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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Chris Christie’

- - Friday, May 18, 2012

CHRIS CHRISTIE: THE INSIDE STORY OF HIS RISE TO POWER
By Bob Ingle and Michael Symons
St. Martin's Press, $25.99, 320 pages

"Chris Christie: The Inside Story of His Rise to Power" is a refreshing behind-the-curtain tell-all by veteran New Jersey reporters Bob Ingle and Michael Symons that gives the fullest picture yet of this rising Republican star.

Mr. Ingle and Mr. Symons' portrait of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is sure to confirm the belief of those who clamored for him to enter this year's presidential race - and the authors even go so far as to hint that Mr. Christie might yet say "yes" if asked to be Mitt Romney's running mate this fall. Most important, Mr. Ingle and Mr. Symons show how this unorthodox New Jersey alpha male might be the best possible complement to Mr. Romney and his would-be administration.

Mr. Christie is as loyal as he is candid, articulate and disciplined. The authors observe, "They could sell tickets to a Christie/Joe Biden debate. He could do an administration's in-your-face, tell-it like-it-is work while the president remained in the Oval Office being presidential." To use the language of Jim Collins, author of"Good to Great," if Mr. Romney is able to "look out the door" at the talent of his team, rather than being a "look in the mirror" type of leader," Chris Christie's big personality is a big asset.

Fortunately for Beth Meyers, who has been charged by Mr. Romney with finding him a suitable running mate, Mr. Ingle and Mr. Symons already have done much of her homework. Mr. Christie's explanation earlier this year of not being quite "ready" to run for the most powerful office in the world was hard to take at face value, leading some to think the governor might be hiding something. But if there were dirt on Mr. Christie, one can be sure that Mr. Ingle - the author of the New York Times best-seller"The Soprano State" - and Mr. Symons would have found it.

What makes the book worthy of our attention is the amount of access the authors were given to Mr. Christie. The governor's responses, along with those of his inner circle, are considerable, making the book a genuine, sustained dialogue. It's not easy to be objective insiders, but Mr. Ingle and Mr. Symons pull it off. It's clear that while they like the man and appreciate what Mr. Christie has done to upend the culture of the Soprano State, this is no hagiography.

Mr. Christie's is a great American story. His mother, Sandy Christie, was a Democrat and did not want her son to be a Republican. But he became one at her kitchen table, where argument reigned and he learned that the ends the left says it wants and the means it employs are often counterproductive. Those kitchen-table debates sharpened Mr. Christie's mind - and his tongue - and also provided him with his chief strength as a Republican politician: his capacity to sympathize with Democratic ideals while standing against those who use them for power, not principle. This quality makes Mr. Christie the biggest threat yet to machine-politics liberalism.

Mr. Christie is tough, and at times he can be a bully, but he is not mean-spirited. He doesn't have animus for teachers or for unions. His mother was a secretary for the Livingston, N.J., board of education for 20 years, and Mr. Christie himself is a proud product of the New Jersey public schools. (His wife, Mary Pat, wanted to send their children to Catholic schools, and Mr. Christie acceded to her wishes.)

What Mr. Christie is against are entrenched special interests and a go-along-to-get-along political class that has left New Jerseyites struggling with the burden of legacy costs. Over the course of his first term, Mr. Christie has shown how to talk bluntly about public pension liabilities and how to restructure programs so public servants and taxpayers can win.

Mr. Ingle and Mr. Symons have produced a very readable and illuminating portrait of Chris Christie that shows, whether you love him or hate him, he is a genuine article - and he is here to stay.

David DesRosiers is the publisher of RealClearPolitics.