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CNN Special Reports
Being Chris Christie. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired November 22, 2021 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for everything.
CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: You're very welcome.
BASH: -- now navigating a party at a crossroads.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Breaking news, a party in crisis.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: It is now the party of Donald Trump.
BASH: A long-time friend and high profile supporter of Donald Trump --
CHRISTIE: He's rewriting the playbook of American politics.
BASH: -- turned harsh critic of Trump's big lie.
CHRISTIE: We can no longer talk about the past and the past elections.
BASH: It's a high wire balancing act for the two-term governor and so far, one-time presidential candidate, now trying to use his trademark blunt talk --
CHRISTIE: Sit down and shut up!
BASH: -- to rid the Republican Party of the conspiracies Trump perpetuates --
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: This is the most corrupt election in the history, maybe of the world.
BASH: -- all while attempting to define a new role for himself.
How seriously are you considering running for president in 2024?
It's all part of BEING CHRIS CHRISTIE.
BASH: Good evening. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, and welcome to another episode in a series of special hours where I spent time with people in the news and people of power and influence to try to find out more about what it's like to be them.
Tonight, Chris Christie.
He's out with a new book "Republican Rescue". It's a frank memo to his own party about how to move forward after six years defined by Donald Trump. The former president is already lashing out at Christie for starting to speak out about the need to move past 2020 election lies.
But can Christie distance himself from Trump now? And is there still room in the GOP for anyone not fully on the Trump train?
These are questions we put to Christie over at the next hour and how he answers says as much about his own future as it does about the Republican Party itself.
BASH: You are a hard-charging politician. You say what's on your mind. You are seen as an enabler by people who hate Donald Trump. You are seen as a traitor to people who love Donald Trump.
So what is being Chris Christie like?
CHRISTIE: Being yourself. I mean, like -- look, to me, I don't apologize for any of what you just said because in all those instances, I was being who I am -- someone who tells the truth and who goes with their gut, who believes in this country, believes in the things that I think are important to make the country better and feels like I have an obligation to speak out.
And so, for me, that's who I am and being me is sometimes not easy but most of the time it's fun.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: CNN projects Joseph R. Biden junior is elected --
BASH (voice-over): For Republicans like Christie, the last year has not always been that fun.
Take me back to election night 2020. You're watching the then president and he starts talking and you do what?
CHRISTIE: I felt absolutely sick to my stomach, physically stick to my stomach watching him stand behind the seal of the president of the United States in the East Room of the White House saying something that I knew at that moment he couldn't prove was true. But he was saying it as if it was an absolute fact.
TRUMP: We were getting ready to win this election -- frankly, we did win this election.
CHRISTIE: You cannot as president of the United States stand up there and say that the election was stolen to the American people as your first statement after the results are coming in unless you have absolute concrete proof. And that's the prosecutor in me, I guess. I felt like it was the obligation of even someone who had been a
supporter of his, had voted for him earlier that day to say what the truth was and the truth was at that moment, there was no evidence that the election was being stolen and in fact, we're now, you know, nearly a year later and there is still no evidence the election was stolen.
BASH: And he's still saying it?
BASH: You call that speech one of the most dangerous pieces of political rhetoric I have ever heard in my life. That's a big statement.
CHRISTIE: Well, it is a big statement but it's true, and all you need to know to back that up is to see how many people today still believe it. Because look, one of the things that I think the president never completely took in was that his words when he became president had much greater import than they did before he became president.
He didn't change an iota from the week before the election in 2016 --
TRUMP: Lock her up is right.
CHRISTIE: -- to 2020.
TRUMP: You should lock them up.
CHRISTIE: He was the same guy.
I saw him up close. He -- I thought the presidency might change him. It did not change him a bit.
BASH: Remember, in 2016, he wanted the job himself.
CHRISTIE: I am proud to announce my candidacy for the Republican nomination for president of the United States of America.
BASH: But ultimately --
TRUMP: Wow, there's a lot of press.
BASH: Christie became the first of Trump's rivals to endorse him for president.
CHRISTIE: But the one person that Hillary and Bill Clinton do not want to see on that stage come next September is Donald Trump.
