New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pummeled Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for being overly scripted during the New Hampshire debate, pouncing when Rubio, for the third time, repeated his stock line that President “Obama knows exactly what he is doing” by moving the country to the left. “There it is, there it is,” Christie declared. “The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody!”
It’s the moment everyone is talking about. But there is one small problem. While Christie attacked Rubio for using memorized, scripted lines, the governor used his own memorized, scripted lines during the very same debate.
When asked about the problem of drug addiction in New Hampshire, Christie gave an impassioned answer: “I’m pro-life,” he declared, “and I’m pro-life not just for the nine months in the womb, I’m pro-life for when they get out and it’s a lot more complicated. Sixteen-year-old, heroin-addicted drug girl on the floor of the county lockup, I’m pro-life for her life. . . . Every one of those lives is an individual gift from God.”
It was a moving statement — and it was taken almost verbatim from a speech he gave in October at Shooter’s Tavern in Belmont, N.H. “I’m pro-life,” Christie said back then, “and I think that if you’re pro-life, you’ve got to be pro-life for the whole life, not just for the nine months they’re in the womb. . . . But when they get out, that’s when it gets tough. The 16-year-old girl on the floor of the county lockup addicted to heroin, I’m pro-life for her, too. Her life is just as much a precious gift from God as the one in the womb.”
There it is, everybody: Rubio was not the only candidate on the debate stage with a “canned speech that he’s memorized.”
Christie has also used some version of the same line contrasting his executive experience with Rubio’s alleged inexperience as a legislator in each of the past four debates. In New Hampshire, Christie declared, “This is the difference between being a governor who actually has to be responsible for problems” and then a few moments later repeated “When you’re a governor, you have to take responsibility . . . We have to take responsibility as executives.” Christie used the same construct in the Iowa debate (“That’s the difference between being a governor . . . and being someone who has never had to be responsible for any of those decisions”) . . . the South Carolina debate (“this is the difference between being a governor and a senator. See, when you’re a senator, what you get to do is just talk and talk and talk . . . When you’re a governor, you’re held accountable for everything you do”) . . . and the Nevada debate (“This is a difference between being a governor and being in a legislature . . . You have to be responsible and accountable”).
Let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with any of this. Every politician has a “stump speech” he or she repeats over and over on the campaign trail. Every politician uses language from his or her stump speech in the debates. And every politician repeats the best lines over and over and over. It’s called message discipline. It’s how elections are won.
And, by the way, Christie and Rubio were not the only ones up on stage practicing message discipline Saturday night. In a December speech in Nashville, Ted Cruz railed against what he called “bipartisan corruption” of career politicians in Washington. In Saturday’s debate, he told New Hampshire voters “I will always stand with the American people against the bipartisan corruption of Washington.” In his closing statement in the first GOP debate, Donald Trump declared: “The country is serious trouble. We don’t win anymore.” In his closing statement at Saturday’s New Hampshire debate, Trump told us (for the gazillionth time) “Our country that we love so much doesn’t win anymore. . . . If I’m elected president, we will win, and we will win, and we will win.”
It should be no great revelation that all of the candidates have a core message they are trying to get across and well-rehearsed lines to make their point. Trump wants you to know he’s going to make America great again. Cruz wants you to know he will take on the Washington establishment. Christie wants you to know that he has executive experience. And Rubio wants you to know that he is the best candidate to take on Hillary Clinton and replace Obama.
So the idea that Christie had some great “gotcha” moment catching Rubio repeating “scripted” lines is absurd. Everyone uses a campaign script in presidential debates — including, it seems, a certain governor from New Jersey.