Alec MacGillis has a terrific, granular and vivid take on Christie’s entire career in New Jersey, and Beau Willimon might take a look at it for a new drama series. It proffers an answer to the key question floating around in my head since Bridgegate: if that kind of petty politicking was Christie’s mojo, why did we not see that scandal coming? Where are all the other incidents of palm-greasing, threats, and payback? If Christie were that tawdry a public official, why did he have such a great rep for targeting corrupt pols?
MacGillis’ answer is pretty simple: Christie targeted lots of petty corruption, removing large numbers of small-time bosses for various shenanigans, while leaving the big bosses intact. And those big bosses in New Jersey’s rich panoply of appointees, commissions, and government grants helped him govern the state. So he both targeted petty corruption and chummed it up with those with the big sticks and greatest leverage over the state (almost all of whom were and are Democrats). He wasn’t a Robespierre targeting every machine pol; he was a Machiavelli targeting the least powerful bosses by aligning with the much more serious ones:
The problem with Christie isn’t merely that he is a bully. It’s that his political career is built on a rotten foundation. Christie owes his rise to some of the most toxic forces in his state—powerful bosses who ensure that his vow to clean up New Jersey will never come to pass. He has allowed them to escape scrutiny, rewarded them for their support, and punished their enemies. All along, even as it looked like Christie was attacking the machine, he was really just mastering it.
The piece draws on MacGillis’ deep knowledge of New Jersey politics. And it has some wonderful vignettes of the various bosses in Christie’s empire – chief among them, George Norcross:
In the early 2000s, several New Jersey attorneys general investigated whether [Norcross] had pressured a Palmyra councilman to fire a city solicitor, Ted Rosenberg, who wasn’t cooperating with the machine. Wiretaps offered a rare glimpse of a man completely convinced of his power. “[Rosenberg] is history and he is done, and anything I can do to crush his ass, I wanna do cause I think he’s just a, just an evil fuck,” Norcross said. In another conversation, referring to then-top Jersey Democrats, he declared, “I’m not going to tell you this to insult you, but in the end, the McGreeveys, the Corzines, they’re all going to be with me. Not because they like me, but because they have no choice.” While discussing plans to remove a rival, he exclaimed: “Make him a fucking judge, and get rid of him!”
Some of Christie’s tactics were truly brilliant, Francis Underwood maneuvers. By the end of the piece, I both better understood why the Romney campaign decided not to go there and also began to appreciate the kind of bare-knuckled politicking that enabled Christie to get shit done in the Garden State. Which is to say that MacGillis’ piece both explained why Christie would be a corrupt and impossible president, but also perhaps a brutally effective one.
(Photo: Scott Eells-Pool/Getty Images)