BASH: So people are going to be listening to you and thinking, give me a break. He was there almost from the beginning, and you're an enabler of Donald Trump.
How do you respond to that? CHRISTIE: You know, I think people who make those kind of accusations
to somebody who's trying to make the country better don't understand what politics is all about and what government is all about. Any time I objected to the president's conduct either from a policy or personal perspective, I said it to him. That's the kind of relationship we have. I didn't have to hold back and I didn't.
BASH: Do you accept any responsibility for what happened after Election Day?
CHRISTIE: No. I don't --
BASH: As somebody who helped him along the way. You helped him get to where he was.
CHRISTIE: I don't consider myself so important that without my help Donald Trump wouldn't have been president, wouldn't have been able to do the things he did. That's ridiculous.
It was clear to me he would be the Republican nominee and we had a relationship. So I wanted to try to make him the best candidate he could be and if he won, ultimately, the best president he could be.
I don't make any apologies for that. I was one very small part of the effort to help make him president. So the responsibility I'll take is I voted for him twice. I admit that and I wouldn't change my vote.
BASH: Even a second time?
CHRISTIE: No, I wouldn't. I wouldn't change my vote. Because so many things, Dana, that are happening right now in the country from a policy perspective are to me so long term bad for the country.
BASH: I have to follow up on that, because looking back, the fact that democracy in your words was at such risk and is at such risk, isn't having a policy debate almost a luxury when what is really a problem is the Constitution itself? Meaning, don't you have to have the Constitution and democracy and the bones there in order to have the ability to have a debate about policy?
CHRISTIE: I think there -- the two are indivisible. I don't think that you can pick one over the other. I don't think you ever should pick one over the other, and I don't think the Founders would have wanted us to pick one over another.
To me, if you have a constitutional republic that is driving the constitutional republic off the road, that's just as bad and you got to stand up against that, too. You're asking me in retrospect who I would have voted for knowing everything I know today as we're sitting here, and I'm saying to you, I could not -- given what I stand for in my public life, what I've worked for in my public life -- I couldn't justify a vote for Joe Biden. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better run, cops!
BASH: That includes what happened on January 6th.
Christie watched on TV as rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
CROWD: We want Pence! We want Pence!
BASH: And immediately tried to reach then President Trump on the phone.
CHRISTIE: The first thing I did before I called the president was I called Kellyanne Conway, and asked her if she had spoken to him, and she said she had tried but she had not been able to get through. And she said, you have to call him.
I tried four different ways that you can -- that I had found successful in getting in touch with the president over the years. First, I called his secretary. She didn't pick up the phone, went right to her voicemail.
And I called his body person and he didn't answer his phone. Then I called the White House switchboard and asked to be put through. And they said he was not available. And then I called his personal cell phone.
Now, I knew most of the time he didn't bring his cell phone into the Oval Office but I thought maybe he had it or maybe he was in the residence, I didn't know where he was, so I tried his cell phone and it went to voice mail. And the president and I never wound up speaking that day.
TRUMP: We fight like hell and if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.
BASH: Was President Trump responsible for the insurrection on the Capitol?
CHRISTIE: I don't think the speech he gave that day caused what happened. I think everything that he was saying from election night forward incited people to that level of anger.
BASH: I mean, that makes it worse. That's worse than one speech.
CHRISTIE: Well, that's my point. My point is that I think people minimize what happened on the 6th by pointing to the speech that he gave on the ellipse on the 6th.
BASH: It sounds to me like you're saying he was responsible for it.
CHRISTIE: What I'm saying is that there -- you can never be wholly responsible for the conduct of other people.
And each one of those individual people are responsible for what they did -- or didn't do.
BASH: Would they have done that if they had not heard from their candidate, the president, that it was a bunch of -- that it was rigged?
CHRISTIE: I don't think they would have gone there if they thought the election had been fair. Right? If they thought the election had not been stolen, there would have been no reason for the rally.
BASH: Did Donald Trump try to stage a coup to stay in office?
CHRISTIE: I don't think so.
I think, look...
BASH: How could you hear that he was trying to change election results and think of it as anything other than that?
CHRISTIE: Well, because, to me, the way I view a coup is to utilize the military to try to overturn a civilian election. He wasn't doing that. He was using, trying to use civilian things to try to overturn an election. And he was said "no" to.
So I don't think it was -- it certainly was not a successful coup.
BASH: What do you see it as? How would you describe it?
CHRISTIE: I -- I see it as somebody who was desperate not to lose, desperate not to lose, and tried to exert pressure on people to do things legally that he couldn't get the courts to do.
BASH (voice over): Christie and Trump had been friends for almost 20 years but have not spoken since January.
CHRISTIE: He calls me on the way back from my Sunday morning show to tell me he didn't like what I had said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, ABC'S "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS": You'd vote to impeach?
CHRISTIE: I think that, you know, in the -- well, that's -- if I think it's an impeachable offense, that's exactly what I would do, George. But I'm -- I'm not in there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: And we argued back and forth, as we often did. The -- the conversation ended perfectly civilly, and that's the last time we spoke.
BASH (on camera): Do you care?
CHRISTIE: Well, sure, I care. I don't like anybody to be angry with me. But on -- but on the other hand, like, there's nothing that I would do differently than what I did or said, if I had a chance to do it again.
BASH: You're very clear about how corrosive what he did from Election Day through -- through right now has been. But it's not like that was the first lie that he told. It's not like that was the first time that he did something that was really damaging to democracy.
So is your criticism now too little too late?
CHRISTIE: I mean, some people can make that judgment. But, boy, I'll tell you, if -- if we get off board of every politician who ever says something that's not true, we're not going to be able to support anybody.
So we could sit here and have a historical conversation about the comparison. I don't think it's useful. In the end, if your question is, "Oh, well, this isn't the first lie he told, therefore you're an enabler," you know, then put me in the pantheon of people who supported a politician who didn't tell the truth 100 percent of the time. I've got a feeling there won't be enough room in the biggest room in the world -- in the Taj Mahal -- to fit all of us.
So I -- again, this is from people who in the end don't like Donald Trump, never wanted him to be president and now want to try to get a two-for with me. Sorry, they're not going to get it.
BASH (voice over): Coming up, the mistake that almost cost Chris Christie his life.
(on camera): You got COVID at the White House. You thought it was a safe zone?
CHRISTIE: Um-hm. I was wrong. Yeah. I was wrong.
BASH (voice over): For seven days in October of 2020, being Chris Christie meant fearing he was going to die.
(on camera): You got COVID at the White House while helping President Trump prepare for a debate. You thought it was a safe zone.
BASH: It wasn't.
CHRISTIE: I was wrong. Yeah. I was wrong. We got tested every day before we walked in. And so, you know, I thought, OK, if we're all being tested and everybody in the room's being tested, then how are we going to get COVID, if we're all negative?
So we didn't wear masks. None of us wore masks during debate prep. That turned out to be a mistake -- a big mistake.
There was seven people in the room for debate prep over four days, and six of the seven of us got it, including the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER": The president will be heading over to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH (voice over): Less than 24 hours after the president was rushed to Walter Reed, Christie got the call that his own COVID test was positive. Asthmatic and overweight, doctors told him to get to the hospital immediately.
(on camera): You have a deadly virus, and you pull up to the hospital and you see your priest there.
CHRISTIE: Well, I -- I knew before I saw the priest it was serious. And he gave me a blessing and anointed me with oil before I went in. And it was -- it was -- it was emotional, because I knew that this could be a problem, but that moment and the seriousness of that moment with him and the role that he plays in my life and Mary Pat's life, that was a really emotional moment for me.
And I, you know, got done with him and walked into the emergency room, and they took my blood oxygen level and then they said to me, "You're out of here. You're going to intensive care." And that was it. I was in isolation for the next seven days.
BASH: What was that like?
CHRISTIE: Scary -- especially the first two days, because the first two days, I wasn't getting better; I was getting worse.
No one could come and visit me. So you're very much alone. I didn't want to talk too much on the phone because, you know, I was having difficulty so I didn't want to expend the energy.
So you very much just have time to sit there for yourself. I -- my -- my headaches and body aches were too much, so I couldn't really read. It hurt too much to read.
BASH (voice over): All but one person working on debate prep with Trump got COVID, as well as dozens who attended an event for then Supreme Court justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Still, Christie says, he never got an official call from the White House or any contact tracers.
BASH (on camera): They still haven't called you?
CHRISTIE: No, no, they never called me.
BASH: Was Trump just not tested?
CHRISTIE: I don't know. I know that all of us in the room who entered the White House every day were tested. I don't know what the president's testing protocol was or wasn't. He never shared that with us. But to be honest, I never asked him. I assumed he was being tested.
Whether that's sure, I don't know. I mean, the president ultimately called me when I went to the hospital.
BASH (voice-over): Trump made that call from Walter Reed, one COVID patient to another. In his book, Christie describes what he believes was Trump's motivation for that call. "'Are you going to say you got it from me?' the president asked. 'I don't know that I got it from you, sir,' I said. 'So, I would not say that. No'." Cavalier treatment for a friend whose condition became dire.
(on camera): You were worried that you would get intubated.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. Yeah, I was and because the breathing, you know, being asthmatic and everything was an issue. So I had a conversation with Mary Pat where I said to her, look, like you need to tell the doctors that if they're going to do it, they need to tell you first because I want to talk to the kids before it happens because, you know, a lot of people get intubated and they don't ever come out of it. And I said, I don't want that to be their last memory of me.
BASH: So, did you talk to them?
CHRISTIE: No, because I never got intubated.
BASH: But just even having that thought.
CHRISTIE: Yes, it's emotional now talking about it. You know, the most important thing in my life is being a father. And so, the idea of being in that moment and thinking I may not be able to continue to help guide my children. That's what I was thinking about, was like all these different things in their life that are going to come that I may not be there for. Like how do I give them advice now that will last them for a long time? And so those were the things I was thinking about at the time and that's scary. And so, you know, I wanted to make sure that at least I had the chance.
BASH: What's it like to face your mortality like that in such an intense way?
CHRISTIE: I mean, it's scary is the only word I can really use. Like you get scared and then you think to yourself -- you start to think to yourself like what -- what haven't I done that I should have? So, it's just a very isolating thing and it's scary. But after I got the monoclonal antibody treatment, about 24 hours after that I started to feel better for the first time.
BASH (voice-over): Former President Trump publicly defies advise from health experts, but Christie is taking the opposite approach.
(on camera): You spend a lot of time trying to get people who are vaccine-reluctant to get vaccinated. What do you find is the most effective argument?
CHRISTIE: I say to people, like, I've had it. If you have it, you don't want it. You don't want it, because you don't know. You might be like my son who had 14 days of absolutely no symptoms and went back to college and he was fine, or you could be like me who wound up in the ICU or you could be like my cousin who wound up dead. And you don't know which one you're going to be and any doctor who tells you they know is lying to you. They don't know. So why not protect yourself?
BASH (voice-over): Up next, some very raw insight on a very personal issue for Christie.
CHRISTIE: People will send notes or something like "try a salad" or "how could you be a leader if you can't push yourself away from the dinner table?"
BASH: So that was your first public office?
CHRISTIE: Run for public office, yes.
BASH (voice-over): Part of being Chris Christie is being ridiculed about his body.
(on camera): You've always been open about your struggles with your weight. You had surgery to try to address that. How do you feel that has contributed to who you are?
CHRISTIE: Oh, gosh, I mean I think everything about you physically contributes to who you are. as a person, right? You know, so yes, I mean, look, I've often thought that it's -- like in this time where we are examining our sensitivity about what we say about people, it's been extraordinary to me to watch that that applies to everything about a person except for their weight.
CHRISTIE: You know, you can't say anything about anybody commenting about their physical appearance or what they do or say right now because people can find that offensive. The things that are said about me on the internet about almost any comment that I make at any time, someone responds with some insult about my weight. I could be talking about, you know, the Iran nuclear deal and I'll get a response from somebody on email or Twitter or Facebook or whatever saying, you know, you fat SOB, you blah blah blah. I'm like, OK, well, what does that have to do with the Iran nuclear deal? One of the amazing things to me, and like I said, I think it has made me tougher, is that no one sees that as a problem.
