One hundred and three years have passed since the last time a sitting New Jersey governor was elected president. Current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hopes to break that streak. He announced two weeks ago that he is a candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Christie became the fourteenth prominent Republican to throw his hat into the ring and the sixth current or former governor. He wasn’t the last.
Date of Birth: September 6, 1962
Place of Birth: Newark, New Jersey
Marital Status: Married (Mary Pat)
Children: Andrew (21), Sarah (19), Patrick (15), and Bridget (11)
Political Career: Governor of New Jersey (2010-present); U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey (2002-2008); Freeholder, Morris County (1995-1998)
Campaign Website: www.chrischristie.com
Twitter Handle: @GovChristie
Website: New Jersey Governor Website
Christie announced his run for the White House in a twenty-minute speech at his old high school in Livingston, New Jersey:
Christie focused primarily on his personal biography and accomplishments as governor. When he moved off that topic, he had harsh words for both Democrats and Republicans:
Both parties have failed our country. Both parties have stood in the corner and held their breath waiting to get their way. Both parties have led us to believe that in our country, that was built on compromise, that somehow compromise is a dirty word. If Washington and Adams and Jefferson had believed that was a dirty word we would still be under the crown of England.
Christie mentioned foreign policy only in passing and without delving into specifics:
In a world that is as dangerous and as frightening as anytime I’ve seen it in my lifetime, there is only one indispensable force for good in the world. It is a strong, unequivocal America that will be with you no matter what and to tell our adversaries there are limits to your conduct and America will enforce the limits to that conduct.
Well here it comes. After seven years, I heard the president of the United States say the other day that the world respects America more because of his leadership. This convinces me, it is the final confirmation that President Obama lives in his own world, not in our world. The fact is this: after seven years of a weak and feckless foreign policy run by Barack Obama, we better not turn it over to his second mate, Hillary Clinton.
In the end, leadership matters. It matters for our country, and American leadership matters for the world. But if we are going to lead, we have to stop worrying about being loved and start caring about being respected again both at home and around the world. I am not running for president of the United States as a surrogate for begin elected prom king of America.
Christie should have ample opportunity on the campaign trail to spell out how he would translate these broad preferences into specific policy choices.
Christie was born and raised in New Jersey. He began his career as lawyer, won his first election in 1994 as a freeholder for Morris County, but lost the next year in a bid to win a seat in New Jersey’s State Assembly. He moved to New Jersey’s capital, Trenton, in 1998, not as an elected official but as a lobbyist for energy companies. He raised funds for the George W. Bush campaign in 2000, and in 2002 Bush appointed him U.S. attorney for New Jersey. He held the position until 2008. In 2009 he won the New Jersey governorship by defeating incumbent Governor Jon Corzine.
Christie soon became a hot commodity in GOP circles as a tough-talking governor of a state that typically goes blue in presidential elections. He was seen as so appealing that some Republicans tried to recruit him to contest the 2012 presidential election. Christie passed. But in a twist of fate he became part of the election conversation anyway. Just days before Election Day, Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey coast. Once the waters subsided, Christie praised President Obama’s handling of the storm response and then exchanged a friendly handshake with the president when he visited New Jersey to see the damage firsthand. Some Republicans were furious with Christie, insisting he had hugged the president and helped him win the presidency. Christie pointed out that “There was no hug. Stop.” As for being gracious to the president, Christie’s response to the criticism was succinct: “I will not apologize for doing my job.”
Christie’s political star was in ascendance again in 2013 when he won a decisive reelection victory. He beat his overmatched opponent by twenty-two percentage points. More important, he won a majority of the votes of two constituencies that Republicans have struggled with nationally, women and Hispanics.
The political momentum that Christie gained with his reelection victory has since been derailed by the “Bridgegate” scandal. In September 2013, a traffic jam at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge, one of the major crossing points over the Hudson River into New York, snarled traffic in Fort Lee, New Jersey for four days. It later emerged that members of Christie’s staff had ordered the lane closures that caused the jam. They allegedly wanted to punish Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor for failing to endorse Christie for reelection. Federal authorities charged two Christie staffers and another New Jersey official with using state resources for political ends. One of the Christie staffers pled guilty; the other two officials are scheduled to go on trial this fall. Christie denies playing a role in the lane closures; an internal probe he commissioned by an outside law firm cleared him of any wrongdoing. He insists that the media owe him an apology for falsely suggesting that he instigated Bridgegate.
