For a man who’s not running for president, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has gotten a whole lot of attention from the nation’s political press this week. It’s likely the will-he, won’t-he game will go on for at least a few days more. While we’ve come to expect this sort of frenzied speculation from the media, it’s surprising to see Christie, never one to be coy—or anything less than blunt—playing along. In an effort to figure out what the governor is up to—and how the national media is doing—we turned to Charles Stile, a columnist with the Bergen Record and one of the journalists who knows Christie best. Stile has been at the Record since 2000 and has covered the New Jersey statehouse since 1993, when he was a reporter with The Times of Trenton.
What is it like to cover Chris Christie?
I tell friends going from covering Jon Corzine to covering Chris Christie is kind of like going from a James Taylor concert to Ozzie Osborne. It’s high-powered, high energy, challenging, confrontational and it’s at a high speed. He puts something new on the plate almost everyday.
What is his relationship like with the media?
He has a rocky relationship with the media. I think he enjoys the give and take; he thrives on it. But there are times when he exudes a kind of contempt. He can browbeat young reporters.
On the other hand, he is one of the most accessible governors we’ve had. I started with Jim Florio at the end of his first term in 1993 and have covered half a dozen governors since, and Christie is by far the most accessible. He gives you lengthy, nuanced answers that are thorough and exhaustive. He makes a very good, very shrewd, very lawyerly case for his point, but it’s always steeped in smart politics. They are just really good political defense arguments. He’s definitely the most interesting and fascinating governor I’ve covered.
When is it that he gets upset at the press? Is it the way he is covered?
That’s part of it. But I think some of it is personal. He has a personal dislike for certain reporters. Some of it is just flat out impatience with the questions. Most politicians and other governors will be diplomatic and conceal their impatience with a question that is vague or that they suspect to be a thinly-veiled rehashing of the other side’s attack. A lot of them will swallow their impatience and bite their tongue, but Christie has a tough time doing that. A lot of times he just doesn’t restrain himself.
Does he hold grudges?
He hasn’t done that with me, and I’ve written some pretty critical columns. It’s the perception that he does hold grudges with politicians and that he uses his power for payback, but from my experience, he doesn’t with the press. There are columnists and reporters that he’s shown open dislike for—my colleauge Tom Moran at the Star-Ledger has even chronicled his rocky relationship with Christie. But in terms of grudges, I haven’t seen much evidence of that.
What do you make of his current media moment? What is he up to?
Please tell me. I wrote in a column that I think it’s for a number of reasons. He’s a good student of history and realizes these types of moments are rare and fleeting. History has been unkind to those who had similar opportunities and let them pass like Mario Cuomo, “the Hamlet on the Hudson” or even Hillary Clinton in 2004. So I think that’s weighing on him.
But I think a big thing is he’s really basking in the adulation right now. It’s a pretty heady thing to be this roly poly kid from Jersey who had a very limited career in politics—his future was bleak in the mid 90s, no one ever gave him a chance, no one ever took him seriously as a political figure—until he became this corruption-busting prosecutor. And now he’s standing in the center of the political universe, and he has people like Nancy Reagan, Henry Kissinger, and Tom Kean, Sr. all begging him to save America from Barack Obama and the Tea Party extremists. That’s a tough thing to let go, especially when the alternative is fundraising for legislature assembly candidates at a diner in Burlington County. Why not let this 15 minutes of fame stretch into a telethon?