Throughout Donald Trump’s Presidency, the former New Jersey governor Chris Christie has been an informal adviser to the White House. His embrace of the Trump Administration has been complicated. Christie led Trump’s White House transition team but was removed shortly after Trump won the election. A contributor to ABC News, Christie has frequently criticized Trump for errors of policy and messaging, while keeping a line open to the President, whose election and reëlection he supported. He also helped the President with debate preparation last year, and announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 one day after Trump said that he had the virus.
This week, after Trump continued to contest his election loss and incited a riot on Capitol Hill, Christie condemned the President. “I think that the President’s conduct today was simply incredible,” Christie said. “I could just tell you, as someone who has known him for twenty years, that today breached something that I think none of us should have to put up with by anybody who’s given the honor of being an elected leader in this country.” On Friday, I spoke with Christie, by phone. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed the possibility of removing Trump from office, the future of the G.O.P., and whether Republicans should have broken with the President before this week.
Should President Trump be removed from office before his term ends, by either the Twenty-fifth Amendment or an impeachment in the House and a conviction in the Senate?
I don’t think either thing is practical, quite frankly, at this point, when we are talking today, with twelve days left. I don’t think either one is practical. I think the important thing to do, for those senior White House officials and Cabinet officials who are still there, is to remember that they took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution as well, and that if they see anything that is off mark they have to sound the alarm.
Beyond that, should Congress or the Cabinet make clear that there is a punishment for this type of behavior, even if it is going to be hard to pull off in a certain amount of time? Is it important to send that message?
I think that message has been sent. And I think the reaction you saw from the President in the speech he gave last night shows that message has been sent, by members of Congress in their comments on their floor and by the many resignations that have happened, and some that I think are still about to happen.
There has been some reporting that the reason he recorded that video was that he was worried about legal consequences, not that he was chastened. But you think it’s both?
I’m not going to read his mind. But you are asking whether someone needs to know that there are ramifications. The ramifications are that he is being publicly humiliated by members of his own team resigning on him and allies in Congress like Lindsey Graham saying, “Enough is enough.” I think he gets it.
When did you last speak to the President?
About three weeks ago.
What was his state of mind?
I don’t talk about that stuff, Isaac.
The former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney recently said that Trump had changed over the past eight months. I was wondering if that was your sense.
What I would say to you is that I think the last eight weeks has been the worst behavior that I have seen by this President in the four years he has been there, and the one that has angered and disturbed me the most.
Can you give us insight into him? You have known him for how many years now?
So you knew him when he was a businessman, and now a politician. What is it that makes him tick, and how do you understand the last two months?
His unwillingness to ever expect defeat, even when it is completely obvious, and his belief that he can will defeat away by denying that it exists. And he has always been that way. So this is nothing new. It’s just a much, much bigger stage, with much more important stakes, than ever before.
Do you think he ever had an appreciation for democracy? Is that an issue, too?
I think that the President has always believed that a strong executive is really important, and I don’t disagree with that, but there are limits, and I think he has tried to test those.
His constitutional views, you mean?
Yeah, yeah. And I think there are limits. And he has now gone beyond those limits in the last eight weeks.
If ever there was a time to read the Constitution, you know?
Well, listen, I am confident that he has, but what I will say to you is, in the end, we are judged by our conduct. And his conduct in the last eight weeks has been completely unacceptable for someone who holds the greatest position the American people can bestow on anyone.
Where do you think the Republican Party goes in the post-Trump era, if, indeed, we are in the post-Trump era?
Well, listen, we are going to be in the post-Trump era. He is leaving the Presidency. I think the Party is in good shape, from an issues perspective. When you look at what happened in the last election, Republicans added seats in the House and a governorship [of Montana]. The American people supported, in the main, Republican policies. I think the rejection at the top of the ticket was a personal one. So we as a party need to be talking about the issues the way we have and get some of this personality stuff out of it, and really be talking to people in a credible, honest, and calm way about the ways we can improve things in the country. I think, if we do that as a party, by two years from now we will be back in very good shape.
Lots of people in 2016 were saying that Trump was stoking white supremacy and was undemocratic. I am curious whether you think the events of this week were inevitable in some sense, and when you think about your early endorsement of him whether you think you should have realized it all along, or whether you think things could have taken a different path.
No, I think they always could have taken a different path. My endorsement was based on two things. I was absolutely convinced that there was no one left on that stage in the Republican primary who was going to beat Donald Trump. He was going to be our nominee. And, secondly, I was absolutely committed to Hillary Clinton not being President of the United States. So, given my relationship with Donald Trump over all those years, I felt like if I got in early and helped him I could have influence in making him a better candidate and, ultimately, a better President. And I think I did both those things. But, in the end, the person who holds the job is the person who makes the decisions. So, no, I have no second thoughts in doing what I did in supporting him. American democracy is ultimately not about voting for who you want to vote for. It’s about voting for who is left.
I know you have denied that he is a racist and given him some cover on issues like birtherism and the comment about the “Mexican judge.” Do you have regrets along those lines?
No. First of all, I never gave him any cover on birtherism. I don’t know where you get that from.
You said, “The birther issue is a done issue. I’ve said it’s a done issue for a long time, and Donald Trump has said it’s a done issue now.” And you said, “It wasn’t like he was talking about it on a regular basis.” This was in 2016.
Yeah, but that’s not giving him cover for what he did. Those questions were asked in 2016, I think. The birther issue was no longer an issue. So, listen, I did not give him cover for anything that he did. I don’t believe the President is a racist, and I never have believed that. But the point is that he has to be held to account for the things that he has done during the time he has been in the Presidency, and I have been pretty outspoken over the past four years when I have disagreed. And, when I agree, I say I agree. My record on what I say is all documented, because it all happens on Sunday morning on ABC. You can go back and take all the quotes and put them in the proper timing and context. I don’t think it is fair to say I gave him or anyone else cover on birtherism.
I had seen an interview you did with Jake Tapper where you shot down his question about it when Trump had still been bringing up the issue. That’s why I brought it up.