Grievances and Grumblings, Long Before Chris Christie’s Fall in Donald Trump’s Circle

The critical weekend before Election Day was set to be a busy one for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey; he was to campaign for Donald J. Trump in the battleground states of New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Then that Friday, a federal jury convicted two of the governor’s former aides in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial. Mr. Christie, a Republican, canceled the campaign events and accepted a new invitation: The night before Election Day, he appeared on “Charlie Rose,” not to talk about Mr. Trump, his party’s presidential nominee, but to defend himself against weeks of damaging testimony in the trial.

In the orbit around Mr. Trump — which, like the one around Mr. Christie, prizes loyalty — the governor’s moves so close to the election were seen as proof that for all his early support of Mr. Trump, Mr. Christie was out more for himself than for the man at the top of the ticket. He may as well have been broadcasting that Mr. Trump was going to lose.

Three days after he won the election, President-elect Trump deposed Mr. Christie as leader of his transition team. Many fingers pointed at Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose father had been sent to prison by Mr. Christie, then the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey, on charges of tax evasion and illegal campaign contributions.

But Mr. Christie’s unceremonious dismissal was more a pileup of grievances in the weeks before the election, according to interviews with people close to the governor and the campaign.

No one has publicly ruled out a role for Mr. Christie in the Trump administration; on Sunday, the governor was among those the president-elect met with at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. But the meeting was much shorter than others that day, only about 20 minutes.

The two men emerged before cameras just before Mr. Christie departed, for a 10-second handshake that looked almost like a tug of war. The governor smiled forcibly, and Mr. Trump gave no indication that he was under consideration for any jobs — unlike with other potential job candidates he met.

The jobs Mr. Christie wanted — friends say he would have like to have been White House chief of staff or attorney general — have been assigned to others.

Mr. Christie’s fall in the Trump circle was weeks in the making. There was already grumbling, particularly from former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, and from Mr. Trump’s children. Mr. Christie, they believed, had gone off-message after an “Access Hollywood” tape was released in which Mr. Trump made vulgar comments about women; the governor first canceled Sunday show appearances, then emerged on the radio the next week to call Mr. Trump’s comments “indefensible.”

Spending on the Trump transition effort, which Mr. Christie was leading, was already higher than what the transition team of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, had spent, even though polls showed her winning. And some around Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Christie was using his post to promote his own people, including his former chief of staff and his former law partner, who were running the team day to day, and one of his longtime supporters, Bob Grady, who had been recommended for several positions.

The friendship between Mr. Christie and Mr. Trump, while never deep, has always been pragmatic. And several people interviewed said they had begun to patch up any break with a conversation on the Saturday after the president-elect removed the governor as leader of his transition team. That continued with the meeting on Sunday at the golf club, not far from Mr. Christie’s home.

Jon Bramnick, the leader of the Republican minority in the New Jersey Assembly and one of the governor’s most steadfast supporters, said, “Both Trump and Christie are the type that they’re loyal to their friends, and I suspect that long term it will work out, whether it’s a position now or later.”

But the Trump roller coaster has been particularly jolting for Mr. Christie.

The two men met, according to Mr. Christie, through Mr. Trump’s sister, a federal judge, shortly after Mr. Christie became United States attorney for New Jersey in 2002. Mr. Christie liked to be around celebrity; Mr. Trump, who owned several casinos in Atlantic City, liked to know people in charge.

As the testimony in the lane-closing trial showed, Mr. Christie began planning a run for president in 2016 shortly after taking office in 2010. Mr. Trump’s run started out looking like more of a flirtation with the office. But in a crowded field of Republicans, he soon occupied the position Mr. Christie expected to take, as the tell-it-like-it-is candidate not afraid to challenge the way things had always been done.

Mr. Christie had struggled to bounce back from the scandal since January 2014, when a legislative subpoena revealed that his deputy chief of staff had sent an email calling for “some traffic problems” in the town that was gridlocked by the closings, to punish a mayor who had declined to endorse the governor.

After the governor failed in his attempt to make a good showing in the New Hampshire primary contest in February, he endorsed Mr. Trump. He became the first major establishment Republican to do so. He also alienated many friends and financial backers and saw his poll numbers drop to a new low.

Mr. Christie was, again, pragmatic, saying it was clear to him that Mr. Trump would be the nominee. “If he had not been in the race, it would have been me,” the governor said at a news conference at the time.

On the campaign trail, he endured public ridicule, when he stood obedient and silent next to Mr. Trump on Super Tuesday on March 1. Mr. Trump himself mocked the governor for eating too many Oreos and for abandoning his state to run for president.

Mr. Christie publicly said he hoped to be Mr. Trump’s vice-presidential nominee. And he was said to be bitterly disappointed when Mr. Trump’s children and campaign manager prevailed on the candidate to instead choose Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana.

Mr. Trump made Mr. Christie chief of the transition. But the governor was still struggling with the scandal, after revelations on the stand that he had known about the lane closings even as they were happening and did nothing to reverse them.

On Election Day, Mr. Christie voted in the dark of early morning, a contrast to earlier years when he invited cameras and reporters along by indicating on his public schedule what time he would go to the polls.

Mr. Trump’s surprise upset seemed to offer another chance at resurrection. Mr. Christie appeared on the “Today” show, demurring on the question of whether he wanted to be chief of staff or attorney general, saying his most important job was the transition. “If there’s some role for me that I want to do, and that the president-elect wants me to do,” he said, “we’ve known each other for 14 years — we’ll talk.”

The next day, Mr. Trump announced that Mr. Christie would no longer lead the transition.

The governor has now given signals that he is planning to serve out his term in New Jersey. On Monday, he held his first cabinet meeting in a long time. Late on Wednesday afternoon, he had bumped his lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, as the keynote speaker at an annual statewide convention of mayors in Atlantic City, which he has skipped since 2011.

Appearing the next day — Lieutenant Governor Guadagno’s name was still on the programs — Mr. Christie said, “I have no reason to believe that I will do anything other than serve out my full term as governor and turn the keys of the office over to whoever you select in November of 2017 to replace me.”

“I’ve had a pretty good run,” he added.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment