TRENTON, NJ — As I ride the PATH into New Jersey I look out the window. First swamps, then Bridgestone retailers, then sub shops flood past me. This is Governor Chris Christie’s dominion, the last territory he has been able to retain. I’m here to spend the day at Christie’s campaign headquarters to survey the political machine he hopes will win him next week’s New Hampshire primary and put him in the White House.
After I get off in Trenton, I look around for the dark SUVs I typically see carrying the governor. After 30 minutes of waiting and seeing no signs, a beat up Iroc-Z Camaro creeps up from behind me.
“Diggler?” says a tired-looking portly man in a Jets jersey.
“Who is asking, please?” I answer.
“I’m Big Ronnie with da governor. We’se bringing youse to HQ.”
I get in the passenger seat. The ride is tense, punctuated by brief flickers of sports chatter on the car’s dying radio and Big Ronnie’s terse condemnations.
“Marone. Ah, vafangul,” he mutters when he hears reports of Tom Brady.
After a 15 minute eternity driving through the bombed-out, decaying city that is Trenton, we stop at a brutalist concrete hut across the street from the ruins of the Governor’s mansion.
“Heh heh, ladies first,” says Big Ronnie.
This surely can’t be Christie’s campaign headquarters, I think. With no other option, I walk towards the rusted iron door. I cautiously grab the creaky handle, hoping that I remembered my Purell in my messenger bag. The dilapidated metal squeals as I open it and walk forward. I slowly make my way down the stairs, feeling the temperature grow colder. The air tastes stale and moldy. There’s a distinct smell of fear. I inspect the naked lightbulbs along the way. As I am wondering if this a setup, possibly the plot of a vengeful Bernie Bro or Randroid to silence me, I hear the unmistakable plod of Governor Christie. Before I can say hello as any self-respecting human being would, I am enveloped in a suffocating full body hug.
“Dig, I’m so glad ya here ta see my final victory. I’m gonna triumph all over da bandwagon fans, da betrayers, all of dem.” He calls to an aide: “Hey, get this guy a cold one huh?”
The lights flicker.
Governor Christie ushers me into his war room. A huge map of New Hampshire shares wall space with Jets jerseys and Bruce Springsteen posters. Big Ronnie, Christie’s campaign manager, struts down the line of high-ranking staff members who, to a man, are staring at their shoes, empty expressions on their faces.
“Diggie, I want youse to meet my A-squad. This is Tony, he’s our Communications Director ’cause Tony won’t shut up, huh? Here’s Other Tony, he’s da financial chair. Mikie here’s in charge of beer runs. And Da Ball Hog, who took time off his radio show ‘Sports Nut & Da Ball Hog’ on 670 AM to serve as my chief strategist.”
After introductions the room falls eerily silent. The only sound is the crackle of a staticky radio dispatch reciting caucus tallies from Iowa. Big Ronnie opens a beer.
“Ey, what’s with da funeral?” demands Christie. “We’s on the precipice of a conference-wide, world-historical victory. Ehhh what gives?”
Tony clears his throat. “My Governor, we just received the results of our latest internal poll.” Tony is on the verge of shaking. None of his colleagues can even lift their heads.
“Yeahh, and?” says Christie.
“We’ve fallen to sixth place in New Hampshire. And Senator Paul is gaining. He’s 1% shy of overtaking us. He’s right on our doorstep, my Governor.”
“WHAT? WHAT? WE’VE BEEN BETRAYED ON ALL SIDES. Friggin’ MUTINY. M-U-D-A-N-E-E. Dese people, dere all along wichya when you’re cruisin’ and then they’re freaking BANDWAGON DOUCHEBAGS. The same bums who wore Mets caps when dey rooted for da Yanks dere whole life last year, betrayers. We’re bein’ sabotaged from within. A knife has been plunged into da backs of da true believers of da Jets, of da promised victory over da lesser peoples like da MUTANT Rand. None of ‘em were dere on 9/11. I HAD DA DUST ALL OVER ME. THEY AIN’T NEVA TASTED THAT. I was huggin’ that day. I was prosecutin’ da next. Every pretend fan has it out for us 9 to 5 lunchpail guys. DIS IS JUS’ LIKE VIETNAM, LIKE DA BUTT FUMBLE, WE ROTTED FROM OUR INSIDES WHILE OUR ENEMIES CHEER. FIREMAN ED DIED FOR DIS..”
I see tears well in the eyes of the Jets apparel-clad senior staffers.
A raspy female voice hollers the other room. “EYYY CHRISSIE YOUS GOTTA CALL!”
