Call them the Republican odd couple.
Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fundraised with failed 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on behalf of the Republican Governors Association Thursday in Boston. The RGA told msnbc that the duo raked in roughly $1 million at the event, held at the Lenox Hotel.
This is not the first time Christie has been away from New Jersey when new details have surfaced in the scandals dogging the governor’s administration. New records were made public on Thursday by a state legislative committee investigating the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge. They show David Wildstein and Bridget Anne Kelly, two figures at the center of “Bridgegate,” joked about causing “traffic problems” at the home of a local rabbi.
Wildstein, a former Christie-appointed official at the Port Authority, on Aug. 19 wrote to Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, that the rabbi “has officially pissed me off.” It was accompanied with a photo of the rabbi, identified by The Record newspaper as Mendy Carlebach.
Kelly wrote back: “We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?”
Wildstein replied, “Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed.”
It is not clear why Wildstein was angry with the rabbi. An email from Kelly to Wildstein six days earlier – with the now-infamous words “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” – apparently catalyzed the lane closings.
The tables have certainly turned in the past year or so. After Romney lost in 2012, he was seen as an outcast of the Republican Party and stayed largely out of the public eye for months.
Christie, while still a target of resentment among some Republicans over his embrace – literally and figuratively – of President Obama in the days leading up to the election, was mostly still seen as a rising GOP star. The governor’s approval ratings soared following his response to Hurricane Sandy, and his reputation as a politician willing to put partisanship and political games aside gained traction in his blue state. He was easily catapulted to a second term the following year and the 2016 drumbeat continued on. Fast forward to today, and Christie is waist deep in allegations that his office abused its power. His popularity has taken a big hit, both in the Garden State and nationally.
Meanwhile, Romney is edging back into public life. He frequently weighed in on security concerns around the Sochi Olympic Games. And last month, he showed up to the Sundance Film Festival premiere of “Mitt,” a documentary that tracks his two failed runs for the Oval Office.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said the Christie-Romney pairing makes perfect sense. “Mitt Romney wants to have a say in the future direction of the party…and he’s the gateway to Massachusetts in terms of Republican fundraising.” Meanwhile, O’Connell said it indicates that members of the RGA and GOP establishment trust Christie, who has been bringing in record hauls for the RGA, despite the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal.
But several major Romney donors acknowledged to the Washington Post that they have concerns about Christie, arguing he isn’t a viable 2016 candidate and that they still resent him for lauding Obama during the aftermath of Sandy.
Christie and Romney have indeed had somewhat of an awkward relationship.
The New Jersey governor – one of Romney’s most vocal surrogates– was heavily criticized by his party when he embraced and praised President Obama after Hurricane Sandy. Christie also turned down an invitation to appear at a pre-election rally for Romney, in order to attend to cleanup after the storm.
Christie also came under some conservative criticism when it took him 16 minutes to mention Romney’s name during the Republican National Convention’s keynote speech in 2012. And Team Romney reportedly passed on Christie as a possible vice presidential candidate because of what they viewed as potential baggage. According to the book “Double Down,” about the 2012 election, those concerns included his weight and how Christie, when he was serving as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, had been probed by the Justice Department for exceeding government travel expense rates.
According to a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, both Romney and Christie (who chairs the RGA) will deliver remarks in hopes of “raising more funds to elect and re-elect GOP governors in 2014.” Massachusetts Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker will also be in attendance.
O’Connell said many in the establishment recognize the two governors are “considered the face of the party at a national level.”
Last month, Romney said he approved of the way Christie handled the fallout of the bridge scandal, in which his staffers ordered closures of a few lanes on the George Washington Bridge, apparently for political retribution. He told the Washington Post that Christie’s potential 2016 ambitions were not hurt by the scheme and that “he faced the American people for two hours, took their questions. He dismissed people who were responsible. He took personal responsibility. That’s what a leader does.”
Christie insists that he had no prior knowledge of the plan.
Wildstein has since claimed that “evidence exists” showing Christie knew about the lane closures. The governor, clearly eager to move beyond the bridge scandal, is forging ahead. He held his second town hall meeting of the year Wednesday in Long Hill, N.J. He’ll host another one next week in Ocean County. Christie also has plans to attend the annual Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington next month before heading to Georgia to fundraise again for the RGA.