In Michael Lewis’s new book, if Donald Trump is the villain, the federal government and its protectors are the heroes.
The Fifth Risk, from the bestselling author of Moneyball and The Big Short, comes out Tuesday (Oct. 2) from W.W. Norton. In it, Lewis describes all the people around Trump trying desperately to protect key functions of the federal government (among them weather data collection, meat and nutrition standards, and nuclear waste clean-up) in an administration of willful ignorance.
Early in the book a key figure is the much-ridiculed and memed former governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie.
Christie, whose approval rating had sunk to 13% by the time he left office earlier this year, was chosen to head Trump’s transition team in May 2016, then was abruptly dismissed after Trump won the election. In Lewis’s hands, Christie cuts an entirely sympathetic character determined to help Trump with a smooth takeover of the White House.
Christie appears as the patient voice of reason, the only person who seems to have any actual government experience, the one trying to avoid nominations of corrupt people, the one patiently trying to walk the high wire over the debut performance of a third-rate circus act.
Lewis describes the moment when Christie approached Trump about leading the team, which meant hiring a staff and vetting and selecting potential candidates for hundreds of jobs, big and small:
Trump said he didn’t want a presidential transition team. Why did anyone need to plan anything before he actually became president? It’s legally required, said Christie.
According to Lewis, Trump begrudgingly agreed to let Christie raise a separate fund for the transition, and then when he read in the paper that Christie had raised said funds, he flew off the handle. Trump called in Steve Bannon, then campaign head and the second most reasonable person in the book’s prologue:
Bannon stepped off the elevator to find the governor of New Jersey seated on a sofa, being hollered at. Trump was apoplectic, actually yelling, You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?? Seeing Bannon, Trump turned on him and screamed, Why are you letting him steal my fucking money? Bannon and Christie together set out to explain to Trump federal law.