BASH: But if it was a disability or if it was a -- something else...
CHRISTIE: Oh, gosh, they would never -- they would be appalled to say anything. I'll give you a great example of it. When -- when you're leaving office, like when you're governor, you get all kinds of gifts, solicited, unsolicited, from people you know, from people you don't know and they get cataloged and put in its room in the state house. We get to the end of eight years. And you've got eight years' worth of gifts that you now have to decide what do I do with them? Do you know what the single biggest category of gifts was I got in my eight years? Books about weight.
CHRISTIE: Yes. Books...
BASH: From whom? Who sent a book like that?
CHRISTIE: From any -- I'm telling you, from people -- almost all of them are from people that had never met me. Here is the way you have to (INAUDIBLE), this is what you have to do, this is what you have to do for your weight, do this. There were, and I'm not talking about dozens, I'm talking about a couple of hundred books, pamphlets, stuff sent in to me as gifts to me about my weight.
BASH (voice-over): Christie's weight has been the subject of jokes on late night talk shows for years.
JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: I read that in the last year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's approval rating has gone up 12 points. That's impressive. Usually, the only time he picks up a dozen is when he goes to Krispy Kreme.
SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN: Trump demanded Chris Christie have the White House meatloaf. Coincidentally, White House meatloaf is also the position Trump is considering him for.
CONAN O'BRIEN, COMEDIAN: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is in the news. He's under fire. He's in trouble for calling a politician he doesn't like an SOB. Yeah.
Meanwhile, Christie calls a politician he does like a BLT (ph). The large fellow.
He's a large fellow.
BASH: Does it hurt?
CHRISTIE: It used to. Like after I became governor, it intensified significantly, publicly, and after a while you just learn to deal with it. I mean, you know, I'm significantly less heavy than I was at the beginning of the governorship and the surgery that I had helped significantly.
I have more weight that I want to lose, but I no longer feel desperate or frantic about it because I feel like my health is under good control.
BASH: Everybody has advice.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, like look --
BASH: Food advice or --
CHRISTIE: I don't know if it's food advice -- I can't tell you how many times people will send notes or something like try a salad or how could you be a leader and you can't push yourself away from the dinner table?
I mean, like, if it was that simple, I would have fixed it a long time ago. You know, so it's a much more complicated issue. And I think -- I think in one way, some of the popularity I've had over the years in the country with people is because they could -- there's a lot of people that have weight problems in this country, and they look at me and they can relate to me in a different way than people who don't.
BASH: You said it makes you tougher but I'm sitting here thinking, it's not -- it's got to be really tough on yourself esteem.
CHRISTIE: If -- for a while it was. Sure. It's a daily challenge. Let me assure you and assure anybody out there who's listening who has a similar situation, it's a daily challenge. It doesn't go away.
And so, you just have to learn how to try to deal with it and learn that when the sun comes up tomorrow morning, you got another chance to deal with it, and I've come over time to think about how small the people are who decide they want to make that the issue about me. In the end, if that's their biggest issue with me, I'll live with it.
BASH: So, this is your COVID sanctum.
BASH: Christie has more time to spend on his health these days. He and Mary Pat, his wife of 35 years, are recent empty nesters. Except in 2020 during the pandemic, like many parents, they had all four kids at home.
CHRISTIE: There was all six of us back around the dinner table again every night which it wasn't the greatest circumstances to have to happen obviously, but it was great for Mary Pat and I, like we loved having them all back here.
BASH: How many years has it been since you and your wife have been without kids at home?
CHRISTIE: Twenty-eight years.
BASH: And on the cusp of turning 60, he seems more reflective these days.
Have you ever heard the term imposter syndrome?
BASH: So -- well, that's because you're a man. The term imposter syndrome is people who are very accomplished and they turn around and they think, am I supposed to be here? Have I earned this? Am I in the right place? When will they figure me out?
Have you ever had that feeling?
BASH: You have?
