TRENTON—Chris Christie had some thoughts on how I should write this article.
“You should break out of leading with ‘the most unpopular governor in galactic history’ and all this other shit that everybody hits F2, F3, F4 [on and] bang, bang, bang, the paragraphs flip in,” the outgoing New Jersey governor said on a recent afternoon, tapping his conference room table like a keyboard. “You should do something different.”
Christie had spent almost three hours reminiscing on his meteoric political rise, the bridge saga, his failed 2016 campaign and his controversial Donald Trump endorsement, his subsequent White House adventures and some of his more infamous misadventures, like sitting on a beach he had ordered closed and being caught by a photographer’s long-lens camera.
So, with 68 days left in his governorship and the interview winding down, he urged me to forget all that and focus on the good things he had done for his state—and perhaps memorialize him as the pragmatic Republican governor who had cleaned up New Jersey and won a second term in hostile territory. He essentially wanted the story to ignore much of what happened afterward.
And yet, any fair assessment of Christie’s legacy has to reckon with the highs and the lows. For four years, from 2009 until 2013, he was a political rock star. Iowa activists wooed him to run for president in 2012, even flying to New Jersey to make their case. Magazine covers hailed his brilliance. (“THE BOSS,” blared one TIME cover he loves to read.) He screamed at people on the boardwalk while carrying an ice cream cone. It didn’t matter. His approval rating soared above 75 percent in a reliably blue state. After two stinging defeats to Barack Obama, some in the GOP saw a potential winner in Christie’s combination of raw talent, fundraising prowess and ability to woo minorities and Democrats. Many on his team thought him a shoo-in GOP nominee. But he passed up a run in 2012, figuring he wasn’t ready.
Then, for the next four years, Christie became something of a national punching bag. Everything people loved about him seemed to become what they hated. The bridge lanes closed. Investigations mushroomed around his office. Allies and aides were convicted in the closings. His presidential ambitions cratered. Christie, who prides himself a prodigious fundraiser, couldn’t attract donors to his campaign. He was beaten by Trump, a political novice, and then mocked for fetching Trump McDonald’s—even though he didn’t do that—and for looking like a hostage during his endorsement of Trump, even though he says he wasn’t. His musical hero, New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen, even sang a duet mocking him with Jimmy Fallon, his favorite late-show host.
“They shut down the toll booths of glory because we didn’t endorse Christie,” the two men sang to the tune of “Born to Run.” “We’re stuck in Gov. Chris Christie’s Fort Lee, New Jersey traffic jam.”
In the longest interview Christie has given in years, as he dropped oyster crackers into a large vat of chili, he said the story of his rise and fall had not been told accurately. He was never as good as depicted—nor as bad.
“I never felt 78, and I don’t feel the 22,” he said of his approval ratings. “What I hope at the end of the day is that this really is about my eight years, and the bridge stuff is part of that, and the Trump stuff is part of that, but it’s only a part.”
Read more at Politico.