Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor of eight years, will leave office this winter in poor shape. His approval ratings, as his term nears completion, are among the lowest ever recorded for a sitting governor. (The brutal headline at Politico: Chris Christie is Still More Popular Than Governors Who Were Literally Criminals)
Not long ago, however, Christie’s star was bright, and rising. Building name recognition on a national scale, for any state governor, is hard work. Christie’s ascendance from New Jersey – a small state with a checkered past – captured everyone’s attention. He was considered a top contender when he ran for president in 2016.
Christie has remained an opponent of legalized marijuana, in all forms, throughout his career as a politician. However, he was among the first Republican governors to acknowledge the severity of the opioid epidemic and actually devote state resources to science-based therapy. Last week, in his role as head of Trump’s opioid task force, he issued formal recommendations to the president. His report rejected consideration of medical marijuana as a potential remedy.
The evidence that cannabis could assist in pain management is mostly anecdotal at this point, but there have been promising signs. And in the fight against opioid addiction, early data out of Colorado suggests a link between cannabis legalization and a decline in opioid deaths. More research is necessary. Why rule it out? Christie’s biography offers clues.
Chris Christie is an extremely intelligent man. Prior to becoming governor, he served as a federal prosecutor in New York, and established himself as a force of nature in court. Along with many other high-profile cases, Christie was responsible for sending Charles Kushner, father of executive son-in-law Jared Kushner, to prison for tax fraud. For an example of Christie’s quick wit and sharp tongue, look no further than the 2016 Republican primary debates. He provided the highlight of those debates when he essentially short-circuited Marco Rubio into repeating the same line three times. (If you hate the robotic banality of electoral politics, or simply hate talking points, watching Christie reduce Rubio to a stammering mess was wonderful.)
Christie was also a harsh critic of Trump at the time. But after Trump won the nomination, Christie opted for a Faustian bargain. He chose to endorse Trump, energetically. It didn’t pay off.
In other versions of this story – in his version, likely – Christie’s plummeting poll numbers can be attributed to the “bridgegate” debacle. In his defense, bridgegate was covered excessively by the press, and as mainstream news bends to meet attention deficits, it’s wise to focus on substance, and not scandal.
But by endorsing Trump, Christie failed miserably on substance. He sacrificed his image as a brash, no-nonsense politician for a shot at Washington. For a man with no discernible ethical code, one thing can be said of Trump: He rewards loyalty. (For proof, compare the resumes of his department heads to the responsibilities of their respective departments.) But Trump snubbed Christie. Christie did head Trump’s transition team briefly, before being abruptly replaced. Jared Kushner, it’s worth noting, is rumored to have played a role in all of this.
By accepting the opioid position, Christie got to preserve some dignity. He insists it is a subject for which he has always been passionate. But why rule out medical marijuana? Christie doesn’t fit the moral crusader mold of a Sessions, or an Ashcroft. He’s smarter than that. Christie and Sessions have at least one thing in common though: They each gambled on Trump. Christie lost round one. Can we trust that his judgment will remain sound, once his sights are set on round two?