Mitt Romney knew it before the rest of America had an inkling. Chris Christie, the adulated right-wing Governor of New Jersey, has a crowded closet. It is widely known that Christie was one of the people Romney was considering for his Vice-Presidential candidate. Christie’s supporters like to put it about that he would never have taken the job. But in reality, he was never going to make the cautious Romney’s list. Christie had left a foul-smelling trail in his wake which promised positively Palinesque headaches for any presidential candidate who invited Christie onto the ticket.
In their detailed account of the 2012 presidential election (Double Down: Game Change 2012), Mark Halperin and John Heilemann give an extensive account of the Romney’s campaign vetting process. They describe how Christie’s political rise was less on his merits than as a reward for supporting George W Bush in 2000 as a lobbyist. As Governor, Christie has embraced right-wing orthodoxy, pummelling his citizenry for the sake of his corporate backers, who thought he could do a better job of representing their interests than Mitt Romney in 2012. Christie “capped local property taxes, slashed spending, and laid off state workers” (189). To Californians, this will be reminiscent of Prop 13 and the austerity that has gripped the state for a decade now thanks to Republican misrule from the minority.
Christie attempted to control the state like some mob boss, attempting to make all fundraising for Republican presidential candidates contingent on his personal endorsement. Halperin and Heilemann recount how “the list of questions about Christie to which vetters wanted answers was extensive and troubling”, and Christie was less than forthcoming (351).
“The vetters”, they write, “were stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record. There was a 2010 Department of Justice Inspector General’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being ‘the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification’ and for offering ‘insufficient, inaccurate, nor no justification’ for stays at swank hotels such as the Four Seasons ... There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official—and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies such as former attorney general John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing ... And all of that was on top of a litany of glaring matters that sparked concern...: Christie’s other lobbying clients; his investments overseas”, etc (252).
Given this background, the closure by Christie’s aides of the George Washington Bridge to punish a mayor who refused to endorse Christie is less surprising. And there is more.
Christie’s administration allegedly “warned a New Jersey mayor earlier this year that her town would be starved of hurricane relief money unless she approved a lucrative development plan favoured by the governor”. Hoboken had suffered grievously from Hurricane Sandy, but it did not get the relief effort its mayor requested because she wanted the Rockefeller Group’s redevelopment plans subjected to rigorous study before they were approved.
The Mayor of Jersey City reports a similar experience. When he declined to endorse Christie, the governor’s administration “[left] Jersey City needing to fill its budget without money from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, its requests for help with Hurricane Sandy recovery, transportation and other issues falling on deaf ears”.
If these accusations prove to be true—and they appear borne out by e-mail records which will only be augmented by further investigation—it seems that Christie and the people he keeps in his inner circle are guilty of a serial and thuggish abuse of power. He seems to be driven primarily by personal ambition rather than any desire to help the needy, and he is perfectly happy to hurt his citizens if that allows him to punish their representatives, should those representatives not prove sufficiently fulsome in their embrace of Christie’s ambitions.There were few things that Mitt Romney got right during his presidential campaign. Rejecting Chris Christie as a running-mate was one of them.