Famous literary meals
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson
Washington Post political reporter Dan Balz’s book on the 2012 presidential election, the first major entry in the regular flood of post-election sum-ups, will be out soon, and the political press is busy reporting all the fun nuggets from it. So far, we have learned that Mitt Romney didn’t even want to be president. And neither did most of his family. And in 2011 he decided to quite the race but then he didn’t.
But a more interesting revelation, because it involves someone other than Mitt Romney, is the story of the time all the Republican billionaires in America tried as hard as they could to convince New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to run for president instead of Mitt. Christie was almost asked to be Romney’s running mate until an obscure SEC rule made such a run impossible — sitting governors can’t raise money for presidential runs from companies in their states, apparently — but apparently a lot of people thought Christie should be at the top of the ticket.
In the book, Christie reveals that a hit parade of major establishment Republicans begged him to run for president throughout 2011, even after most of them had already supposedly lined up behind Romney. Nancy Reagan, Barbara and George W. Bush and even Henry Kissinger all called him to try to convince him to enter the race. (Did any of them understand that Christie would eventually reveal their attempted maneuvering, on the record, to a Washington Post political reporter? Unclear.) Then came the big sell: They threw Christie a billionaire party!
Home Depot founder Ken Langone — a wealthy GOP contributor and player — invited Christie to come meet with “a small group” of friends who would talk to the governor about what he should do for the country.
Christie arrived with his wife and a top aide, all of whom were flabbergasted to find 60 heavy hitters in the room, not to mention those who were conferenced in by phone.
Christie recalled: “All of a sudden you hear John Mack [ former CEO of Morgan Stanley] on the phone. [Langone] says ‘David Koch is out of the county. David, are you there?’”
Haha yes, wonderful! John Mack, the former head of Morgan Stanley, a bank that required billions of dollars in government bailouts following Mack’s years of reckless mismanagement! He really wanted Chris Christie to be president, and for some reason Christie thinks that piece of information reflects well on him. And Ken Langone, the angry shouting CNBC billionaire who famously chaired the committee that gave Dick Grasso his $190 million payout at the New York Stock Exchange! (“If Grasso gives back a fucking nickel, I’ll never talk to him again,” Langone told Fortune at the time. Langone has always been a strong believer in the importance of relentless corporate efficiency and also in executives and CEOs getting paid staggering, unbelievable sums of money.) David Koch was on the phone, too, perhaps calling from his secret seastead. (No one will shame him about his paltry tipping at sea!)
And Henry Kissinger was there too because he is still for some reason not rotting in a jail cell somewhere.
This meeting has, it turns out, been previously reported, in a brief 2011 Mike Allen piece that sums up Christie’s remarks but does little to add to our knowledge of the guest list. We can add a couple hedge fund billionaires, though, in Stan Druckenmiller and Paul Tudor Jones, and Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus.
Christie met a roomful of billionaires — featuring multiple men who show up on Forbes lists — who really, really wanted him to be president. So it seems fair to ask why, exactly, this specific class of people — old white men worth billions of dollars — would want Chris Christie to be president, more than his Democratic opponent. Perhaps Republicans are more attuned to the needs and desires of the very, very rich than they are to the needs and desires of the less rich?
Republicans (at least these sorts of Republicans) decry this sort of talk as “class warfare,” and they find class warfare to be so naturally distasteful that they rarely explain what is supposed to be so awful about it, but they understand and exploit the appeal of actual class warfare all the time in their endless attempts to paint Democrats as representatives of an elite — an intellectual or cultural elite, not a specifically economic one — so it seems fair to note that a whole bunch of the richest people in the nation begged this Republican to run for president. In fact, it seems like a pretty clear expression of class consciousness on the part of these incredibly wealthy old men, to band together and support someone who’d advance their interests if elected president.
But most Americans don’t actually care for these people. Most Americans have rather dim opinions of “hedge fund billionaires,” or any kind of billionaire. This makes it all the stranger that Christie would brag about his support from this class, until you remember that in the bubble people like Christie live in no one (or at least no one worth listening to) ever says anything negative about John Mack.
We all already know that in the United States since around just before the Reagan era the top 1 percent of earners have gotten much richer than everyone else, and the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent — people like the sorts of people Christie met at that wonderful party — have done so fantastically well for themselves that even the rest of the 1 percent has reason to feel resentful. Meanwhile life basically sucks for everyone else, with stagnating wages and a hollowing out of the middle class, not to mention the in-progress gutting of the safety net for those never lucky enough to actually join the middle class. And here’s Chris Chris bragging that 60 representatives of the ultra-elite really, really wanted him to be president. This should be an idiotic gaffe, of the sort that ends a man’s political career. Not because these rich people, outside of Kissinger, are specifically awful — most of them give heavily to charity! — but because the entire meeting reveals presidential politics to be as much a fixed affair as any grubby Marxist might imagine. Self-interested plutocrats declared this man to be their preferred candidate! And yet the man is openly sharing this information himself.
Of course there is probably right this second a different roomful of different billionaires begging Hillary Clinton to run for president, so like the man says, you can’t win.
Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @pareeneMore Alex Pareene.
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson
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Alex Pareene surveys the burgeoning and bloated world of political news and opinion and explains the day's most essential story in Opening Shot, posted by 8:30 a.m. each weekday. Bookmark this page; follow @pareene on Twitter.