CHRISTIE: Yeah. When I first became U.S. attorney, I was 39 years old and I had not worked in the office before. Now, I was in charge of it. And I thought to myself -- well, I may have reached a little too far here. Maybe this -- you know, they're going to find me out.
Then, when I decided to run for governor, I felt the same thing.
So, for me, it's been every step along the way I've had a little bit of a worry about -- you know, am I really up for this? So, yeah, I never knew it had a name but I've definitely felt it.
BASH: So, it's "fake it until you make it"?
CHRISTIE: Yes, that's probably right. Yeah, that's a good way to put it. "Fake it until you make it" is definitely something that everybody has to do.
BASH: Later in the program, will he, or won't he?
How seriously are you considering running for president in 2024?
Up next --
All right. Let's go to the beach.
BASH: A trip to Springsteen country.
(MARCHING BAND PLAYING)
BASH (voice-over): Part of being Chris Christie is being all Jersey, especially down the shore, in Asbury Park.
You're so Jersey. CHRISTIE: Yeah. Yes, and I think that was a huge advantage for me was to be as Jersey as I am. It allowed me to do a lot of things that maybe other people wouldn't have been able to do.
BASH: And how do you define that, when you say as Jersey as I am? What is that?
CHRISTIE: Edgy, genuine, no B.S., you know, tough but also, like, a heart, like you care about the place. You love the place.
And I think all of us who -- who have grown up here have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. You know, you're stuck between New York and Philadelphia, and there's all these misconceptions about New Jersey around the country. And the fact that we know it gives us a little bit of an edge and a little bit of sense of that kind of swagger that people like because so many New Jersey things turn out to be big national hits.
(BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN SINGING)
BASH: Like the guy who put Asbury Park on the map, Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen.
CHRISTIE: The Stone Pony, baby.
BASH: There it is!
CHRISTIE: Yep, absolutely.
BASH: I feel like I should be bowing.
CHRISTIE: Yes, it's like Jersey...
CHRISTIE: It's like Jersey temple time.
How are you?
(UNKNOWN): How's (inaudible)?
CHRISTIE: We had a lot of fun, right?
(BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN SINGING)
BASH: So how many times have you seen Bruce Springsteen in there?
CHRISTIE: I saw Bruce Springsteen twice in there.
BASH: And for the uninitiated, obviously, this is where he started?
CHRISTIE: Yeah, this is like -- this is the rock'n'roll bar in -- in New Jersey.
BASH: How many Bruce Springsteen concerts have you been to?
CHRISTIE: One hundred thirty-seven.
BASH: But who's counting?
CHRISTIE: Yeah. You gotta count.
BASH: One hundred thirty-seven?
CHRISTIE: Once you get to that number, you've got to count.
BASH: That's like a job.
CHRISTIE: Well, it's my vice.
We were talking about vices before.
I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do drugs, but I've been to 137 Springsteen concerts.
(UNKNOWN): Nice to meet you.
CHRISTIE: Nice to meet you. Who's this?
(UNKNOWN): This is Tiana.
CHRISTIE: Tiana, how are ya?
BASH (voice over): And Christie's, shall we say, personal style...
CHRISTIE: I have no interest in answering your question.
Get the hell off the beach.
BASH: ... is part of who he is.
(on camera): You've talked about your edge. Have you always been like that?
Have you always had the edge, to use your words?
CHRISTIE: Yeah. I think so. And I...
BASH: Like, out of the womb?
CHRISTIE: I don't know about out of the womb, but I -- but, you know, I remember as far back as, like, grade school, feeling like I had a little bit of an edge, and mixed with, like, a little bit of, like, charm, like being able to, like, talk to people and convince them of things.
And I think, to be effective in politics in this state, you have to have both.
BASH (voice over): It was here on the Jersey shore where that effectiveness was put to the test in 2012. Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast, killing dozens and causing tens of billions in damage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): We heard you were down the shore and we said, "Oh, if Governor Christie could just come and see us." And you did see us. We're so appreciative.
CHRISTIE: Of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Obviously, for me politically, this was the most important place for me in my eight years.
BASH: Because of Sandy.
