Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey had one of his better national media outings on Sunday, showing the advantage governors will have in the 2016 GOP presidential primary. On the bridge scandal he was calm and confident: “All the people of New Jersey know and need to know is that I absolutely had nothing to do with this, and that seems to be the conclusion that some folks are coming to as well, and I know it will be the conclusion ultimately also because I know the truth.” As for the quarantine he and neighboring governors imposed, he avoided impugning the motives of medical professionals (as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas did) but held firm on his decision:
CHRIS WALLACE: . . . Do you no longer trust the CDC and doctors and scientists?
CHRISTIE: Well, no, that’s a pretty general statement, Chris. Of course we do. But the fact of the matter is that the CDC protocols as Dr. Fauci admitted himself have been a moving target and imagine that you’re the person in charge of the public health of people of a largely densely populated state, in fact, the most densely populated state in the Union, and these protocols continue to move and change.
It was my conclusion that we needed to do this to protect the public health of people of New Jersey. Governor Cuomo agreed. And now, Mayor Emanuel agrees. And I think the CDC eventually will come around to our point of view on this.
WALLACE: And what about Dr. Fauci, who says it’s not good science to quarantine people when they’re not symptomatic because they can’t spread the disease in those situations.
CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I have great respect for Dr. Fauci. But what he’s counting on is a voluntary system with folks who may or may not comply. We had this situation in New Jersey, Chris, as you know, with the NBC News crew that said that they were going to self-quarantine and then two days later they were out picking up takeout in Princeton and walking around the streets of Princeton.
I mean, the fact of the matter is that we — I don’t believe when you’re dealing with something as serious as this that we can count on a voluntary system. This is government’s job. If anything else, the government’s job is to protect safety and health of our citizens. And so, we’ve taken this action and I absolutely have no second thoughts about it.
WALLACE: . . . . So, are you concerned that you’re going to disincentivize people from going over there to help stop the outbreak?
CHRISTIE: No, I’m really not, Chris, because I believe that folks who want to take that step and are willing to volunteer also understand that it’s in their interest and in the public health interest to have a 21-day period thereafter if they’ve been directly exposed to people with the virus.
And as we saw with what happened with some of the health care workers in Texas, with the CDC shifting protocols, we have people who are infected from that type of contact. And we just can’t have that in the New York, New Jersey area. And that’s why Governor Cuomo and I agree on this, and now, you see that they agree in Chicago as well. I think this is a policy that will become a national policy sooner rather than later.
In tone and substance he was what President Obama is not — authoritative, proactive and empathetic toward ordinary citizens who should not have to worry each time one of these cases arises.
As for the presidential race, he was non-committal but direct. (“I have not made a decision, Chris. But I’m not being coy about it. I’m obviously thinking about it.”) Asked if he recently had been taking a shot at freshmen senators when he said the next president would be a governor, he demurred, but then gave the rationale why we should not elect such people: “What I was talking about is what we’ve seen in the White House over the last six years. And I think we see it over and over again with the crises that are happening both around the world and at home right now. You need to have someone in that chair who knows how to make those decisions who has done it before and that’s why I advocate governors as the best people to be considered for president in 2016. But no, this is direct commentary on record of last six years and, unfortunately, the fact that someone who never ran anything bigger than a Senate staff may not be the best training in the world to run the biggest government in the world.”
If Christie can show himself to be in control but also under control, he has will do well if he decides to run. He has faced two national-size crises, Hurricane Sandy and the Ebola breakout, and has done a solid job in looking out for New Jerseyans’ interests. Right-wingers may have been miffed that he fought for federal Sandy funding or warmly greeted the president, but those supposed “flaws” are easily turned into a message that he will fight for all Americans against foreign enemies and for domestic policies that benefit ordinary Americans. Defending his comments that he’s sick of hearing about the minimum wage, he gave his best populist formulation:
We have to have a debate over creating better-paying middle-class jobs in this country. And if that somehow doesn’t comport with what people in the political elite want, well, I’m sorry. But I know, talking to families across New Jersey and now across this country, that what they’re aspiring to is to have good-paying, middle-class jobs for their children to take, and even higher, so they can have a stable home life, so they can have the ability to go away on a vacation if they’d like to, so they can have the ability to save for their children to go to college.
That’s the kind of future that people in this country want. And the debate we need to be having is how to have a better pro-growth economy that’s growing jobs and good-paying jobs, jobs at places like Motorola Solutions or other kind of places across the country, other great businesses that operate in New Jersey and in other places across the country that create those kind of really great paying middle-class jobs. That’s the debate we should be having.
There’s just not income inequality in this country, Chris. The bigger problem is opportunity inequality. And that’s what mothers and fathers are sitting around kitchen tables talking about wanting for their children’s future. And that’s exactly what I was saying at the Chamber of Commerce. And I don’t back off from those comments one inch.
Pundits, especially on the far right, tend to think elections are all about ideology and positions on individual issues. (How many times have we heard, “He can’t win in the GOP because of his position on X?”) In fact, it is a candidate’s overall message and personal qualities that most concern voters selecting a potential president. If Christie keeps this up and shows a more granular level of knowledge about foreign policy, he will be, if he decides to run, a formidable candidate.