Warning: The next sentence may cause a flash of dizziness from disbelief.
Chris Christie is launching a think tank in hopes of fostering more “civilized conversations” in our national political dialogue.
Yes, the same Chris Christie who chased down a heckler on the Seaside Park boardwalk with an ice cream cone. The same Chris Christie who took aim at teachers at town halls. The Chris Christie who rattled off a red-meat indictment of Hillary Clinton that sparked chants of “Lock her up!” at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
This same Chris Christie, a Donald Trump enabler, now wants to rebrand himself as a paragon of civility.
The Christie Institute of Public Policy, scheduled to begin next month at Seton Hall Law School, aims, in part, to elevate the coarsened national political conversation, Christie said in an interview with NJ Advance Media last week.
“Unfortunately our politics have gotten so ugly and divisive in the country that people are not having civilized conversations,” Christie said.
Really? That’s a big stretch coming from a governor who actively marketed his smash-mouth persona on YouTube and later became the staunch, stand-by-his-side defender of Donald Trump, the tweeter-in-chief who has plunged political discourse to new, toxic depths.
Christie, who sat indifferently on a public beach amid a government shutdown, now wants to hold forth during discussions in a high-back armchair like a PBS host, dispensing wisdom and playing the role of healer, not partisan divider.
But here are a few reminders from the vast Christie catalog of political combat that should call into deep doubt any rebranding as a champion of civility.
Taking a ‘bat out’ on Loretta Weinberg
This metaphor came to define Christie’s audacious style during his first term. Christie’s outburst came while reporters pressed him to comment on the double-dipping of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who was drawing retirement benefits while running the county.
Christie deflected as he urged reporters to look into Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, then 76, who was drawing a state pension after losing her savings in the Bernie Madoff investment scandal. “I mean, can you guys please take the bat out on her for once?” he said.
Trashing reporters who ask pesky questions
Christie never hesitated in biting off the heads of reporters who had the temerity to challenge him with impertinent questions.
A Record reporter ignored Christie’s demand to stay “on topic” at a South Jersey news conference on a hot Saturday in June 2012. The reporter asked if Christie intended to hold a special session over the state budget on the following Monday.
“Did you hear me say ‘on topic’?” Christie barked. “Are you stupid? On topic. On topic.” As the news conference broke up, Christie apologized to the officials onstage for the “idiot” who violated news conference guidelines.
Another headline-grabbing lashing out by Christie was directed at New Jersey’s then-only openly gay legislator, Reed Gusciora, who is now mayor of Trenton. Gusciora, who is known for heaving colorful barbs, criticized Christie for opposing legalizing same sex marriage without a public referendum.
“You have numbnuts like Reed Gusciora, who put out a statement comparing me to George Wallace and Lester Maddox,” Christie said, referring to two infamous segregationist governors of the 1960s.
Other Democrats have been targets of Christie’s venom. He once labeled Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, an “arrogant SOB” and described Democrats who rejected his Supreme Court nominee as “animals.”
‘Sit down and shut up!’
In 2014, Jim Keady, a former Asbury Park councilman, got in Christie’s cross hairs at a news conference commemorating the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.
As Christie spoke to the cameras, Keady held a sign imploring Christie to “finish the job” of storm recovery. A frustrated Christie scolded him for the cameras.
“I’ve been here when the cameras aren’t here, buddy, and done the work. I’m glad you had your day to show off, but we’re the ones who are here to actually do the work,” Christie said. “So listen, you want to have the conversation later, I’m happy to have it, buddy. But until that time, sit down and shut up.”
Lashing out at Sen. Frank Lautenberg
In 2012, Bill Baroni, a top Christie deputy at the Port Authority — and later a Bridgegate defendant — got into a testy exchange with then-88-year-old U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg at a Senate hearing investigating Port Authority toll hikes.
During the hearing, Baroni cited how Lautenberg took advantage of free tolls when he served as a Port Authority commissioner. Lautenberg was furious.
The next day Christie called Lautenberg a “partisan hack” and said his conduct was “an embarrassment to the state and an embarrassment to the United States Senate.”
Tongue lashing of former Navy SEAL
William Brown, then a Rutgers law school student, aggressively questioned Christie at a Burlington County town hall about a proposed merger between Rutgers and Rowan Universities. Brown, who was opposed, got into a testy exchange with Christie that led to his ejection from the event.
As he was being led out, Christie said, “Go ahead, yes, sir. Let me tell you something. After you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end’s gonna get thrown in jail, idiot.”
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