Arguably the most famous comeback in American political history was that of Richard Nixon, who lost a close presidential race in 1960, followed up by a loss in the California Governor's race two years later. After that defeat, he famously whined to the press: "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." Everyone thought he was done for. Nixon was, after all, an extremely unlikable politician whose nickname, "Tricky Dick," said everything about his uniquely slimy character. But then he ran again for president six years later — and won.
Nixon's appeal to his voters was the fact that he was an asshole, there's just no other way to put it. He had no charisma or charm. But he was a ruthless operator who his supporters believed would do whatever was necessary to keep their political opponents and foreign enemies in line. We all know how that worked out.
It's tempting to see Donald Trump as a true heir to Nixon. After all, his appeal was similar in many ways. He too lied as easily as he breathed, stripped the bark off of anyone who crossed him and was seen as someone who would keep the hippies and the minorities in line. And Trump actually outdid Nixon in personal corruption. But that's where the similarities end. Nixon had a deep understanding of government and policy and a fully formed, sophisticated ideological agenda. Trump was a rank amateur with no interest or capacity for learning anything new. And say what you will about him, there is no denying that Trump managed to create a full-blown cult of personality, something poor old Dick Nixon couldn't even come close to achieving.
No, the true heir to Nixon in modern Republican politics is former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Like Nixon, Christie's main appeal lies in the fact that he's an asshole which seems to thrill about half of America's voters at any given time. He's also got a record of political dirty tricks, deep unpopularity with his (former) constituents, a failed presidential campaign and what appears to be an attempt at a comeback.
As hard as it is to believe after his sad performance as a Trump toady, Christie has a new book out in which he is endeavoring to present himself as the one guy willing to stand up to Donald Trump. It's his bid to compete for the presidential nomination in 2024 — and the media is eating it up with a spoon. In fact, there has never been so much excitement over a book by a has-been politician who left office years ago with a 14% approval rating and whose main claim to fame since then was doing debate prep for the man who beat him. But the press can't get enough of this guy. As Aaron Rupar documented in his newsletter Public Notice, in the last week:
Following an interview published in the New York Times on Saturday, Christie has been doing a ridiculous number of TV hits. He's appeared on two ABC shows (This Week and The View), Fox & Friends, Fox News, Fox Business, the Daily Show, and CNBC. He appeared on MSNBC three separate times during a 24-hour period stretching from Monday evening into Tuesday.
On Monday evening, CNN ran an hour-long, soft-focus special about Christie. (The scandal that tanked Christie's standing in New Jersey, Bridgegate, wasn't even mentioned.)
That's not all. If you read Christie's Twitter feed, you'll see that he's doing late-night shows, radio, streaming interviews and podcasts as well. He is in great demand. And it's mind-boggling. As Late Night host Seth Myers quipped:
"Cable is so desperate to fill time that CNN even aired a ludicrous special focused entirely on Christie called Being Chris Christie...You guys are acting like he's some weird lifestyle-having guy that everyone wants to know about. He's not Harry Styles or Banksy, he's a loudmouth from New Jersey. If you want to know what he's thinking you don't need CNN. You just need to be within earshot, which is for him I think like a mile?
I suspect that's exactly what most people think of Christie, especially Trumpers who will only see him as disloyal — and no one else ever liked him in the first place. But apparently, the media is so hungry for some Trump-lite that they are lapping up everything he says as if he's some exciting, new political superstar.
To his credit Christie admits that the election was not stolen and mildly criticizes Trump for refusing to let it go, always suggesting that it's bad for "the party" rather than admitting that it's a grotesque perversion of American democracy. In his book, he even dishes a bit on the former president, revealing that Trump personally leaked to the press that he'd offered Christie the White House Chief of Staff job and revealing that Trump had offered him "just about every other position this side of White House chef." Unfortunately, he never offered him Attorney General, which Christie says was the job he really wanted.
But mostly Christie is trying to walk the line between Trump critic and Trump supporter, a position which Politico reported he sees as the road to victory in 2024. He distanced himself after January 6th and has not promised not to run against him, as others have done:
There is a strategic logic to that approach. Christie, according to those familiar with his thinking, would occupy a middle lane in a potential primary, positioned between those who embrace Trump without reservation and would never criticize him, and any candidate who sought to capture the Never Trump vote.
Christie says he wants to "rescue" the party. What he doesn't say is that he wants to rescue the party from Trumpism. In fact, it's quite clear that he sees himself as its rightful leader.
"He's very ambitious, always has been. And he's very, very smart and knows how to calculate the odds," said former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, who has known Christie since high school and whom Christie once called a mentor. "He felt the last election that Trump took his place. He thought he had carved out a space for himself, the rough-talking, tell-things-as-they-are position. But that was Trump. Now he thinks Trump is probably in the rearview mirror and what position can he get into now."
Trump stole his lane last time and now the voters are over him and will want to vote for the real thing? That's just sad. But this is even sadder:
No matter what, he's not going up against Fox News. Here he is belatedly responding to MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace after she cornered him about the real problems underlying Trumpism and the Big Lie:
Chris Christie's book is called "Republican Rescue: Saving the Party from Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden." Wallace was 100 percent correct. It's pretty clear that the only thing Chris Christie is trying to save is his reputation and it's not going well.
As the (parody) Nixon twitter account put it: