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Chris Christie on why he would have made a better president than Trump

Former Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., was one of many Republican candidates who ran for president in 2016. After pulling out of the race, Christie became a vocal supporter of President Trump, a longtime friend. Christie joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his new book, “Let Me Finish,” which Democratic adversary he thinks Trump should fear in 2020 and why he would have made a better president.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The revolving door of those in President Trump's orbit has sparked a boon in books attempting to offer inside accounts of perhaps the most tumultuous campaign, transition and presidency in modern American politics.

    Out this week, "Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics."

    Its author, former Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He ran for president in 2016, and then became a vocal supporter of Mr. Trump. And, for a time, he oversaw the president-elect's transition team.

    Governor Christie, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    There's so much ground you cover in this book, so many stories.

    There's one anecdote I want to ask you about, though. You say this is a perfect capsule of President Trump. This was the first time you have been with him. You had dinner with him. It was 2003. Afterwards, a woman comes up — it was a fan of his — wants to take a picture.

    When the camera doesn't work, what happens? What does he do?

  • Chris Christie:

    Well, this was in May 2002, Judy. We're outside the Jean-Georges Restaurant, which is in one of Mr. Trump's hotels in New York City.

    And it was a woman and her husband, obvious tourists waiting outside the restaurant, pleaded with him for a photo with her husband. And that's before the day we were all walking around with phones in our pockets on our cell phones.

    And so, no camera. She had a disposable camera, one of those black and yellow Kodak disposables. She keeps hitting the button. It won't go off. You could see that Donald is getting more and more impatient. And he finally just steps away and he says to her: "Sweetheart, let's do this next time we get together."

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Chris Christie:

    Turned, got into his limousine and left.

    And the woman, who didn't know me at the time at all, turned to me and said, "But we're never going to get back together."

    And I said, "I think that's the point."

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Chris Christie:

    And he called me the next day to say: "Hey, that was a pretty good line, huh? Got me out of there."

    And it's just one of the — a real picture of Donald Trump, clever and funny, interesting, and also doing whatever he can do to get what he wants.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as you say, he ordered your dinner for you that night, which…

  • Chris Christie:

    He did. Extraordinary.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Chris Christie:

    He ordered me two things, one I was allergic to and one I detested. It wasn't a good — it was not an auspicious beginning.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, you spell out in the book how close you — you tell your own story, and then you talk about how close you became to him over the years. You had dinner often with your wife, Mary Pat, with President Trump and his wife, well before he ran for president.

    But then you get to 2016. The two of you are running against each other. He comes to New Jersey. And you cite a speech he gave where you say it was full of whoppers and untruths.

    And you wrote — you said: "I had no problem with hardball politics, but knowingly lying?" You said: "To me, that was over the line. You don't do that to anyone, let alone a friend of long standing."

    And yet you have gone on to support him.

  • Chris Christie:

    Well, listen, Judy, what happened after that, as you know from reading the book, is that I went after him pretty hard. He did that in the afternoon in South Carolina. I went after him very hard that evening over the lying in Iowa.

    And the next day, he called, and he said: "I was angry. I went over the line. It wasn't true. I know it wasn't true. I apologize."

    And, you know, in my view, when you have had someone who's a friend for 14 years, you understand that in politics sometimes the emotions run high, you have got to decide, do you accept the apology or don't you?

    And based upon 14 years of friendship, I accepted the apology. And the important thing is, he never said those things again either in public or private.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you worked for him. You worked hard for his election. And he thanked you.

    He said he would consider you for vice president. Didn't choose you. Said the same thing about — we understand, about attorney general. They took you off the transition.

    I mean, what — why stay with them — with him, when you have had — again, when you have had this kind of close relationship, but no payoff, so to speak, frankly?

  • Chris Christie:

    Well, first off, I had a job at the time. I was the governor of New Jersey, and so I didn't need a job.

    And, secondly, listen, we have one president at a time, and we have one country. And the fact is that I think my relationship with the president helps him. I think it's good to have friends of old standing available to you to speak to, to bounce ideas off, to get suggestions from.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's bring you to today.

    If you were he, would you be making the issue that he is right now out of a border, a physical barrier at the southern border?

  • Chris Christie:

    Well, listen, I'm not him. What I would tell you, though, is, it's very important to him.

    And the fact is that, you know, he compromised by reopening the government. And now I think it's time for Democrats to think about how they want this to end.

    My criticism of the president in closing down the government was that he had no endgame.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you have also said, Governor, that you think that the immigration issue should be settled in a way, you said, that honors our national heritage.

    Is the president doing that?

  • Chris Christie:

    Listen, I think that's much bigger than just a wall.

    I think that's total immigration reform, which is what I talked about in my campaign for president. And what I would prefer Congress do right now is come up with a total immigration reform package, including border security, that they could send to the president for his consideration.

    And they could do that, if they wanted to, Judy. And part of the problem is, they don't want to do that, because it's hard. It's really hard, because you're going to offend constituencies no matter which way you turn.

    But that's why you — I thought that's why you ran for the job, was to get things done. And I will tell you that, on the president, I'm confident that the president would be willing to compromise.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Without — in other words, you think he's ready to settle for an agreement that doesn't have money for a wall?

  • Chris Christie:

    No, that's not what I said.

    He wants $5.7 billion for a wall. And if the Democrats deny him any type of partial compromise for what he wants, then they're going to leave him with no alternative but to take action on his own. That will wind up in the courts, and that's not good for the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Moving ahead, if you're President Trump, who do you least want to face as a Democratic challenger?

  • Chris Christie:

    Well, listen, I think right — first of all, it's impossible to tell, right?

    Because if you look at this time four years ago, the Republican front-runner was Jeb Bush. So you can't judge this thing in January of '19.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about on the Republican side?

    Do you think there will be a challenger to the president for the Republican nomination, and in particular your longtime friend Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who is not ruling it out?

  • Chris Christie:

    I don't believe there will be a challenger to the president.

    When I looked at the most recent polls of Republican primary voters, show the president with an 81 percent approval rating. That only leaves 19 percent who don't approve of his job. That's not a lot of room to build a primary campaign on.

    So I think, given the circumstances right now, I don't see any type of primary challenge to the president. I think he will be the Republican nominee in 2020.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You told Stephen Colbert yesterday that you thought you would be a better president than Donald Trump. How so?

  • Chris Christie:

    Well, Judy, that's just — I ran for president, so if you don't believe you would be better, you had no business running in the first place.

    So I do think I would be a better president. But if I didn't think that, then I had no business asking for people's money and their votes two years ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How would you be better?

  • Chris Christie:

    Well, we — listen, Judy, if you're going to give me a half-an-hour, we will do a half-an-hour interview, and we will go through it chapter and verse.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK.

  • Chris Christie:

    But I would say one thing as an example, in order to not totally evade your question.

    I talked about my experience as a governor for eight years dealing with a Democratic legislature. When you do that day in and day out, you do learn things about how to work with the legislative branch of government, how to forge compromise, and how to make sure that those compromises are not debilitating to future deals.

    And I think that experience would stand me in fairly well stead — in fairly good stead in today's political world.

    But, as for the rest of it, we can do a whole half-hour sometime, Judy. I will go through it with you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Chris Christie.

    The book is "Let Me Finish."

    Thank you.

  • Chris Christie:

    Thank you, Judy.

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