Christie's first version of the argument came at a morning event in Stratham. He reminded the audience that president had chided Republicans, saying they were "scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America." To Christie, it sounded like a knock at his comment in an interview with Hugh Hewitt, that "I don't think that orphans under 5 should be admitted to the United States" until he could trust the vetting process.
"I am concerned about widows and orphans -- the widows and orphans of my state, the widows and orphans of September 11," said Christie.
He returned to the theme when one questioner asked whether there could be a meaningful distinction between Islam and "radical Islam." Christie said there could be, then suggested that "for some candidates in this race, the results of radical Islam are theoretical."
That was the start of a nearly hour-by-hour recollection of 9/11, and how he was off work because he'd just been nominated for U.S. attorney. (Christie's first major use of that line came at the first Republican debate, and fact-checkers had browbeaten him for not admitting that the appointment was delayed until December -- something he often adds, as it doesn't actually alter the narrative.) In this new context, it did not matter: What mattered was the story of him waiting to hear if his wife had died at her office near the World Trade Center.
"It was inching towards 2:30," he said. "I was thinking about a number of things. I was thinking about losing my best friend. I was thinking about what I was going to tell my children. I was thinking about what kind of single parent I would be. And at 2:35, the phone rang, and it was my wife."
More than one audience member wiped away tears; more of them did so after Christie described the death of a friend who his wife had recommended for a job, whose son still came over to their house for Thanksgiving.
Christie had spoken about some of this before, including in his truncated speech to last week's "Sunshine Summit" in Florida. But the audience for that speech, on a weekend afternoon when some media had already shipped off, was smaller than the one he was getting in New Hampshire.
At his second event Saturday, at a bar and bowling alley in Windham, Christie said that the president's "widows and orphans" remark was a direct attack on him. "I'm going to respond right here," he said, launched right into the 9/11 story, with even more details, including how his wife had come home sopping wet and covered in a blanket, because "if you came from lower Manhattan, the fire department hosed you down" to prevent contamination.
The crowd was transfixed, the only noise in the room coming from Christie's microphone and the bar's heater. For Christie, anyone who dismissed a refugee "pause" had forgotten the victims of 9/11.
"You can go across the ocean and make sarcastic, lousy political remarks," Christie said to an absent Obama. "Maybe it's escaped your memory, Mr. President. But it has never escaped theirs."