Former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie Reflects on the State of N.J. Politics and the 2020 Presidential Race as Part of a Promotional Book Tour

Former N.J. Gov. Christie speaks at the Douglass Student Center at Rutgers University. Courtesy of News Writer Robbie Freeman.

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – On Feb. 5 at 7 p.m., the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University hosted former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for a discussion on his new book, Let me Finish: Trump, The Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and The Power of In-Your-Face Politics. In front of an audience of 400 people, Christie also focused on the state of New Jersey politics following his two-term governorship and his standards for political leadership.

Christie is a former ex-officio trustee of Princeton University.

The appearance comes as part of a promotional book tour taking place primarily in the New Jersey area, though Christie has also been featured on a number of national talk shows.  

Rutgers University Trustee and Eagleton Adjunct Professor Michael DuHaime, who was the lead strategist for Christie’s 2009 and 2013 gubernatorial campaigns, moderated the discussion. Director of the Eagleton Institute Ruth B. Mandel introduced Christie and DuHaime.

Christie shared a number of anecdotes about his time spent as chairman of the transition team for then President-elect Donald J. Trump and how he was booted from the position.

However, Christie spent most of the discussion commenting on New Jersey politics.

He had a lot to say in particular about his successor, Gov. Phil Murphy. Christie criticized Murphy’s ineffectiveness in office, honing in on his failure to cooperate with Senate President Steve Sweeney. “One of the ways you need to use [the governorship of New Jersey] is by having a good relationship with the Senate President,” said Christie. “I don’t think he has figured that out. You’ve got to give Steve the benefit of the doubt, because he did it with me.”

Christie continued by expressing doubt that Murphy will be able to accomplish much of his agenda without building these important relationships.

“[Governor Murphy] can do all the low-hanging-fruit things, like he’s done – that he wants. But in the end, the important things don’t get done if you don’t have the relationships,” Christie explained.

Christie explained that the decision to introduce tax breaks for movie crews who want to film in New Jersey is one such example of low-hanging fruit.

According to Christie, the “small-ball” move costs about $15 million in a total state budget of $37 billion. Christie even went so far as to call the move “an enormous waste of money.”

“It’s not one of those things where I’m gonna go and pour gasoline on myself and light myself on fire in front of the state house to stop it because it’s not that important, but it’s a waste of money,” Christie said.

In addition to the lack of relationship-building, Christie emphasized that he would pursue policy goals different from those of Gov. Murphy.

Christie called for cuts to the healthcare program for state employees, which is among the most expensive healthcare programs in the country.

“We have the most expensive, expansive health insurance for any public worker in America,” added Christie. “If this problem does not get resolved, this state will go bankrupt.”

Although Christie had more to say on the 2016 presidential race, he couldn’t keep himself from weighing in on the upcoming slate of 2020 Democratic candidates, especially New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who announced his presidential campaign on Feb. 1.

“I consider him a friend. We don’t agree on a majority of policies, but he’s a good man,” said Christie. “He’s a good person, and I wish him all the best with what he’s about to undertake.”

A former presidential candidate himself, Christie recognized that Booker was embarking on an enormous task.

“What he’s about to find out is absolutely, absolutely overwhelming but one of the most amazing opportunities that any American can ever have,” Christie explained.

Christie clarified that a presidential campaign is overwhelming not only because of the scale of the job but also because of the painstaking personal connections that need to be established along the way.

“It’s hand-to-hand combat with people, and you literally have to talk to one person at a time to try to get their vote. And you’re thinking: ‘I’m running for president. What the hell am I doing? I’m [spending] 15 minutes with this woman and she’s got her arms folded, going, ‘I’ll think about it,’” Christie said.

“It is a gigantic undertaking and enterprise and organizational challenge, but it is also the smallest of retail politics, smaller than running for local mayor,” Christie added.

The discussion was held in the Douglass Student Center and was also co-sponsored by Barnes & Noble at Rutgers University.

The complete video stream can be found on Eagleton’s Facebook page here.