Sliming the Ghost

Photo: Patrick McMullan

In politics, it’s bad form to speak ill of the dead, especially if it was you who killed them, electorally speaking. That’s why, for all the shots John McCain has taken at Barack Obama over the past three and a half years, Obama has never responded in kind. Or why Obama graciously hosted George W. Bush—the man he blames, albeit never by name, for our economic mess—at the White House for his ceremonial portrait unveiling, just as Bush once hosted Bill Clinton for his.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie doesn’t abide by such etiquette. Since trouncing Jon Corzine at the polls in 2009, he’s been decidedly uncharitable toward his vanquished opponent. From pretty much the moment he was sworn in (48 hours after which he proclaimed that “avoidance of the facts and avoidance of the truth was a staple of the Corzine administration”), Christie has remained keenly attuned to opportunities to bash his predecessor anew. In a recent interview with The Atlantic about his love of Bruce Springsteen, Christie recalled the time he saw Corzine leave a Springsteen concert during the encores: That, he said, is “when I realized that Corzine just didn’t understand New Jersey.” Last month, he declared that “Jon Corzine ran this state into a bridge abutment.” Now Christie has taken to invoking Corzine’s name to tar Democrats who oppose a tax-cut package he’s pushing. “You thought you had slayed this type of Democrat in 2009, that you had taken the wooden stake and put it through this kind of Democrat’s heart,” he said at one town-hall meeting. “But I am here to tell you today that I fear this type of Democrat has returned to the state legislature. You know what kind of Democrat I’m talking about: a Corzine Democrat.”

Strategically, there are worse foils than a guy who left politics with historic disapproval ratings and then, for his own encore, steered a Wall Street brokerage firm into bankruptcy. But Corzine loyalists (yes, a few still exist) see Christie’s shtick as more personal than political. The 2009 governor’s race was nasty, with the Corzine campaign going so far as to mock Christie’s weight. “He’s never gotten over that campaign, especially the fat-boy stuff,” one former Corzine adviser says of Christie. “The misunderstanding about Christie is that he’s this great Jersey pol because he’s a tough guy. But he’s the most thin-skinned person I’ve ever observed in New Jersey politics. Most guys just shrug it off. He doesn’t. He’s been nothing but a complete prick.”

Corzine’s not exactly in a position to be a prick right back. But his friends do take satisfaction in little things—like his recent decision to sell his condo in Hoboken and sever his last remaining tie to his old state. “If the property taxes were manageable, he would have kept it, but the property taxes have gone up exponentially since Christie became governor,” the former Corzine adviser says. “If you accept the premise that a Corzine Democrat is a tax-and-spender, then the biggest Corzine Democrat in the world is Chris Christie.”

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Sliming the Ghost