Let's be clear: Chris Christie is up to something.
Because every presidential hopeful who visits Chicago to stump for someone else has a self-serving ulterior motive: money, money and more money. The Windy City, after all, is home to some of the world's deepest pockets.
Ever since Bridge-Gate, New Jersey's big, brash, Republican governor -- whose personality is more stereotypically "Chicago" than most Chicagoans -- has worked overtime, traversing the country, in a desperate bid to repair his battered public image and regain the GOP's faith in his 2016 prospects.
While a late-night punchline and media darling-turned-pariah, Christie retains the star power (if not the approval ratings) to bring a welcome boost to the gubernatorial campaign of Bruce Rauner, who's trying to depose Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn in one of the most hotly contested, closely-watched races in the nation.
So it's no surprise, then, that Rauner invited Christie to appear at a July 25 fundraiser downtown Chicago. Nor is it shocking that Christie -- still in damage control mode -- would decline an invitation to woo pro-Rauner supporters predisposed to dig his pension-slashing, tax-loathing, anti-union brand of conservatism despite the fallout from the George Washington Bridge scandal and the growing possibility that Christie -- like so many governors here in Illinois -- could face criminal chargesleading to a stint behind bars.
He also wouldn't turn down another opportunity to rub shoulders with super-rich Chicago donors such as hedge fund mogul Ken Griffin, who broke records last month when he wrote Rauner a check for $2.5 million.
Back in February, the Republican Governors Association president ventured here to speak to a sold-out crowd at the Economic Club of Chicago and make a cameo at funder at Griffin's home that was also attended by Rauner. (The RGA raked in $1 million from Christie's trip.) At the time, the Winnetka venture capitalist reportedly opted to meet privately with Christie rather than risk a public photo-op while the bridge brouhaha was blowing up and dominating the news cycle.
Christie raised eyebrows this week when he put Iowa on his RGA itinerary but otherwise downplayed his White House ambitions (and an announcement thereof).
"I'm gearing up to win as many governors races as I can this November, and I'll make decisions about running for president after that," he said Saturday.
Pants on fire.