie’s skill with attacks and quips could get him a lot of media attention.
Additionally, there’s Christie’s loyalty to Trump; he went out on a limb to endorse Trump before Super Tuesday and has been a key booster ever since. It’s never good to have a VP who would backstab the presidential candidate, but Christie seems to have hitched his fortunes to Trump, for good or ill. (Still, Trump would do well to remember how Christie suddenly became a huge fan of Barack Obama just days before the 2012 election.)
And Christie has one more big point in his favor: Unlike many other big names in the Republican world, he’d probably say yes. Trump is both very controversial within his party and viewed as very unlikely to actually win, so other GOP rising stars could well shy away from joining his ticket, fearing that they’d be brought down with the ship.
The cons of of vice presidential nominee Chris Christie
Christie’s selection certainly wouldn’t bring any regional balance to the ticket — or temperamental balance. He’s a loudmouthed jerk from the Northeast, just like Trump. The Northeast is a region that Hillary Clinton is very likely to win, so there likely wouldn’t be many state-specific electoral gains. And a Trump-Christie ticket would almost certainly be the yellingest presidential ticket of all time.
Furthermore, there’s the not-small problem that Christie is incredibly unpopular both in his own state and nationally. Since Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most unpopular presidential nominees in recent memory, it would seem to be a good idea to pick a running mate that people actually like or are at least neutral about. Christie wouldn’t even really help unify the party, since social conservatives have never really trusted him.
The biggest drawback of all, though, is Bridgegate. Trump’s main attack on Hillary Clinton is that she is "crooked." Yet two of the governor’s aides are scheduled to face trial for their alleged involvement in Bridgegate starting in September.
This could look really ugly. Does Trump really want to have to respond to an endless array of Bridgegate questions? Will the Democrats counter "Crooked Hillary" with the alliterative "Crooked Christie" (or just "Crooked Chris")? Mitt Romney’s vice presidential vetting team concluded that Christie had too many possible skeletons in his closet even before Bridgegate. And Trump has enough legal problems already with the Trump University suit. Adding Christie’s problems to the ticket might be, er, a bridge too far.