Feature: Is NJ Governor Chris Christie A Mad Man?

From his earliest days as a public official, Christie has used bluster and overheated rhetoric to take down his enemies. It’s turned him into Angry America’s favorite politician — at least until they get a look at what he’s really doing

You could agree or disagree with the philosophy at the heart of Christie’s argument — essentially, he doesn’t believe that economic stimulus measures work — but at least it was coherent. It made total sense — except for the fact that at the same time Christie was telling the press there was no money tree, he was on the phone with the bond market, asking it to plant money trees. In the summer and early fall, as the state’s economy sputtered, Christie started borrowing. He did it quietly. He borrowed $2.25 billion in short-term notes to keep the state’s accounts liquid. Then he borrowed $2 billion in long-term notes to, among other things, widen the New Jersey Turnpike, which, like the ARC tunnel, was a major infrastructure project expected to cost more than its original budget. Also, instead of raising the state’s 14.5 cent gas tax, among the lowest in the nation, Christie did the thing he’d said was “unconscionable” during his campaign: He borrowed an additional $1.5 billion to prop up the “Ponzi scheme” of the Transportation Trust Fund. The new bonds will mature between 2016 and 2028. A long-term fix for the fund, he promised, would be revealed in the fall, but October came and went with no plan. “The truth is,” says Merkt, “he’s helping to dig the hole deeper.”

IT"S EASY TO SEE why people can’t get enough of the Chris Christie Show. Like a good insult comic — the Star-Ledger calls him “Governor Rickles” — he hints at the emotional vulnerability under the nasty shell. One longtime Trenton journalist told me, “He’s thin-skinned, like they all are, but he’s a good quote, and he knows how to make news.”

The national media are falling in love as well. In October, Christie sat down with his family for a Today Show profile that crowned him “a conservative folk hero.” Christie discussed whether he wants to be president (“No way”) or vice president (“Can you see me as somebody’s vice president? I mean, who would be that poor guy?”). Then Christie turned to his seven-year-old daughter, Bridget: “Would you like your daddy to be president of the United States?”

“I don’t have an answer for that,” Bridget said.

“Someone prepared her,” the Today Show reporter said, laughing.

“On message!” Christie said.

Christie’s advisers are starting to game out presidential scenarios. When I mentioned to Palatucci some of the criticisms I’d heard from Steve Lonegan and others — basically, that Christie is a faux conservative — Palatucci said, “Steve is not the leader of the conservative movement in New Jersey,” then pointed out that Christie was committed to “remaking” the state Supreme Court, taking on the public-employee unions, and canceling the ARC tunnel. And he was pro-life, if complicatedly so. “To most people,” Palatucci said, “that’s a really good set of conservative credentials.” Realistically, the social conservatives who vote in GOP primaries will never forgive Christie for his pro-choice past, but he can atone by doubling down on the fiscal heroics. Christie is already starting to talk about cutting the income tax. Right now, it’s hard to see how this will grow anything except deficits, and maybe blood vessels in Glenn Beck’s erogenous zones; by cutting taxes faster than he can possibly cut spending, and borrowing billions, he’s not solving anything, just dropping more problems into the lap of the next governor. But if the economy picks up on his watch and property taxes go down, he’ll be a genius with a national future.