“PUT IT ON SPEAKUH PHONE, MA!”
“My Governor?” says the voice on the line.
“You’s on live with future-President Chris Christie and his campaign team. What’s youse name?”
“This is Mario, I’m in charge of the Nashua campaign office.”
“Nashua is our bulwark against Rand,” Da Ball Hog whispers to me. “That’s the front lines.”
“Governor, fifteen more supporters have switched allegiance to Rand. We’ve lost 90% of our yard signs. We’re completely out of petty cash. I got no money for gas to fill up my Supra. We are down to our last case of Natty Ice. I repeat, we are down to our last case of Natty Ice, and our supply lines to Wawa have been cut. Plus my old lady is on my case about gettin’ Huggies for the baby.
“Our volunteers are dropping like flies, Governor. We don’t got money for pepperoni so we’s eatin’ deli paper sandwiches. I got six guys in the hospital. If we don’t get reinforcements today, Governor… the Nashua office will fall. We don’t got enough gobbagool to make it here.”
“REROUTE DA CANVASSERS,” screams Christie. “TAKE DA BOYS FROM DA PORTSMOUTH OFFICE AND SEND ‘EM TO NASHUA. DAT’S AN ORDER! AND GET THE NEW JERSEY HIGHWAY PATROL TO ARREST THIS COWARD MARIO! THEN WE SEE WHO CAN’T WIN!”
There’s an eerie silence as the Garden State Chancellor’s yells echo through the confined quarters.
“I’ve worked myself up. I gotta get a nap in,” he says, out of breath.
Da Ball Hog leads me on a tour through the winding passages of Christie’s campaign bunker. It’s a grim sight. There is very little chatter. The halls are filled with the echoing sounds of the Governor’s snoring, coughing, and sleep-yelling about “hip hop QBs.”
“Dey hired Michael Vick…”
In the office of Christie’s social media team, there are five people huddled around a trashcan fire, smoking cigarettes and dispassionately arranging their fantasy football rosters.
Da Ball Hog glares at me in desperation. “That’s not all, Carl. Let me show you our get-out-the-vote team.”
Da Ball Hog crushes his Natty Ice and leads me to a dark, foul-smelling room. He flips on the light. All around me are bodies, some nude, some in Jets swag, just piled upon each other. It reeks of vomit and sewage from an overflowing toilet. Mountains of empties are stacked up all around them, and losing scratch-off tickets float by in the septic draft.
One of the bodies stirs. He touches his forehead and moans and tries to get up. Da Ball Hog rushes over to him.
“Relax, son. Don’t get up too fast. Just breathe. You’re on with Da Ball Hog. Where are you from, son?”
“Dis is Anthony from Mercer County, lifelong Jets fan here.” Anthony lights a Black and Mild. “And all’s I know is DA JETS AND DA GOVERNOR IS GOIN’ ALL THE WAY THIS YEAR.”
Anthony coughs and hacks up a quart of pink sputum. “I don’t care if I get anotha DUI or lose anotha kidney to cirrhosis, it’ll all be worth it when I can say President Chris Christie and MVP Ryan Fitzpatrick.”
Da Ball Hog has a look of sheer terror on his face. “Anthony… it’s over, son. Go home. Go back to your family. It’s over.”
“AW HELL NO, A HATER?? YOU… YOU SAID SANCHEZ COULDN’T BRING US TO DA SUPER BOWL WELL KISS HIS BACK-TO-BACK CONFERENCE FINALS APPEARANCE RINGS BABY…’
We back away, and Anthony screams Jets trivia and vulgar threats at us.
“YA LUCKY I GOT DIS ANKLE BRACELET ON AND CAN’T LEAVE DIS ROOM OR ELSE I’D BEAT DA PISS OUTTA YOUSE THEN WE’D SEE WHO’S GOIN’ HOME!”
The last I see of him he’s gnawing at his ankle bracelet, with the look of a starving hyena on his face. As I write these words, I am confident that Anthony is dead now.
Around 3 PM, the Governor emerges from his bunker in his only media appearance of the day: to award the New Jersey Medal of Honor to members of the Christie Youth.
A row of pasty, sullen, and round teenagers, all no more than 14 years old, are standing in a row just outside the campaign HQ. Though they aren’t even old enough to vote, a dilapidated Fung Wah bus is parked nearby, waiting to take them to New Hampshire where they’ll be deployed on the front lines against Rand’s staffers.
Christie shakes each of their hands. “Youse gonna win this electoral race for me, then I’m gonna be President and then I’m gonna buy each of youse mom’s tickets ta see ‘Jersey Boys.’ Youse gonna make ’em proud.”
