New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie believes he would be president today if Donald Trump had never entered the 2016 race.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to think to yourself, ‘Wow, if this guy were not in the race, we’d win this thing,’” Christie said in an interview with NJ.com published Sunday. “And I absolutely believe if Trump had not gotten into the race, I think we would have won.”
Christie is nearing the end of his time in the governor’s office, with his second term set to expire on Jan. 16. Democrat Phil Murphy, who was elected in November, will assume the governorship on that date.
The brash-talking governor was considered a strong potential candidate for president in 2012, in the midst of his popular first term in New Jersey. Despite receiving encouragement from the likes of Nancy Reagan, Henry Kissinger and the Koch brothers, Christie decided not to run. He was later on Mitt Romney’s shortlist of vice presidential running mates, but Romney chose Paul Ryan instead.
Christie cruised to re-election in 2013 with 60 percent of the vote. But then, when his second term had barely begun, Christie’s deputy chief of staff and two Christie appointees were found to have colluded to create a massive traffic jam by closing lanes at the George Washington Bridge. This was believed to have been done to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for not supporting Christie’s 2013 reelection.
The resulting “Bridgegate” scandal damaged Christie’s reputation and effectively knocked him from his perch as the favored GOP candidate for president in 2016. In his interview with NJ.com, Christie lamented how Bridgegate altered his political future by casting a dark cloud of suspicion over his head.
“What Bridgegate did was deprive me of the benefit of the doubt — that’s all,” he said. “That’s a big thing. But that’s what it did.”
Christie’s poll numbers in New Jersey and around the country tanked following the scandal. However, when 2015 rolled around, the governor decided to launch a bid for president anyway. But he failed to rise to the top of a crowded GOP field; his biggest political asset — his bluntness – no longer seemed as unique or refreshing with Trump in the race.
Christie dropped out following a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary and low poll numbers nationwide.
He recalled how he and his wife often heard people say they loved him but were voting for Trump.
“[The] stakes are exciting,” Christie said of the presidential campaign. “The issues you’re talking about are exciting. And ultimately frustrating at times because the reaction I would get from people, and Mary Pat got this from going door to door, you know, they’d say, ‘Oh gosh, you’re Governor Christie’s wife? We love him. He’s so smart. He’s so direct, he’s so blunt. We love him. We’re voting for Trump. But we love your husband. He’s amazing.’”
Nevertheless, Christie told NJ.com he is pleased with the way his eight years as governor went.
“Are there things that I would have done differently? Of course,” Christie said. “But I’ve got to tell you… I don’t have any major regrets. I did it the way I wanted to do it and I was myself the whole time.”