“It’s ridiculous,” Chris Christie said.
New Jersey’s blunt-spoken, bipartisanly-inclined Republican governor was discussing the ongoing federal shutdown and debt ceiling crisis plaguing the nation’s capital. “You get hired to do a job. Do your job!” he said. “There are too many people down here who spend all their time pontificating rather than working. And that applies to both parties. I don’t have patience for that.”
The 51-year-old Christie—who many hope will launch a presidential campaign once he gets past what is widely expected to be an easy reelection on Nov. 5—was making a rare visit to Washington, D.C. Technically, however, he was in the sovereign nation of Italy, having been selected to receive a Points of Light voluntarism award during a black-tie dinner Friday at the Italian Embassy. “My mother”—the late Sondra Grasso, a descendant of Sicilians and a Democrat to boot—“would always be happy to have me spend any time in Italy,” he quipped.
Earlier in the day, during a meeting with the editorial board of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Christie had suggested that the dysfunction in Washington drives him to thoughts of suicide: “If I was in the Senate right now, I’d kill myself.”
As with a previous reference to self-murder back in 2011, when he repeatedly denied interest in running for the White House, he was kidding. “I was being dramatic to make a point—that it’s a waste of time,” Christie said on Friday night, this time explaining his lack of interest in being a legislator. “You know me. I’m not into wasting time. That’s what I meant by the comment.”
He added: “You send people down here to run the government, not to shut it down. And everybody’s failed.”
I asked him if the shutdown is causing problems in the Garden State. “Listen, it’s affected people. I don’t think dramatically yet. But if it goes on much longer, it will affect folks. But beyond the human impact, it’s an awful example in governance. You can’t expect people to have faith in our democracy when people don’t talk to each other and resolve these issues.”
In January, when members of the House Republican Conference were holding up federal aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy, Christie was extremely tough on Speaker John Boehner and his crew, accusing them of showing “callous indifference” and behaving in a manner that was “disgusting” and “dishonorable.”
“Yeah, because they deserved [for someone] to be tough with them,” the governor told me.
What does he think of his fellow Republicans now?
“I’m not gonna sit here and point out,” Christie said. “There’s enough blame to go around for everybody. Because we saw this coming for months. We’ve been talking about it for months! And the president should have intervened. I mean, today’s the first time he has people over to the White House to talk about it? Everybody’s at fault here. They all saw this coming and they all played chicken with each other and now the country’s fed up—and rightfully so—with everybody.”
Christie, whose job-approval ratings have been soaring in the stratosphere (from the low 70s to the high 60s), was channeling the widespread revulsion reflected in recent polls, including last week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey that put public approval of the GOP at a historic low of 28 percent. Isn’t the governor worried about the viability of his party’s brand?
“Listen, it’s not my job to worry about that stuff,” he retorted. “You know what my job is? I got an election in 25 days. And that’s what I’m worried about. I’m worried about my election.”
“You’re not worried,” I countered. (The latest statewide polls have Christie handily leading his Democratic opponent, State Sen. Barbara Buono, by 30 percentage points.)
“Listen, if you’re a Republican in New Jersey, you live in a constant state of worry, believe me,” Christie insisted. “I’m working, and that’s what I’m focused on for the next 25 days. And after that, we’ll figure out what our plans are for New Jersey and how to move it forward. But I don’t worry about the Republican brand. Not my job to worry about it.”
Yet if Christie had announced for president at the dinner he no doubt would have picked up a lot of support in the room. Looking visibly svelter since his lap-band surgery in February—and proudly sporting a colorful string bracelet made for him by his 10-year-old daughter Bridget—the governor was swarmed by admirers. When Points of Light Foundation Chairman Neil Bush, son of 41 and brother of 43, brought the governor to the stage, the well-heeled crowd shot to its feet and cheered.
“He showed great leadership [in responding to Sandy’s destruction],” Neil told me before the dinner got underway. “I would also add that my brother Jeb”—the former Republican governor of Florida—“when he’s faced the same kinds of situations in Florida, also showed the same kind of executive leadership.”
The 58-year-old Bush, a Houston businessman, hails from a family that, at least until the presidency of George W., exemplified the ideological values of moderate Republicanism. “Unfortunately, we live in a very divided time politically,” he said.
Could Christie ever survive the polarized Republican primary process and win the nomination?
“I would hope so,” Bush answered. “I would hope that people would like Chris Christie or Jeb Bush—people that are viewed to be moderate or reasonable-minded people that like to work with others to get problems solved.”
Every time I asked him about Christie and the White House, Neil kept making sure that he mentioned his brother Jeb as another attractive possible candidate for president in 2016.
“I would be very proud of him if he chose to serve,” Neil said about his brother. “The only person in my family who has been very vocal about discouraging [Jeb from running] is my mom. But she also told George not to run and look what happened. He ran, won and served two terms. So maybe the best predictor of Jeb’s future is mom saying, ‘Don’t run.’ ”