If you had any doubts that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s endorsement of Mitt Romney was meant to get inside the competition’s heads, the news conference that concluded a little while ago would have cleared that up.
Christie took a dig at using religion as a test for candidates. Romney went for the jugular, calling on Texas Gov. Rick Perry to repudiate the words of the Rev. Robert Jeffress, who introduced him at the Values Voter Summit last weekend. Romney twisted the knife, reminding reporters that Perry had said Jeffress hit his introduction “out of the park.” To make matters worse for Perry, the Anti-Defamation League just put out a press release:
In remarks at the Values Voters Summit after introducing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas told reporters that voters were being given a choice to vote for “someone who is truly a believer in Jesus Christ,” or “someone who is part of a cult.” Jeffress added later that he would prefer “a competent Christian to a competent non-Christian like Mitt Romney,” who is a Mormon.
“If voters are to take Pastor Jeffress literally, then candidates who are not sufficiently Christian would not be welcome in the presidential race,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “There is no place in our society for divisive appeals based on a person’s religious faith, and that is especially true of candidates for high office.
“The Constitution explicitly states that there is no religious test for public office in the United States, and each of the presidential contenders bears a responsibility to make clear that appeals to ethnic or religious bigotry have no place in this campaign,” Mr. Foxman added. “We urge each of the Republican candidates to use the upcoming debates as an opportunity to reject appeals for votes based on religion as offensive and anathema to the values of religious diversity we hold dear.”
That challenge applies equally to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Herman Cain, who have both ducked the issue.
But the news conference was about more than religion. Christie stuck to the Romney message, especially that the former governor’s blend of private- and public-sector experience make him the best candidate. He also argued the number-one goal for Republicans should be to beat Obama.
On RomneyCare, Christie went to the mat, saying it was “completely intellectually dishonest” to compare that to ObamaCare, citing Obama’s massive tax hike. He also dished out a jibe at the insurgent candidates, saying that Romney’s campaign wasn’t conceived “on the back of an envelope.” He made the comparison (to the amusement of tweeters who found it an appropriate metaphor for the bulky governor) between Obama, who wants to divide up the pie, and Romney, who wants to expand the pie. It was a typically brash Christie performance.
As for Romney, he looked simply thrilled. He was aggressive in going after Perry but also looser than we’ve seen before. And why shouldn’t he be? He’s picked up the best offensive lineman in the game, who can punch holes in the other side and let Romney scamper through. It’s not going to be a deal-closer for many voters, but for many fence-sitting voters, undecided donors and most of the punditocracy, this is a very big deal. Romney is going to extend the glow of success (in snagging Christie) as long as possible; the two will appear together at a town hall. I imagine it won’t be the only one.