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Katz on Christie

A regular blog that keeps tabs on the activities and fortunes of our renowned Governor, Chris Christie.
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Dear Mr. Trump: Why You Should -- And Should Not! -- Make Christie Your Running Mate

Matt Katz | July 13, 2016

Dear Mr. Trump,

I wrote a book about one of the few people you're considering to be your vice presidential nominee, Chris Christie. Yes, I know, your books have sold many more copies. But I still might be able to help you with something. Here's my unsolicited memo to you on why you should pick Christie. And why you shouldn't.

WHY YOU SHOULD PICK CHRISTIE

Loyalty:  Sure, Christie ran against you for president. He referred to you as a carnival barker and disparaged your major policy positions as ridiculous. But since he dropped out of the race and endorsed you, Christie has defended you more than any other single elected official. He has explained away some of your more outrageous comments, and turned the fire back on the media. Once he committed to you, he committed to you emphatically -- and much to his own immediate political peril in New Jersey. (Of course, he still wants to be president, so you may want to check out "House of Cards," Season 2.)

Dog-whistling: Looking for someone who is, like yourself, willing to anger communities of color and send a dog-whistle to racists if it means short-term political gain? Christie was once known as a Republican who reached out to black and Hispanic communities. He worked with the NAACP on a bail reform bill and signed a measure into law that allowed illegal immigrants, mostly Latin American, to qualify for in-state college tuition. But as you injected racially-tinged rhetoric into the 2016 campaign, Christie followed suit. To wit: He said Black Lives Matter inspires cop killers and those who visit the country on visas should be tracked like FedEx packages. He tried to block Syrian refugees, including orphaned children, from settling in New Jersey. As a result, in the past year he has lost hard-earned support in the black, Muslim and Latino communities. 

Establishment connections: Republican politicians and donors from the so-called establishment distrust you or despise you. Enter, Christie. He is a former bundler for President George W. Bush, a former chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a former regular in the high-powered green room of MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Christie has deep ties to Wall Street and has raised money in almost all of the states in the country. He is the Republican establishment, but he won't come off to your supporters as stuffy. 

Workingman's cred: Christie is not blue-collar. Aside from a stint pumping gas in high school, he has never gotten his hands dirty. But he can get along with anyone from all walks of life. He is a genuine sports fanatic, he loves rock 'n roll (130-plus Bruce Springsteen shows and counting), and he can talk smack with the best of them. In short: He'll help with the Regular Guy image that you are tenuously holding onto. 

Energy: Christie will wake up at the crack of dawn to travel to whatever corner of the country he needs to in order to pick up votes. All the way there, he'll work the phones to woo donors. He'll be back in New York for prime-time TV interviews, dropping attack bombs on Hillary Clinton that will be more vicious and eloquent than anything you could muster. And he'll stay up past midnight reading strategy memos and reviewing attack ads. He needs little sleep. He runs on ambition. 

Bipartisan reputation: Christie once bro-hugged President Obama because of the assistance provided by the federal government after Sandy. He has a record of compromising with Democrats in his first term as governor. His most important political ally in New Jersey is a Democratic political boss, George Norcross (who also happens to be an old golf partner of yours). Christie comes from the pragmatic, not ideological, school of politics. As do you. In a general election -- when independent voters have great sway — Christie's moments of nonpartisanship can be wielded effectively against a "liberal" Democratic ticket.

Brilliant political tactician: Christie loves the game, and he can play it just about as well as anyone. He knows polls, fundraising, media strategy, Twitter and getting out the vote. He strategizes, friends say, several steps ahead. Of course, you'd have to listen to his advice once in a while. 

