EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Christie on his legacy and the future of the state GOP

Senior Correspondent David Cruz spoke one-on-one with former Gov. Chris Christie about his view on today’s state politics.

Cruz: You said Jersey needs an edge, Jersey has an edge. Is Phil Murphy Jersey enough?

Christie: Oh, I have no idea. Voters will decide that, not me. I didn’t vote for him the last time, and I suspect I wouldn’t vote for him the next time. But that’s just my opinion and I think voters will determine what they want. I mean, that’s just my opinion from my view in politics here for a long time.

Cruz: Has he shown any Jersey edge?

Christie: No matter how many different ways you ask me, I’m not going to get into critiquing the governor. Personally, I think when he engages in that it’s wrong. This isn’t personal. There are differences of ideas, but I never ran against Phil Murphy and he never ran against me. I have nothing against him personally. I think he’s a lovely guy. I think his wife’s a lovely person. They have a great family. We just have a difference from a policy perspective. He’s the guy who’s decided to make it personal, but I’m not going to engage in it. I told you when I was leaving that I wouldn’t engage in it no matter how many different wonderfully persuasive questions you ask.

Cruz: You called on the GOP to tell this story. Why aren’t they telling this story?

Christie: I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them. I mean I don’t know, I’m not in charge of them anymore and I think they have to decide what they want to do to try to bring the party into a level of prominence. It’s always tough when you’re in the minority, David, and I don’t envy them at all.

Cruz: Does part of it have to do with the way you left office with your poll numbers so low? They still feel a little toxicity from that?

Christie: Well, if they do they’re just not thinking. They’re really not. That’s a pretty natural course of the way things go, and I suspect those numbers probably aren’t the same now as they were nine months ago, and they’ll continue to change as we go forward. But this isn’t about me, it’s about the things we did. It’s about the record and they don’t even have to attach my name to it. I don’t care. They should talk about what we did, though. And I think if they contrast it in that way, they’re going to have a lot of success electorally because I think that’s what the people of the state really want. Remember last time the race didn’t have a lot of substance to it.

Cruz: Are you surprised that Hugin/Menendez is so close?

Christie: No, like I said up there, it’s extraordinary to me that somebody whose personal popularity has gone as low as it has, just by of the polls. You know me, I’ve always gotten along with Sen. Menendez. I don’t have any truck with him personally, but you know, you just look at those numbers. It’s kind of hard to believe the race is as close as it is even. But that tells you how Democratic the state is, and I think it’ll be a close race going right into Election Day. I really, like I said up there, I have no idea who’s going to win. I think it’s really going to depend on turnout, who comes out, who’s most energized, and whether those people who are energized are going to trust Bob Menendez or trust Bob Hugin. I don’t know the answer to that question.

Cruz: Anybody in your party, do you think, ready to challenge for the governorship?

Christie: I hope not, because it’s not nearly time to do it yet. I think people are going to need time to get themselves ready. I think, there’s always this, some of you guys write this stuff all the time, there’s no bench, you didn’t develop a bench. That’s not the way New Jersey works. You know, when the governor is of your party, the governor is everything. And no matter what you try to do, you guys aren’t going to write about a backbencher in the Assembly no matter how good they are, or a senator who’s in the minority. You’re going to write about whoever the governor is. So, I think there was no bench for them either after eight years. Where was their bench? They got a guy who never ran for office before, so does that mean that Steve Sweeney, Sheila Oliver and Vinny Prieto failed as the leaders of the party to develop a bench? I don’t think so. I think it’s just the nature of politics in this state, most particularly because, other than NJTV, we don’t have a TV network. I think as long as that continues to be the case, it’s very hard for anybody to develop any type of statewide notoriety. If I walked around with a person with my arm around them all the time it wouldn’t matter because people would see me and not see the other person.

Cruz: How’s Sweeney doing? Is he having his way with the governor?

Christie: Listen, I said everything I wanted to say about Steve Sweeney in my last State of the State address. You know, my experience with him, even though we didn’t always agree, as you know, is that he’s somebody who is a reliable, smart, principled partner. And that’s what he was for me for eight years and there’s no reason he can’t be that for the current governor. But the responsibility is always on the governor to make that relationship, not on the Senate president, not on the speaker. The governor has to make those relationships. You’re the boss, you need to act like it and you have to establish those relationships. And if they don’t have that, I don’t know what their relationship is, but if what I read is anywhere near what it’s like, then the only person whose fault that is is Gov. Murphy’s, not Steve Sweeney’s. Because the governor can make a relationship with the Senate president, you have lots of tools to be able to do that. And if you’re not doing it, it’s because you’re not trying.