CHRISTIE: Because of Sandy. It was the defining moment of my governorship and I think always will be, and not something that we ever asked for or would have wished for. But it was -- it was my crucible. It was when I was going to either prove myself to be a real leader or not. And -- and I think I proved that I was a real leader and am a real leader.
BASH: Did you feel that at the time? Did you know that this was your crucible?
CHRISTIE: Yeah. Yeah, because the devastation was everywhere. And people were personally devastated. And so, every time you would meet another person who's grabbing you and crying, and telling them -- telling you about everything they lost and worried that they're not going to be able to get it back, you can't help but know, like, this is it.
BASH (voice over): The Jersey shore is also the scene of one of the most infamous Christie images, sitting on a closed beach in 2017 as the state government was shutting down over a budget dispute with the Democratic legislature.
CHRISTIE: It was a mistake. It was a -- it was a 30-minute mistake. They closed down the government. They didn't give me a budget.
And I told them, if you do it, I'm still going to the beach because it was my last summer there and all the kids had invited friends to come for Fourth of July weekend.
The mistake was going -- me going on the beach. And that was, like, 30 minutes before I went to work that day. I said, "All right, I'll go and sit with everybody and be social." And it was a mistake.
So, you know, like, in the end, as with most things that I do, it gets more attention than I originally thought it would. But that's the -- you know, this is being, right? That's the upside and the downside of being me, right?
BASH: Which is?
CHRISTIE: The upside is I never really have a hard time getting attention. The downside is, I don't have a hard time getting attention, right?
So, when it's good, it's great. When it's bad, it's not. So I got to live with both. And what I have to try to do is, through my own behavior, minimize the bad stuff and try to elevate the good stuff.
CHRISTIE: Just keeping busy, baby.
(UNKNOWN): Keeping busy?
CHRISTIE: The faster you move, the harder they can shoot.
(UNKNOWN): Gotta run again. We need you.
CHRISTIE: Thank you.
BASH (voice over): Walking the boardwalk with Christie, you hear a lot of this.
CHRISTIE: How are ya?
(UNKNOWN): Hi, how are you?
CHRISTIE: Good to meet you.
(UNKNOWN): Run for president.
CHRISTIE: Thank you.
(UNKNOWN): Run for president.
BASH (on camera): So, the "run for president" thing that you're hearing is -- it's picked up?
CHRISTIE: Um-hm. Yeah.
BASH (voice over): So, will he run for president in 2024?
More on that, after the break.
BASH: Sometimes being Chris Christie is being a bulldog.
CHRISTIE: Sit down and shut up. (APPLAUSE)
BASH: In his new book, "Republican Rescue," the former prosecutor takes that same approach with many of his fellow Republicans, debunking conspiracy theories in detail, from QAnon to Pizzagate to the former president's big lie about the election in 2020. (on camera): You write, if the requirement for getting your support "is to say a bunch of things that aren't true, no thank you. That's not who I am and that's not who we are as Republicans."
Isn't that exactly who Republicans are now, thanks to the former president and the lies that he's pushing and the conservative media who are buttressing it?
CHRISTIE: No, I have more faith in my party and in -- like, look, I think that a lot of people who are pushing that get most of the attention. But I think that there are a lot of people out there who are confused and who want to really know what the truth is, who want us to get back to talking about the issues that have traditionally been really important to the country for our party to be advocating.
Maybe I'm too optimistic about that, Dana, but I really believe that, if you give people the facts, that ultimately, they come around to the facts.
BASH: A lot of your fellow Republicans, particularly in Washington, they denounced the insurrection after January 6th. And they've either changed their tune since then or they've just clammed up. Is that a mistake?
CHRISTIE: Well, sure it is. Everyone has got -- but, look, everybody is accountable for their own statements and their own conduct.
BASH: Are they scared of Donald Trump?
CHRISTIE: Oh, I am confident some of them are. Some of them, look, I think they fall into a number of categories. Some of them believe him, they want to believe it. Some of them are scared of him. Some just don't want to talk about it. They just don't want to talk about it. They want it to just go away. I think that there are lots of Republicans who believe exactly what I believe. But no one is saying it to them. The only voice they're hearing right now, you know, are voices that say that the election was stolen. And that's just not true. So you need other voices to speak out. You know, so I'm doing it.