As a candidate for president, I want to promise you a few things. First, a campaign without spin or without pandering or focus group tested answers. You get what I think whether you like it or not or whether it makes you cringe every once in while or note. A campaign when I’m asked a question, I will give the answer to the question that’s asked, not the answer my political consultants told me to get backstage. A campaign that, every day, will not worry about whether or not as popular but because it’s right. What is right will fix America, not what is popular.
Christie also hopes to tout his conservative credentials. He notes that people often assume he’s a moderate because he is the governor of a traditionally blue state. He wants voters to know that is not the case:
I’m a northeastern Republican who’s a little ethnic, so people assume you’re a moderate. Look at the record. I have a pretty conservative record.
To be specific:
Listen, I’ve vetoed tax increases…We have $2.5 billion less in discretionary spending in New Jersey today than we had eight years ago. I’ve balanced six budgets in a row. I’ve lowered the employee head count in New Jersey by 8,500 employees in five years. I’ve vetoed Planned Parenthood funding.
While Christie touts the things that have gone well on his watch as New Jersey’s governor, his GOP rivals will point out what hasn’t gone well. Most notably, New Jersey’s economy has struggled in recent years, with both job growth and overall economic growth lagging the national averages. New Jersey’s comparatively slow rebound from the Great Recession is likely a big part of the reason that his approval rating as governor hit a record low 38 percent in April, with 65 percent of New Jerseyans saying he wouldn’t make a good president. Christie’s response to that poll result ? "A lot of those people in that 65 percent want me to stay."
Foreign Policy Views
Christie, like many of his rivals for the GOP nomination, doesn’t have much foreign policy experience. He prepared for his run for the White House by getting briefings from Republican foreign policy luminaries such as Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice. He also took a few foreign trips. For instance, he visited London in early February and met with British Prime Minister David Cameron. But unlike other GOP candidates who have traveled abroad recently, he did not give a major public speech while he was there. He also declined to take questions from journalists.
In all, Christie’s public comments about foreign policy have tended to the general rather than the specific. He says he would pursue a more assertive foreign policy and that “what we say and what we do here at home affects how others see us and in turn affects what it is they say and do.” In that vein, he believes that his reputation for tough and blunt talk would pay dividends with friends and foes:
Listen, most of the time, you know, you’ll see a lot of people in the media who criticize me for being too tough, and being too direct and too blunt. Let me put it this way. My view is this. There would be no misunderstandings between me and any foreign leaders if I decided to run for president and was elected. Our allies would know that I would stand firmly with them without reservation, and our adversaries would know that this United States under that leadership would stand firmly opposed to those things which we believe are contrary to American interests…. There would be no misunderstandings between Mr. Putin and I if I were president.
Not surprisingly, Christie believes that President Obama has not been tough enough:
American power is in retreat. And we’ve backed away for the principles that made us a source of strength and stability. No one, no one, understands any longer whom America stands with or whom we stand against. Now we spent seventy years of blood and treasure, first defeat to Nazism, and then to defeat Soviet totalitarianism to establish and then maintain a free and united Europe. Now President Obama and Secretary Clinton are giving this sacred investment away for nothing but their inane reset button with Russia.
What Christie’s more assertive foreign policy would mean in practice is unclear. He has yet to follow the lead of most of GOP rivals in calling for the United States to provide lethal aid to Ukraine. He insists, though, that Vladimir Putin would not have threatened Ukraine if he were president:
I don’t believe, given who I am, that he would make the same judgment. Let’s leave it at that.
Christie has called for a "military approach" to China’s island-building activities in the South China Sea to "let them know there are limits to what they’re allowed to do."
That is an issue that we can handle militarily by going out there and making sure that we show them that we don’t respect their claims to these artificial islands in the South China Sea that they’re building that they’re saying are theirs that are hundreds and hundreds of miles from the coast of China and are clearly in international waters. We need to send that signal to the Chinese very clearly that we do not acknowledge nor will we respect their claims to those areas.
Christie didn’t spell out how this would differ from what the Obama administration is currently doing, or what he would do if China escalated its activities rather than backed down.