WHY YOU SHOULDN'T PICK CHRISTIE

Bridgegate is more of a problem than Christie has probably told you: The week after Labor Day is often considered the beginning of the presidential campaign, when America really starts paying attention. This year, it is also when Christie's former deputy chief of staff and one of his top Port Authority appointees go on trial. They face federal criminal charges and years in prison, and part of their defense will be calling into question Christie's insistence that he knew nothing about this crazy revenge-fueled traffic jam. Not only may Christie be called as a witness, but the trial will be held just miles from the media capital of the world, New York City. In other words: More reporters than you can imagine will be there, and Bridgegate could derail the narrative of your campaign for days or more. There's also the possibility that one of the defendants could reveal some piece of information on the stand — related or unrelated to Bridgegate — that could prove embarrassing to your nominee.

David Samson: Meet Christie's best friend, closest advisor and most important mentor. He has long been under federal investigation for alleged corruption in his role as Christie's top appointee at the Port Authority. If he were to plead guilty or face an indictment some time in the coming months, the whiff of corruption that surrounds the governor due to Bridgegate would turn into a stench. Samson's alleged crime may be even more outrageous than Bridgegate: Insisting that United Airlines create a flight route to his weekend home in South Carolina in exchange for lower fees at Newark International Liberty Airport, which is run by the Port Authority.  

Missing Emails: Can one of your most effective lines of attack against Hillary Clinton — she hid emails! — hold up if it turns out that Christie did the same thing? Because, well, Christie did the same thing. We learned last week that in the wake of Bridgegate, despite a federal subpoena and Christie's insistence that he had turned over his email accounts to the feds, one particular account was hidden from investigators. The account belonged to both Christie and his wife, so his lawyers decided it wasn't pertinent. But everyone in Trenton knew this was an account that Christie used to do public business. And a recently revealed email from this account to none other than Samson — with a link to an article about Bridgegate, as the scandal was brewing — raises questions about what other emails are hidden in this account.

Missing Texts: It's not just emails. Christie and his incoming chief of staff exchanged a dozen text messages during critical legislative testimony in which the Bridgegate cover story — that the traffic jams were related to a traffic study — fell apart. Both Christie and the aide, Regina Egea, deleted those texts. The cell phone that Christie used during this time was missing for some time, but it was finally revealed last week that he stashed it with his personal attorney as soon as subpoenas started flying.

Weight: America is accustomed to svelte presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Christie evidently lost weight after his 2012 lap-band surgery, and his weight was not an issue among the political punditry during the primaries this past year. But look at the comment section of any news story about Christie. Read his Twitter mentions. And watch late-night TV comedians making lame jokes. Christie's weight will become part of the conversation — both because it raises legitimate questions about his health, and also because it reflects America's shameful disdain for those who are heavy. This may be an issue you have to address. Are you prepared to do that in a way that doesn't insult your nominee? Or will you continue to make fat jokes with him on the stage, like you did a few months ago?

New Jersey doesn't like Christie: Christie's approval rating in New Jersey reached more than 70 percent in 2013. Now, it is down to 26 percent. That's terrible. Christie is deeply unpopular among those Americans who know him best — a point that will come up early and often on the vice presidential debate stage. And it might make it impossible for you to win New Jersey.

New Jersey is in political paralysis: New Jersey is plagued with fiscal problems that will shadow any national run. Just this month Christie halted all road and rail improvement projects because he failed to make a deal with the Democratic legislature to fund the state transportation fund. The public employee pension and health benefit funds are woefully underfunded; Christie's years-long efforts to get Democrats to agree to long-term reform appears to be dead. And then there's Atlantic City, which is on the verge of bankruptcy after his plan to take over the fiscal functions of the resort city was rejected by the Democratic Assembly. Atlantic City, given your spectacular bankruptcies there, is probably the last thing you need to be reminded of on the campaign trail.

Matt Katz, New Jersey Public Radio/WNYC
Political reporter Matt Katz is The Christie Tracker at WNYC.org. NJ Spotlight is hosting his blog and running his stories, which can also be heard on WNYC 93.9 FM and 820 AM, as well as New Jersey Public Radio: Trenton 88.1, Sussex 88.5, Netcong 89.3, and Toms River 90.3.
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