We had better focus on that, and take our eyes off the rear-view mirror and start looking through the windshield again.
BASH (voice-over): Christie describes a new GOP playbook similar to the winning strategy that Republican Glenn Youngkin used in Virginia.
CHRISTIE: For us as a party, we have to stop looking backwards because parties that look backwards lose. Parties that look forward win. And the only purpose for a political party is to win. We have no other purpose. And so to me there is an apt analogy there which I try to talk about in the book, which is we cannot any longer be looking backwards. It's over. And it's definitively over and we need to now go forward and talk about what we want to do for the country because, by the way, as Republicans, while so many people are still arguing about 2020, Joe Biden is attempting to make serious systemic permanent changes to our government and our society. We need to be a counter voice to that. But we can't be an effective counter voice if all we are doing is talking about yesterday.
BASH (voice-over): Still, even after detailing Trump's corrosive lies, Christie is not ready to relegate the former president to yesterday.
(on camera): Donald Trump has made it pretty clear he wants to run for president again. Would you support him?
CHRISTIE: Oh, look, I don't know that he is going to run...
BASH: But what if he does?
CHRISTIE: ... I don't know if I'm going to run, you know, look, what if? I've learned...
BASH: I mean, it's not as if it's a big secret that he's seriously considering it.
CHRISTIE: He's seriously considering it. Let's see what happens when he does. And let's see who he is and what he says and how he conducts himself.
BASH: After everything you've described that he has done, you still...
CHRISTIE: And, Dana, what I'm saying...
BASH: ... would potentially would vote for him?
CHRISTIE: No, look, what I'm saying to you is that I'm not going to sit here in 2021 and prejudge all this. I voted for him in '16 and in '20. On election night in '20, I said that what he was doing was absolutely horrible and wrong and continued to be. You could draw whatever conclusions from that you want. But in the end, in 2021, the idea of making predictions for 2024 is folly. And by the way...
BASH: With all due respect, that sounds like a cop-out.
CHRISTIE: I know, I'm sure you think it's a cop-out. But you know what, I also know that there is no reason to create tumult in a party that already has a lot of tumult in it.
BASH (voice-over): He sees himself as the best one to bring stability back to his party.
(on camera): How seriously are you considering running for president in 2024? CHRISTIE: I'm definitely thinking about it. But I also know that the
most important thing is to deal with 2022 first. And I will tell you one thing for sure, I have no interest in running for the experience. I have already had the experience. If I run, it's because I see a pathway to winning and then being able to make a difference in the country.
BASH: What do you need to feel and to see in yourself to be confident that you could be president and be a good president?
CHRISTIE: Well, I already crossed that -- that, you know...
BASH: How did you get there?
CHRISTIE: I think it's you watch yourself and you watch others. It's a comparative business. So part of it is, if not me, who? Who do I think would do it better? Do I think there's someone who could do it better? Do I think that I have skills that the country needs right now? In the end, it's like three factors that I'll go through in my head like a checklist probably after the midterms in '22. One, do I really want to do it? Not, do I like the theory of it? Do I really want to do everything you have do to get there and then to execute the job once you are there? Two, do I see a path to winning? Not just a theoretical one, but one that I really can see given my experience. And, three, is my family supportive of it? And so if those three boxes get checked, then I'll run. And if only one of then doesn't get checked, then I won't.
BASH: Can you see yourself running against Donald Trump again?
CHRISTIE: I can see myself running against anybody.
BASH: So that's -- that's a yes?
CHRISTIE: Including him, yes, sure. I have said...
BASH: So, him running wouldn't preclude you from running?
CHRISTIE: I will not defer to anybody if I decide that I want to run, including him. And, you know, no one in my mind that's on the scene at the moment is worthy of deferring to, nobody.
BASH: We've spent the past hour on Chris Christie and what it's like to be him as he tries to lay out a path for himself and for the Republican Party. Thanks so much for watching. I will be bringing you more of these stories on future episodes of BEING. I'm Dana Bash in Washington.