Chris Christie: Straight talker or inartful dodger?

    Chris Christie

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves the Capitol in Washington in this Nov. 17, 2014 file photo (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

    If you buy Chris Christie’s depiction of himself as a no-bull straight talker who Sez What He Means ‘n’ Means What He Sez, you should check out his TV gigs this past Sunday. Because this guy can bob and weave and duck and dodge just like any other pol.

    On the one hand, he wanted to advertise himself for 2016 by showing up on NBC, ABC, and CBS; on the other hand, he didn’t want to tackle any of the issues that will be crucial to winning the Republican nomination in 2016. Whenever he was prodded to get specific (although the besotted Sunday hosts rarely prodded him), he quickly played the Jersey card – as in: “My job is to run the state of New Jersey.”

    I get why he did that. Republicans are currently waging their uncivil war – establishment versus tea party, moderates versus conservatives – and Christie at this point doesn’t want to say anything that would alienate any warring faction. But since so many grassroots GOPers are sticklers for specifics, it’s not clear how long Christie can simply do his peekaboo.

    The fog machine

    Anyway, for now, he’s doing it. One key Sunday exchange, with ABC News host George Stephanopoulos, showed us how it works.

    Stephanopoulos said: “One issue that’s sure to come up is immigration. You mentioned that you got a majority of the Latino vote in your re-election. And you’re for a path to citizenship. You also said that undocumented students in New Jersey should get in-state tuition rates.”

    Uh oh. For anyone seeking the Republican nomination, that’s a policy minefield. The right-wing base hates the concept of a citizenship path for undocumented immigrants. It also hates the idea of offering public college tuition aid to undocumented immigrant students; when Rick Perry tried to defend his Texas tuition policy during an ’11 GOP debate, he was roundly booed by audience yahoos. And, as Stephanopoulos noted, Christie also favors tuition aid (he now calls it “tuition equality” – a reversal of his former opposition).

    Hence, Stephanopoulos’ question: “Do you think that other states should adopt that policy as well?” A path to citizenship, plus tuition aid?

    In response, Christie cranked up the fog machine: “Listen, I think nationally, they have to fix a broken system…look at what governors do, like in New Jersey, where we confront problems, we debate them, we argue about them, then we get to a table, we come to an agreement, we fix them and we move on. And in Washington, that seems to almost never happen. And so I think, listen, everybody has got to sit at a table, everyone is going to have a point of view on immigration…let’s get to the table, come to a consensus and then move on.”

    OK, but what should that immigration “consensus” look like? As Stepanopoulos asked him, “do  you think that national solution should include both a path to citizenship and…in-state college tuition?”

    Whereupon the “straight talker” went AWOL: “I think the national solution has to be – has to be figured out by the people who are in charge of our national government. My job is to fix what’s going on in New Jersey.”

    But should that national solution include a path to citizenship – which you support?

    “George, I don’t get to make those determinations, the folks in Washington, D.C. do.”

    Stephanopoulos: “But you get to have an opinion.”

    “Well, listen, I can have an opinion about lots of things, George, but we’re not going to go through all that this morning, are we?”

    Ah yes, just a frisson of that famed Christie bluster. But at least George doggedly sought to pin the guy down – unlike Norah O’Donnell over at CBS News.

    The Jersey card

    O’Donnell to Christie: “A deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program has fallen apart. How big of a setback do you think this is?”

    Christie: “Nora, listen, you know, I’m the governor of New Jersey…I’m not the right person to be asking that question to, with all due respect.”

    “But you’re a national political figure. You’re a leader in the Republican party. You may someday run for president. Do you have a view about whether Iran should continue to enrich uranium?

    “I’m the governor of New Jersey and my job is to run the state of New Jersey.”

    (Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, whose job is to run Louisiana, released this statement: “Reports that a nuclear agreement with Iran have stalled is a positive sign that common sense and security are prevailing,” because the proposed pact is “a bad deal for America and Israel.” Hey, Gov. Christie, how hard was that?)

    Anyway, O’Donnell moved on from Iran. She asked Christie about national immigration reform, he said Washington needs to fix the system but meanwhile he’s just the governor of New Jersey. She asked if he thought the GOP would pass something (without quizzing him on specifics), and he said “I hope they do, Nora.” Moments later, after asking Christie whether his wife is on board for a presidential run (he dodged that one), O’Donnell moved on to the health reform law. Did Christie think that the president has sufficiently apologized for the website disaster?

    Christie took her softball query in an interesting direction. Because the website launch was so bad, “that’s why I didn’t do a state-based exchange in New Jersey to implement Obamacare…I was not going to get the people of New Jersey involved in this train wreck in that way. And so that’s what we’ve done in New Jersey.”

    Wait a second. So instead of creating his own health coverage marketplace program (as many other states have done), a Jersey-run program for Jersey residents, he decided to punt Jersey’s residents into the federal exchange program…even though he had just claimed that “anyone who has managed anything or run anything” knew long in advance that the feds were screw ups? And if he knew long ago that Obamacare was a “train wreck,” how come he has expanded Medicaid under the terms of Obamacare (“the smart thing to do for our fiscal and public health”)?

    What great grist for follow-up questions! Take it away, Nora: “Governor Chris Christie, good to see you, thanks for joining us.”

    Oh, and did he happen to mention that he’s just the governor of New Jersey?


    Speaking of Rick Perry, he too surfaced on Sunday – demonstrating, again, his endearing way with words. He told ABC News that Republicans should “lay the wood to the president.” Gee. Didn’t I just see a scene like that in 12 Years A Slave?


    The next time someone tells you that “voting doesn’t matter,” mention the Virginia race for attorney general. More than 2.2 million voters were cast last Tuesday; currently, the unofficial winning margin is 117.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal