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Christie’s Trump-like tactics undermine his bargaining in budget talks USA News Today

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Christie’s Trump-like tactics undermine his bargaining in budget talks USA News Today

USA Today Network
Charles Stile, political columnist, The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record

Published 4:42 p.m. ET July 3, 2017 | Updated 4:42 p.m. ET July 3, 2017

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A collection of notable comments from politicians and residents about the New Jersey state government shutdown.
Jennie Coughlin/Wochit

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie set out last week with the long-shot goal of turning little-known Assembly Speaker “Vinny” Prieto into a hated name in every New Jersey household, trying to paint him as the obstinate Trenton hack who singlehandedly closed down the state government.

It’s the centerpiece of Christie’s strategy in a bare-knuckled brawl embodying the tone and insult-infused tactics of President Donald Trump, the governor’s long-time dinner friend and political ally.

Christie has penned prickly tweets — ending with exclamation points, a Trumpian flourish — mocked Prieto’s profuse sweating and plastered posters around the state of the mustachioed Prieto, blaming him for the stalemate.

Yet, Christie, the alleged political mastermind said to be playing a devious game of three-dimensional chess and out scheming the savviest Trenton operatives, bungled his anti-Vinny campaign — all from the coziness of his beach chair.

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Christie has for most of his political life cast himself as the blunt, brassy voice of the blue-collar Jersey everyman. But now after viral images of his private beach party Sunday outside the governor’s residence at Island Beach State Park, he’s become the villain, mocked on social media and turned into a meme.

Aerial photos posted on NJ.com showed Christie, his family and their friends soaking up the sun on a sugar-white beach, which is part of a cordoned off section of a state park on a 10-mile barrier island. The park itself was one of dozens ordered closed because of the budget stalemate, which began midnight Saturday.

So, as Christie and company lounged on the shore, park police spent the weekend turning away scores of beachgoers and hikers from entering the park just several miles away.

To his enemies,  the photo outed Christie as an indifferent Nero, sunning himself while the rest of the world burned in fury.

By late Sunday, Christie was trending on Twitter, trolled as a tone-deaf lout, the image of him in shorts and baseball cap slouched in his beach chair was photo-shopped into satirical tweets. One placed him on an Oval Office carpet as Trump and his team surrounded him.

Another pasted the same image at the foot of the George Washington Bridge. “Time for some traffic problems,” posted one critic, using the text of the infamous email that sent the scandal in motion.

Others played on familiar Jersey tropes, including one that set Christie in his beach chair outside of the pork shop that doubled as a hangout for the Sopranos in the HBO show.

So much for Christie’s three-dimensional chess. So much for making Prieto the subject of scorn and ridicule. 

And so much for his other public relations crusadem —  an attempt to restructure Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state’s largest health insurer.

Christie has threatened to veto nearly $325 million in Democratic “priorities” — money for legal aid for the poor, money for home care workers, and nearly $100 million in coveted new school aid — from the state budget if the Horizon restructuring bill doesn’t come to his desk for his signature. Prieto is refusing to post the bill, saying the task is too complicated, potentially too risky for policyholders to be rammed through in the homestretch of a budget showdown. He wants to wait.

Christie has railed against Horizon as a bloated, parasitic behemoth whose overpaid executives feed off the state’s poorest residents. Yet, here was Christie perched on a private, empty stretch of sand front of the governor’s residence, like a man of 1-percent privilege. 

“Well, I’m sorry…they’re not the governor,” Christie told a Philadelphia television reporter Monday morning, referring to the use of the Island State Beach house, which like the governor’s mansion in Princeton, is available for his personal use.

”This is a residence,” Christie said. “Am I supposed to move out and stay in a hotel?”

It’s worth noting that it was hardly a secret that Christie was planning to spend the weekend at the taxpayer-financed home. He told reporters of his plans earlier in the week. He flew down there on his taxpayer-financed helicopter, flown by taxpayer-financed state police who guarded Christie last year as he traipsed around the country running for president.

“This is an incredible scandal as you know. They actually caught a politician being where he said he was going to be with the people he said he was going to be with,” Christie said Monday.

Yet, making a brief statement at a news conference is one thing, having the public see it is another. The image galvanized what the public has come to dislike about Christie — a sense that he lives by his own rules, that he co-opted government and wielded power for his own ambitions and use.

It was that undercurrent of the George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal and it fueled the sense of abandonment from his run for president. It is why he is one of the most disliked governors in the country  — perhaps in recent history — with a 15% approval rating.

That scandal shredded Christie’s credibility — although no evidence ever emerged showing that he was involved in the lane closing scheme, few in the public believed his denials, polls showed. And this sun-soaking episode isn’t going to do much to improve his credibility.

Christie was asked Sunday — and before the photos were released — if he got any sun down at the beach. He said he didn’t. After the photos came out, his press office stuck to the story. No, Christie didn’t get any sun because he was wearing a baseball hat.

That’s a tough sell. And it may be a tough sell for Christie to get anyone to believe anything else he has to say about the shutdown, Horizon, or anything else.

The photos also brought into stark relief another unseemly side of the Christie narrative— the governor who struggles to turn down lavish perks even those that look bad.

He is the Christie group hugging Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones and in a private box during a nationally televised game on television. He is the Christie who was shuttled to the King of Jordan’s desert getaway by a deep-pocketed donor, according to a New York Times report. This is another example of Christie of squeezing “all the juice out of the orange that I can” while he still has the power and office

Christie enjoyed the seat of power in Trenton for nearly eight years. He turned it into a bully pulpit. Now, in his last big power play, it may be undermined for sitting snugly in a beach chair.

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Christie’s Trump-like tactics undermine his bargaining in budget talks USA News Today

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Christie’s Trump-like tactics undermine his bargaining in budget talks USA News Today

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