Did anyone else notice Governor Chris Christie’s expression as he stood behind Donald Trump on Super Tuesday evening? Perhaps he wasn’t feeling well. Or perhaps he was discovering more than he wanted to know about the man he’d endorsed for the presidency of the United States.
Monday night before the big primaries, Christie had told his New Jersey radio audience, “I am the highest level endorser that Donald Trump has had. I’m the person with the most experience in governing that is in his circle.” He said that there was “absolutely no question” that Trump listens to him.
“I’ve known him personally for 14 years,” Christie continued. If so, he should ask himself why Trump would listen to him. Now that Christie has dropped out of the primary race, why isn’t he just the latest addition to the Republican front-runner’s list of “losers”? That’s Trump’s world — winners (like him) and losers (like Sen. John McCain). Besides, Trump prides himself as an outsider who disdains almost anyone associated with government.
Maybe Christie will be an exception to Trump’s loser rule. The day after Super Tuesday, a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found that the dominant word that New Jersey voters used to describe their governor was “bully.” The next most frequent adjective was “arrogant.” Maybe Trump sees those as redeeming qualities. Perhaps he sees a bit of himself in the New Jersey governor.
Political Death Spiral
There’s another possible explanation for the odd look on Governor’s Christie’s face Tuesday evening: unhappy realization. The New Jersey “bully” had become a Trump “tool.” He’d played all-in with his political career and the impact was swift and certain.
Christie’s former national finance co-chair, Meg Whitman, slammed him:
“Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump is an astonishing display of political opportunism. Donald Trump is unfit to be president. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears. Trump would take America on a dangerous journey. Christie knows all that and indicated as much many times publicly. The governor is mistaken if he believes he can now count on my support, and I call on Christie’s donors and supporters to reject the governor and Donald Trump outright. I believe they will. For some of us, principle and country still matter.”
According to the Fairleigh Dickinson poll, after endorsing Trump, Christie’s New Jersey statewide approval rating dropped from 33 percent to 27 percent.
Christie said that he didn’t agree with Trump on everything, but he did on taxes, job creation, and strengthening America’s leadership in the world. How does he know where Trump stands on anything? The only Trump “positions” on those issues are sound bites that produce audience applause, not substantive debate. His positions change constantly — even on whether he knows certain people.
For example, on Sunday morning, he told Jake Tapper at CNN that he didn’t even know who David Duke, the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was:
“Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke…I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about White Supremacists. And so you’re asking me a question about people that I know nothing about….I just don’t know anything about him.”
The next day, Trump said he didn’t hear Tapper’s question: “I was sitting in a house in Florida, with a bad earpiece. I could hardly hear what he’s saying.”
Anyone who buys that explanation deserves everything that Trump is selling.
On more substantive policy issues, Trump is all over the map. He says whatever gets him through the moment. He says whatever his audience wants to hear. For Republican primary voters supporting him, substance has yielded to anger that has created a cult of celebrity. They cheer empty words.
Actions v. words
But glimmers of Trump’s real self emerge from his actions. Here’s an example of Trumpism at work. Last fall, he decried the government for making money on student loans. In a November 2915 forum in Iowa, he added that too many graduates are “borrowed up, and they can’t breathe, and they get through college and the worst thing is, they go through that whole process and they don’t have any job.” If elected, Trump said he planned “do something very big with student loans” — including providing refinancing “for people who have loans who literally can’t do anything.”
“Something very big.”
What could it be? Something “great”; something “huge.” Maybe there’s a clue in Trump University.
It used a Wall Street address that implicated New York registration requirements. As Steven Brill reported last November, “New York State law requires that anything calling itself a university must apply, be vetted, have all instructors vetted and then be certified, none of which Trump did. Despite repeated warnings from state education regulators beginning in 2005, Trump persisted in operating out of 40 Wall St. until winding down operations in 2010.”
Before folding, the “University” was renamed the “Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.” It didn’t offer degrees. The course of study began with free seminars on insider real estate moneymaking techniques. It encouraged attendees to purchase additional sessions — up to one-on-one mentoring packages costing $35,000. It left many “students” in debt.
But Trump’s program made money for Trump. According to Brill’s examination of public records, “Trump University collected approximately $40 million from its students – who included veterans, retired police officers and teachers – and that Trump personally received approximately $5 million of it, despite his claim, repeated in our interview, that he started Trump University as a charitable venture.”
Trump claims to have surveys showing a 98 percent satisfaction rate — “better than Harvard” — and is confident that he will win all of the pending lawsuits involving the now defunct “university” bearing his name. But perhaps what really bothers him about the government “making money on student loans” is that the money should be going to him instead.
By the way, because Trump University and its successor Trump Enterprise Initiative failed, maybe that makes him a loser, too.