Days after coasting to re-election, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie faced a barrage of questions Sunday designed to test his suitability for another role: presidential candidate.
In appearances on four of the Sunday political talk shows, Christie was asked about a range of national issues that have little to do with governing the Garden State, from his temperament to his moderate positions on gun control and immigration reform. He also weighed in on the controversy surrounding his appearance on this week’s cover of TIME. The usually candid Christie, who is widely expected to run for president in 2016, instead chose to follow the standard playbook for early front-runners in the national spotlight: first, do no harm.
On Fox News Sunday, the knives were out for Christie with a “lightning round” of questions designed to test his acceptability to a skeptical conservative base. The governor sidestepped questions from host Chris Wallace about his support for immigration reform, saying vaguely: “What I favor is fixing a broken system.” On guns, Christie pivoted to his focus on addressing mental-health issues. And after months of sparring with his party’s Tea Party contingent, including Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, Christie tried to remain above the fray. “You know what, Chris? What I’m not going to get into is the Washington, D.C., game that you’re trying to get me into,” he said. “I’m the governor of New Jersey.”
Christie returned again to his current job to make the case that his famously brash temperament could keep him out of the White House. “Listen, I’m the governor of New Jersey, and if you don’t think that being governor of New Jersey tries your patience, then you haven’t spent enough time in my state, Chris,” he quipped. “I am absolutely confident in my own ability to lead, and obviously so are 61% of the people in the state of New Jersey who re-elected me on Tuesday night.”
On NBC’s Meet the Press, Christie refused to be categorized as a “conservative” or “moderate” at host David Gregory’s prodding. “Listen, I don’t get into these labels,” he said. “Judge me by my record. That, I’m very, very comfortable with.” And he used the question as an opportunity to position himself outside of the Washington scrum, saying: “All the labels — that’s for the folks down in Washington, D.C., and obviously, they love playing that game, but the people of America aren’t interested in that game, and I think given the approval ratings in Washington, they’ve shown that.”
On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Norah O’Donnell challenged Christie on his weakest point: foreign policy. Asked about negotiations to end Iran’s nuclear-weapons program shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on the show, Christie said it would be inappropriate for him to comment until there is an agreement in place.
“I’m the governor of New Jersey,” he said. “And I think there are a lot of people you could have and probably will have on the program who are significantly better briefed on this than I am. And I think when guys like me start to shoot off on opinions about this kind of stuff, it’s really ill-advised. So I’ll leave it to Secretary Kerry and the folks that are in charge of this to made decisions about where we go. And then once they put something together, if they do, then I’ll make a judgment on that. But it’s just — I’m not the right person to be asking that question to, with all due respect.”
The answer neatly sidestepped a political landmine, but also leaves questions about his preparedness to handle the nation’s foreign policy.
On ABC’s This Week, Christie addressed questions about his personal background raised in a new book about the 2012 campaign, saying of the vetting issues that reportedly kept him from being Mitt Romney’s running mate, “First off, political advice from people who ran the Romney campaign is probably something nobody should really give a darn about.” He continued that he’s not afraid of his past and should he run, he expects it to be thoroughly picked over. “All these issues have been vetted. And if I ever run for anything again, they’ll be vetted again. If you’re in public life, that’s what you have to understand.”