After a meatloaf lunch at the White House last Tuesday, President Donald Trump made New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie an intriguing offer: Would he like to be secretary of labor?
Christie said no, according to four people close to Trump who were briefed on the conversation, which was just the latest in a series of nudges Trump has given Christie about joining him in Washington. Christie has told Trump he is not interested and instead plans to join the private sector after he leaves Trenton next year, two people close to Trump said.
Christie’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The previously unreported conversation is particularly notable because it happened during a whirlwind 48 hours in which Trump’s first nominee, Andrew Puzder, lost Senate support, withdrew his nomination, and was replaced by Alexander Acosta — and all the while Christie’s name never publicly popped up. Acosta was picked shortly after Puzder officially dropped out and wasn’t at the 77-minute press conference where he was announced. Trump didn’t travel to Florida, where Acosta lives, to interview him. Acosta referred a request for comment to the White House.
The Christie offer and lightning-fast Acosta pick provides a window into the way Trump chooses people for jobs — an approach that is culturally familiar from his years of televised boardroom “firings” on The Apprentice, but is still something of a shock to Washington’s political culture and its class of career operatives and government officials accustomed to a slower, more orderly hiring process. Trump, as he has throughout his public and private career, goes on gut and instinct, his first impression in a meeting, and often whether the person has been loyal to him, several people familiar with his conversations and thinking say.
“He is very intuitive,” said Louise Sunshine, a longtime executive in the Trump Organization. “He looks for people who are smart and loyal and strong, and is very intuitive about it.”
Trump can plan to pick one person one minute and change his mind the next. He can think of a name and immediately tell advisers he wants that person for a particular job. There is no discernible rhyme or reason or formal vetting process to many of his hires, allies and aides say, with no formal questionnaires or protocols — and several cabinet appointees’ confirmation struggles brought the downsides of such an approach into stark relief. He cares, above all, about appearance, loyalty and a strength — a word he often uses.
“He makes a decision when he is interviewing someone, and pretty quickly,” said Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican and top ally. “There’s no procrastination.”
While some of his choices are on a whim, he also likes to call dozens of people about potential hires, telling them what others said and asking them if they agree or disagree — and why. Last week, he asked TV anchors who visited the Oval Office for advice on filling the national security adviser position that opened up after Michael Flynn was ousted, according to two sources close to the administration. During the transition, he would walk the tables of Mar-a-Lago and ask guests who he should pick for different jobs. He will call longtime business associates in New York, including Democrats and people who have never been involved in politics, and ask their advice.
“It’s not like he’s going to ask the housekeeper, but he values the opinion of a broad array of people,” said Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump adviser who views the president’s personnel moves as typical of a CEO. “It’s different than how the Washington establishment works, where you’re paying consultants and pollsters to focus group everything. He doesn’t bother with that.”
“It can be very random,” one person who has been heavily involved in a number of the searches…