New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is having a moment in the 2016 presidential race.
In the aftermath of last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, and this week’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Christie is pitching himself as the national security candidate in a crowded Republican presidential field. And despite the Garden State governor’s notable lack of foreign-affairs experience, it seems to be working.
In recent weeks, the Republican, who has been struggling to keep his 2016 presidential campaign alive, has constantly reminded audiences of his experience as a former federal prosecutor in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Over the weekend, he received a coveted endorsement from the conservative-leaning New Hampshire Union Leader with its publisher declaring Christie best suited to stop the terrorist group known as ISIS. He’s also going after his GOP rivals on issues of national security. Perhaps as a result, at least one poll shows Christie making a real comeback in the Granite State, up to fourth place from ninth in October.Not bad for a candidate who was demoted to the Republican undercard debate just last month.
Christie himself has seemingly acknowledged he has little foreign policy experience. When The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg noted to Christie in an interview published on Friday, “New Jersey doesn’t have a foreign policy, except that you have to like Ireland, Italy, and Israel,” the governor responded by invoking the liberal New York City mayor across the Hudson River. “You have to deal with Bill de Blasio everyday—that’s foreign policy.” (Christie later added that he frequently speaks to Henry Kissinger and other former Bush administration officials).
Since being swept into office in 2009, Christie has only made official visits to a small handful of countries: Canada, Mexico, England and Israel. So how has he so successfully cast himself as a man of the world?
“Global terrorism can be framed as a law and order issue as much as a foreign policy issue. That’s what Christie is doing in order to position himself in the next few weeks,” said Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.On Friday, during remarks at the Iowa Association of Electrical Cooperatives annual meeting in Des Moines, Christie opened not with energy policy but the recent attacks. Recounting his experiences dealing with terrorism cases as U.S. attorney and the personal experience of not hearing from his wife for five hours as she worked in downtown Manhattan on 9/11, the governor argued he has national security experience to be president, especially in comparison to the other candidates.
“You see, acts of terrorism are not theoretical to me. They’re not something I got briefed about by some experts or heard testimony about in some basement room of the Capitol that is sterile and antiseptic. For the last 14 years, I’ve lived among those who have lost,” Christie said.
And speaking about this week’s massacre, he said, “Let me suggest this to you everybody, if a center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino, California, is a target for radical Islamic terrorism, then every place in America is a target for radical Islamic terrorism.”
It’s tough talk, no doubt. But will it be enough?
To his credit, Christie – U.S. attorney from 2002 to 2008 – was involved in terrorism cases, including one resulting in the convictions for five men who were planning on killing U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey, and another case involving two New Jersey men who were nabbed when they tried to fly from New York to Egypt to join the al-Shabab militant group in Somalia.
Still, the latest Christie boomlet may have less to do with his record than his tough-talking temperament.
During times of uncertainty, “Republican primary voters want to hear that kind of rhetoric, that no holds barred, no nonsense rhetoric that encapsulates their anger,” said Harrison.
Christie is also beginning to go after his GOP opponents. in recent days arguing Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida are weak on national security. He also took aim at Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky for voting to curb national security surveillance programs, going as far to say the two have made America less safe. “He went for the easy political vote at a time when it looked like it kind of was a popular thing to do. With all those dead Parisians, it doesn’t look so popular anymore,” Christie said of Cruz earlier this week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Whether Christie’s latest momentum will pay off beyond just New Hampshire remains to be seen.
“With a crowded field like this, it’s best to look at this like a large jazz ensemble,” said Dworkin. Every section gets their moment in their spotlight to have a solo … We’ll have to see how long Christie can keep it going. No everyone’s moment lasts.”