One of the Christie Youth starts crying. He makes a fast break for the wrought-iron gate surrounding the perimeter. He makes it halfway before he’s tackled by Christie’s burly Highway Patrol enforcers. The others are swiftly marched into the bus, most never to see their beloved Garden State again.
Back inside the campaign bunker Christie is beset on all sides by messengers bearing reams of bad news from New Hampshire: 9 volunteers in Conway are in the hospital getting their stomachs pumped. The Amherst office has been taken over by Fiorina’s campaign after the district leader used the rent money to pay back child support. Staffers in the Manchester office are holed up, unable to canvas voters because a gang of teens is playing the knockout game just yards from their front door. And then there’s the drip-drip-drip of awful poll numbers. 4% in the UNH survey, 3% in Quinnipiac, a dismal 8th place in the latest from PPP.
Christie barrels into his war room to deliver a fresh round of orders.
“Victory is at hand. It’s fourth and long boys, and we got ’em right where we want em.”
Christie gestures at the campaign’s map of New Hampshire with his stubby fingers. “Tony, I want youse to reinforce da panhandle. Dere’s lotsa votes for us dere, ‘cuz that’s Jets country, Gang Green baby. Other Tony, you take da money we had earmarked to play da ponies and buy a new campaign Camero for da Derry office. Mikie, go get us a couple more cases of Natties. Da Ball Hog, I’m sendin’ youse up to Manchester to go on da offense. Take da remnants of da Hanover campaign office and attack Rand’s positions here, here, and here. Youse got dat, Ball Hog? Eh, Ball Hog? Has anybody seen Da Ball Hog??”
Christie’s staffers look down at the floor. Even Big Ronnie seems scared this time.
“Will someone tell me where in da hell Da Ball Hog is?” demands the Governor.
“My Governor,” says Big Ronnie, flipping up the shades on his sunglasses. “Earlier this afternoon, Da Ball Hog… Da Ball Hog tried to defect to Rand Paul’s campaign. Our spies tell us he left Rand’s office and went to an Eagles tailgate at Junker’s Sports Bar with this chick he met in Woodbridge.”
Hands trembling, Christie puts down his cheesesteak. Here it comes.
“TRAITUHS!!! ALL OF YOUSE, TRAITUHS!!! DA CAMPAIGN STAFFERS ARE DA BACKSTABBERS OF DIS CAMPAIGN!! YOUSE GUYS HAVE BEEN AGAINST ME, NEW JERSEY BABY, AND TODD BOWLES FROM DAY ONE! If youse had been in charge on 9/11, you’d have NEVA prosecuted Ahmed Jamrok, da 15 year old autistic kid who pledged allegiance to al Qaeda on Myspace in 2002. He’s still ROTTIN in ADX Florence, but none of youse would have DA GUTS for dat. I’m sick of it. I’m sickened.”
A junior staffer, a woman in a starter jacket and tight ponytail, begins crying.
“EAGLES! DA FREAKIN’ EAGLES! Send 10 of Essex County’s finest to New Hampshire, bring 5 t-shirt guns. Da Ball Hog is kill. On. Sight.”
The governor and I are sitting alone in the breakroom of the Christiebunker.
“You know, we’re da last vanguard against da parasitic peoples, da Patriots fans, da al-Qaedas, da thugs, Hullary Clinton. Our victory will be a shining beacon for da golden people of dis great state, da most densely populated both in people and values. Our fatherland will extend past New Hampshire, into Boston, and make Gillette Stadium a museum about cheatin’ no good teams. Belichick gets da lethal injection. Daily Air Force on flights over da South China Sea. No fly zone ova Turkey. Death penalty for sellin’ K2. Jeter answers for his crimes. That is what will propel our great victory,” he mumbles, exhausted.
“How do you plan on marching back Rand’s people?” I ask
“We…we’re gonna…we want it more.” Governor Christie goes silent for a while, then says, “No. No. No. Vafangul. We don’t want it more. This is da end of a reign that was supposed to last two terms. We were bested in honor and strategy by awful freaks like Rand and Cruz. Dey wanted it more. Dey brought dere best game. We were lazy divas like Terrell Owens. Our downfall will be remembered for eternity as the pomposity of a people who believed their prophecy arrived already. Friggin’ ballsacks.”
Christie snubs out his Swisher Sweet and gets up. He mumbles something about an “early morning on da trail” and limps toward the door.
“Dis is Chris from Bergen County signing off. Smell ya later, Diggie.”
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at [email protected] or Tweet to @carl_diggler.