Chris Christie went to the Ronald Reagan Library last week with a long list of things he said Republicans must do to move the party forward in a more positive direction. The only problem is, he seems to have very little interest in doing many of them.
In his remarks, Christie promised he would always speak “boldly” and “bluntly” as he hyped the need for Republicans to distance themselves from conspiracy theorists and those peddling lies about the 2020 election. He also spoke about the “open marketplace for ideas” and talked fondly of “a life defined by passionate engagement.”
Hah. To laugh is to observe what was so blatantly omitted from the speech and how Christie handles questions—er, “engagement”—about how he enabled Trump.
But the overriding question is: Why should anyone listen to Chris Christie?
If there was anything positive to take from Christie’s Reagan Library speech—silver linings can be found in cesspools if you squint just the right way while the sun glints off feces—it’s the fact that someone who was so close to Trump is making the calculation—at least for now, at least in the abstract—that there’s political advantage in appearing to distance the Republican party from Trump and Trumpisim.
Admittedly, watching Christie attempting to strike this pose is like seeing someone talk calmly about the intricacies of brain surgery while being lobotomized by a pack of monkeys. It feels icky and you know in the end that he’s going to end up with any manner of metaphorical pointy metal objects stabbed into his head, neck, and back.
But let’s take Christie at his word for a moment. Just for giggles. The former governor took the audience back to 1962 when “the American political landscape was not unlike today’s” and talked about how terrible it was that Barry Goldwater pandered to the Birchers and how the party paid dearly for this mistake in 1964. Christie described the Birchers as “downright paranoid, at least as radical as the truth deniers and conspiracy propagandists of today.”
HINT, HINT. What you, dear reader, are supposed to infer is that Christie is criticizing Trump. But without saying the word “Trump.” Because not saying Trump’s name makes it an even bolder and blunter foray into the marketplace of ideas. Or something.
Anyway, in Christie’s telling, it wasn’t until Ronald Reagan’s “rejection of Birch extremism,” as this rather obvious ripped from the old-headlines political allegory goes, that the party started winning again. This flies in the face of history, obviously: The Republicans won with Nixon—bigly. And Richard Nixon, for all his faults, absolutely schlonged the Democrats in his re-election win.
But whatever. Historical accuracy isn’t the point. The point is that Chris Christie wants you to think that Trump is Goldwater, the MAGA people are the Birchers, and that he, Chris Christie, is Reagan.
And how is Christie going to seize Reagan’s mantle and rid the GOP of the MAGA Birchers? His plan is, as he described it, “deceptively simple.” Christie cited a response Reagan once gave when asked about embracing the group, that boiled down to a single line: “I seek public office to seek the support of individuals by persuading them of my philosophy, not of accepting theirs.”
“Everyone got the message,” Christie said.
If you think that’s gonna cut it in 2024, then I have a George Washington bridge to sell you.
Hell, this line didn’t even cut it through the weekend.
The nice things Christie had to say about the “need to have the difficult conversations with each other” and the “need to engage each other again” melted down like an ice cream cone at a private “Governor’s Only” beach party when Roland Martin confronted Christie on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
“I appreciate the speech, governor, but the reality is this,” Martin said. “You have to admit the role that you played in putting the person in leadership who is driving conspiracy theories. It’s one thing to condemn them after the fact, but you have to own up to the role that you played in putting the person in power.”
Roland isn’t the only one judging. https://t.co/xbH0KIIJX4
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) September 12, 2021
Christie’s response: “First off, I don’t have to admit anything to you.”
Martin pressed on:
When a person has principles, morals and values, they do not support then even if you lose. . . . And what they say is, I choose patriotism and country over party and power. And the problem was, too many Republicans chose power and riding with Donald Trump, as opposed to patriotism and America.
Christie’s response: “I will sleep fine tonight with you judging my morals.”
So much for bold, blunt “passionate engagement.”
It would be lovely if Christie meant what he said in his big speech. Conversions are great, even if they come late. The trouble is, he doesn’t appear to mean much of what he says.
If Christie were interested in denouncing Trump and speaking truth to power, he might have something direct to say about the election lies Donald Trump continues to tell at every public opportunity. Christie might even be willing to leave the genteel confines of the ABC studio and speak directly to the pillars of the MAGA media about such matters.
Because a new CNN poll found 59 percent of Republicans say that believing Trump won the election in 2020 is a “very” or “somewhat important” part of being a Republican. This suggests that “Trump won” has moved from being a conspiracy theory, to a belief, to dogma among actual rank-and-file Republicans.
Perhaps Christie should go test his rhetorical powers on that audience. Because one vague speech to a bunch of people who worship the ghost of Reagan isn’t going to do the trick.
But who knows. Maybe I’m misreading Christie’s intentions. Maybe, despite boasting about how well he sleeps at night, the big fella really does regret the part he played in bringing us into this awful timeline.
So a proposition: For every high-profile appearance Christie made promoting Trump’s 2016 candidacy, his presidency, and then his 2020 candidacy, he should now make an appearance advocating the need to disqualify Donald Trump from holding future office, in explicit terms.
This shouldn’t be a problem because Chris Christie is a bold and blunt and forthright kind of guy—just ask him.