Christie opposes the pending nuclear deal with Iran, calling it “the single biggest disaster in the seven years of the Obama administration.” He claims that President Obama is pursuing the deal because he has “an absolutely quenchless thirst to have his name in the history books.” As for Iran:
They’re the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. They say ‘Death to America’ on a regular basis. They want to blow Israel off the map. And this president wants to give them the ability to get nuclear weapons? It is outrageous. It is immoral what’s happening. He should walk away from that table, and by the way, if we don’t have enough guts to do it, our allies should walk away from the table.
That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that Christie would tear up any deal on his first day in the Oval Office, as most of his GOP rivals have pledged to do:
I’m not one of those guys who’s going to say to you, ‘On Day One, I will abrogate the agreement….On Day One, I will look into and try to decide what to do with the agreement, depending on where we are at that moment. Because, by the way, it’s not just us involved anymore. We have a number of our allies around the world who’re at that table as well, and sanctions are most effective when not only we do it, but the other allies do it.
As with his remarks on China, Christie hasn’t laid out what he would do in place of the current negotiations or explained why that alternative strategy would be more likely to work. He has said, though, that Iran would need to do a few things before his administration would hold any further negotiations:
The Ayatollah in Iran would understand that there would be no negotiations with the United States of America until they publicly said and recognized the right for America to exist and the right for Israel to exist.
One area where Christie has been more specific is the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. He is open sending U.S. soldiers into combat:
We have to be willing as Americans to say, if need be, we’ll also put soldiers into the fight. We have to be willing to say that.
I think global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it.
Christie hasn’t laid out a plan for addressing climate change. If and when he does, he probably won’t be proposing any unilateral action because the United States “can’t be acting unilaterally…when folks in China are doing things to the environment that we would never be done in our country.”
Christie supports new free-trade agreements like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), at least in theory. The main caveat is that he doesn’t trust President Obama to deliver a good deal:
I’m generally in favor of trade and free trade. Of course the devil is always in the details. I’m not a huge truster in this president’s ability to negotiate on behalf of American interests. I’m someone who believes in trade promotion authority. But I don’t know that I would give this president trade promotion authority. This is the same guy who’s negotiating such a great deal that Iran is going to be a nuclear power. And so trade deals I think are important to expand America markets to bring our products to other people and theirs to us and to allow America competition to be able to continue to be what drives us to be the number one economy in the world.
When we decided to do foreign travel in 2014, I intentionally selected Mexico and Canada… we need to make these neighbors of ours a first thought, not an afterthought, and the fact is that the best way to do that is to meet people, to let them know by your physical presence and your interest in what’s going on in their countries that they’re important partners of ours. … I believe we need to spend much more time on our own hemisphere and on our continent, but also because I wanted to acknowledge and have the opportunity to expand our business and trade relationships with Canada and Mexico.
I do think that we need to take another look at NAFTA…It’s been 20 years now since NAFTA was put into effect and what’s the next chapter going to look like? We know what’s happened over the last 20 years with NAFTA, but I think we need to be talking to our neighbors about what the next generation of NAFTA will look like.
Christie has taken sometimes conflicting positions on immigration. For instance, in 2010 he called on Washington to create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants; in 2013 he declined to endorse the idea, saying instead that both parties in Washington “have to fix a broken system.” In 2011, he criticized Texas Governor Rick Perry for supporting in-state tuition to college students who came to the United States as children without legal documents; two years later he touted his decision to sign a bill that extended just that break to so-called Dreamers living in New Jersey. In recent months Christie has avoided answering questions about immigration, saying that he would speak to the issue only when he became a candidate:
Until that time, I have no role in the immigration debate except for how it may affect the citizens of New Jersey.
Now that he is a candidate, he’ll no doubt be asked to explain where he stands on an issue on which many members of the GOP base hold passionate views.
More on Christie
The New York Times has “Things You May Not Know About Chris Christie.” The Washington Post has “Things to Know About Gov. Chris Christie.” NPR has “5 Things You Should Know About Chris Christie.” CBS also has “Five Things to Know About Chris Christie.” USAToday has “Six Things to Know About Chris Christie.” Yahoo News has “9 Things to Know About Chris Christie.” The Guardian has “10 things you need to know” about Christie. MTV has “13 Things to Know About Chris Christie.” Attn: explains how “Chris Christie Is Different From Other Presidential Candidates.”