Let Me Finish:
Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics
Chris Christie with Ellis Henican
420 pages; $28
When Chris Christie first met Donald Trump, over dinner at the Manhattan restaurant Jean-Georges in 2002, the developer ordered for both of them. This power move has received insufficient study.
Trump had waiters bring Christie the seared scallops and the roasted lamb loin. “I’m allergic to scallops,” Christie recalls in his new memoir. He adds, “I’ve always hated lamb.”
The future governor of New Jersey was gleaning lessons in domination. He was an apt pupil. Let Me Finish is a superficial and ungainly book that tries to cover so many bases at once — it’s a series of attacks and justifications, it’s a master class in sucking up and kicking down, it’s a potted memoir, it’s a stab at political rehabilitation — that reading it is like watching an octopus try to play the bagpipes.
At heart it’s a reminder that, before Bridgegate, before the 2016 presidential election and before the infamous photographs of him sunbathing on a closed beach during a 2017 state government shutdown, Christie was the favourite political intimidator of many Americans. An alternative title for this unintentionally poignant book might have been, “You Used to Really Like Me, Remember?”
Because Christie was positioned to be the brashest candidate in 2016, he had the most to lose from a Trump insurgency. He saw the threat instantly. After the first Republican debate, he said to his wife, “We’ve got a problem.”
“From a stylistic perspective,” Christie writes, “he was everything I was — but on jet fuel.”
After he dropped out of the 2016 race, Christie became the first governor to endorse Trump. Christie drew on his long friendship with Trump and became a close adviser. Often enough, in his own estimation, he was the only adult in the room. He nearly became Trump’s running mate.
He was repeatedly stymied by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Like a fawn, Kushner is seen in this book grazing on what Christie calls “his typical salad.”
Bambi was bent on payback. Christie had helped send Kushner’s father, the prominent New Jersey real estate developer Charles Kushner, to prison in a lurid case that involved tax evasion and witness tampering. According to Steve Bannon, Christie writes, Jared Kushner was “obsessed with destroying me.” Every chair Christie sat in had a trap door underneath.
Christie saves his real fire in this book — which was written by a ghostwriter named Ellis Henican — for Bannon, the one-time chief executive of Trump’s campaign. He calls Bannon “self-impressed,” a “snake” and “the only person I have ever met who can look pretentious and like an unmade bed at the very same time.”
Christie accuses Bannon of peddling lies about him to Bob Woodward, among other journalists. More crucially, he remains apoplectic over Bannon’s decision, alongside other advisers, to toss out Christie’s monumental 30-volume plan for Trump’s transition.
Trump didn’t want to talk about the transition. Bad karma, he thought. Expecting Trump’s other senior advisers to read 30 volumes, especially from Christie, was like waiting for monkeys to begin typing Shakespeare. In Christie’s view, trashing the transition plan was the original sin of the Trump administration.
The president didn’t get the right people. Instead he got “the revolving door of deeply flawed individuals — amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons — who were hustled into jobs they were never suited for, sometimes seemingly without so much as a background check via Google or Wikipedia.”
If Trump had only listened to him, Christie writes, he would have fired James B Comey, then director of the FBI, at the start of his administration. His later firing would become, according to Bannon, the worst mistake in modern political history.
If you skim through Let Me Finish, nearly all you will see is Christie saying, in so many words, I told you so.
He told Trump that retired Lt Gen Michael T Flynn was trouble. He told Trump to stop picking on Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father. He was the only one who could tell Trump when he’d done poorly in a debate. Christie’s sense of being right at every moment is wearying. Like a fan that blows for too long, his grille fills with dust.
As a literary performance, this book is nylon, not wool or silk. If you want to read an excellent book about Christie and about New Jersey politics, find a copy of Matt Katz’s 2016 biography, American Governor: Chris Christie’s Bridge to Redemption. It’s cleareyed but sympathetic. Christie is vastly more likable in it than he is here.
Trump himself comes off rather well in this book. Christie remains a believer. He praises Trump as a father. He writes: “He knows who he is and what he believes in. He has a keen understanding of what regular people are feeling. He commands extraordinary loyalty from his supporters and has unique communication skills.” He thinks it’s not too late for Trump to turn things around.
Is Let Me Finish a plea to be let back in, at a high level, to Trump’s administration? Is it a platform from which to run for president in 2020 if Trump drops out? Do voters want him back? This self-serving book doesn’t make the most appealing case. Is anyone longing for another in-your-face president? And does he have too much baggage? It may be true that, as Karl Ove Knausgaard put it in one of his “My Struggle” novels, “What’s done is dung and cannot be undung.”