Hachette Books, 420 pages
When Chris Christie first met Donald Trump, over dinner at the Manhattan restaurant Jean-Georges in 2002, the developer ordered for both of them. Trump had waiters bring Christie the seared scallops and the roasted lamb loin.
“I’m allergic to scallops,” Christie recalls in his new memoir, Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics. He adds, “I’ve always hated lamb.”
The future governor of New Jersey was gleaning lessons in domination. He was an apt pupil. Let Me Finish is a superficial and ungainly book that tries to cover so many bases at once — it’s a series of attacks and justifications, it’s a master class in sucking up and kicking down, it’s a stab at political rehabilitation — that reading it is like watching an octopus try to play the bagpipes.
At heart it’s a reminder that, before Bridgegate, before the 2016 presidential election, and the infamous photographs of him sunbathing on a closed beach during a 2017 state government shutdown, Christie was the favorite political intimidator of many Americans. An alternative title for this unintentionally poignant book might have been, You Used to Really Like Me, Remember?
Because Christie was positioned to be the brashest candidate in 2016, he had the most to lose from a Trump insurgency. He saw the threat instantly. After the first Republican debate, he said to his wife, “We’ve got a problem.”
“From a stylistic perspective,” Christie writes, “he was everything I was — but on jet fuel.” Christie must have felt like an acoustic folkie watching Bob Dylan plug into his amplifiers at the Newport Folk Festival.
After he dropped out of the 2016 race, Christie became the first governor to endorse Trump. He climbed aboard a Trump campaign that, in this telling, sounds like a train that loses one conductor and six hobos at every turn. In his own estimation, he was the only adult in the room. He nearly became Trump’s running mate. He was repeatedly stymied by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Like a fawn, Kushner is seen in this book grazing on what Christie calls “his typical salad.”
Bambi was bent on payback. Christie had helped send Kushner’s father, prominent New Jersey real estate developer Charles Kushner, to prison in a lurid case that involved tax evasion and witness tampering. Christie writes that Kushner was “obsessed with destroying me.”
Christie saves his real fire in this book — which was written by a ghostwriter named Ellis Henican — for Steve Bannon, the one-time chief executive of Trump’s campaign. He calls Bannon “self-impressed” and “the only person I have ever met who can look pretentious and like an unmade bed at the very same time.”
Christie remains apoplectic over Bannon’s decision to toss out Christie’s monumental 30-volume plan for Trump’s transition. It sounds like some document. Christie writes, “We had a day-one plan and a 100-day plan once the administration started. We had a 200-day plan after that.”
Trump didn’t want to talk about the transition, Christie writes. “C’mon, Chris, just close it down,” Trump told him. “Chris, you and I are so smart, and we’ve known each other for so long, we could do the whole transition together if we just leave the victory party two hours early!”
In Christie’s view, trashing the transition plan was the original sin of the Trump administration. Instead of the right people, the president got “the revolving door of deeply flawed individuals — amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons — who were hustled into jobs they were never suited for, sometimes seemingly without so much as a background check via Google or Wikipedia.”
If Trump had only listened to him, Christie writes, he would have fired James Comey, then director of the FBI, much earlier. His later firing would become, according to Bannon, the worst mistake in modern political history.
Nearly all you will see in Let Me Finish is Christie saying, in so many words, “I told you so.” He told Trump that retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was trouble. He told Trump to stop picking on Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father. He was the only one who could tell Trump when he’d done poorly in a debate. “He needed someone from the world of politics he could talk to,” Christie writes. “Being his peer was a key part of the role that I played.”
Christie remains a believer in Trump. He writes: “He knows who he is and what he believes in. He has a keen understanding of what regular people are feeling. He commands extraordinary loyalty from his supporters and has unique communication skills.” He thinks it’s not too late for Trump to turn things around.
Is Let Me Finish a plea to be let back in to Trump’s administration? Is it a platform from which to run for president in 2020 if Trump drops out? Do voters want him back?
This self-serving book doesn’t make the most appealing case. Is anyone longing for another in-your-face president? It may be true that, as Karl Ove Knausgaard put it in one of his My Struggle autobiographical novels, “What’s done is dung and cannot be undung.”