For Christie, a boardwalk tour, and hints of a presidential bid: ‘I’m thinking about it’

August 29, 2014
(Photo by Robert Costa/The Washington Post)
(Photo by Robert Costa/The Washington Post)

SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. -- Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) returned to the Jersey Shore on Friday, grinning for pictures with throngs of swimsuit-clad supporters and weighing in on President Obama's foreign policy and congressional politics as he made his way down the boardwalk.

Talk of a potential 2016 presidential run met him every few steps, with Christie nodding at the thought and appreciative of the encouragement.

"I'm thinking about it," the governor told each well-wisher as he shook hands near colorful shacks selling jumbo pizza slices, popcorn, and cotton candy.

When asked about Obama's remark Thursday that he did not yet have a "strategy" for dealing with the rise of an Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria, Christie called the president disengaged during a time of crisis.

"That's not a revelation, is it?" Christie said. "It's scary to hear the president say that. But I don't think that we needed the president to announce that. I think we see what's happening there and that he doesn't have a strategy. That's really unfortunate for a president in his sixth year."

Christie declined to say more about his view on the unrest in the Middle East and how best to address it.

"The ISIS situation is one that deserves a really detailed answer, which I'm not going to give you while walking down the boardwalk and taking selfies," he said with an exasperated chuckle.

But, Christie added, that does not mean he is not studying up on global issues. He said that he recently read "Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours that Ended the Cold War" by Ken Adelman and was "inspired" by Reagan's example.

An aide said Christie has also had briefings and conversations on foreign policy with leading analysts.

Christie said Doris Kearns Goodwin's "The Bully Pulpit," about the relationship and rivalry of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft was another favorite from his summer reading list.

More than anything, Christie's hour-long stop here ahead of Labor Day weekend was an embrace of his political base -- the middle-class, beach-going New Jersey voters who have twice elected him governor -- as well as a reminder to the reporters trailing him that he remains a talented and upbeat retail politician in spite of the bridge-closing scandal that has engulfed his administration for much of this year.

Wearing khaki pants and a navy blue University of Notre Dame shirt -- his daughter started her freshman year there last week -- Christie ambled across the weathered wooden planks, bending down to greet young children, hugging shop owners, and talking about college football with teenagers.

When approached by residents who saw their homes damaged two years ago during Hurricane Sandy, Christie would pause, furrow his brow, and put his hand on their shoulder, promising to do what he could but saying firmly that he could not promise more federal funds.

The beachfront town, which was devastated by the storm, has since seen most of its boardwalk repaired. Christie mentioned the area's redevelopment throughout his stroll, praising the county and municipal officials who walked with him.

"It's a lot better than last year," he said. "I feel really good about how this summer has gone. We're closing strong."

Politics, however, was what filled most of the tour. The lone heckler who approached Christie dismissed the governor's 2016 chances, yelling that he is "not a nice person."

Christie, who has traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire this year in his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, shrugged at the catcalls.

Pressed on whether Mitt Romney should once again seek the GOP presidential nomination -- a notion that has gained traction in Republican circles this summer as Romney has campaigned for Senate and House candidates -- Christie said, "Talk to Romney."

Next month, Romney will be in New Jersey with Christie to raise money for the state Republican party.

"I think the world of Mitt," Christie said. "He would have been a great president. And I don't think there are many people who worked harder for him than I did. But the decision about running for president? I don't want anybody telling me what I should do and not do, and I'm certainly not going to tell Mitt what he should or shouldn't do."

As Obama considers an executive action on immigration that could allow millions of illegal immigrants to stay in the country, Christie distanced himself from conservatives who have suggested that the GOP should not pass legislation to fund the U.S. government unless the president rescinds such a policy.

"Republicans are going to have to come up with a strategy, but I think we've already seen that the shutting down the government strategy doesn't work," he said. "We don't control the White House, we don't control the Senate."

Christie said he hopes House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ask GOP lawmakers to fund the government even if they are angry.

"If they're the guys in charge making the decisions, they will make the right decision," Christie said.

Minutes later, Christie took one last round of pictures, then ducked into a waiting black SUV, on to another event at another boardwalk to the north.

Robert Costa is a national political reporter at The Washington Post.
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