New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), fresh off his landslide re-election victory, made the rounds on the Sunday shows, fielding a whole lot of questions about politics in interviews that seemed eager to ignore policy. But the four interviews were not a total loss for those interested in substance.
On ABC’s “This Week,” George Stephanopoulos asked the governor about immigration, and Christie’s reluctance to give a straight answer struck me as interesting.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One issue that’s sure to come up is immigration. You mentioned that you got a majority of the Latino vote in your re-election. And you’re for a path to citizenship. You also said that undocumented students in New Jersey should get in-state tuition rates. Do you think other states should adopt that policy as well?
CHRISTIE: Listen, I think nationally, they have to fix a broken system. And I think this is one of the real frustrations that people across the country have on this and a myriad of other issues is they look at what governors do, like in New Jersey, where we confront problems, we debate them, we argue about them, then we get to a table, we come to an agreement, we fix them and we move on. And in Washington, that seems to almost never happens.
As dodging questions goes, this is straight out of Evasiveness 101. It was a good question – Christie used to have a clear position, and Stephanopoulos wanted to know if the governor still holds that position – but Christie immediately stuck to generalities and changed the subject.
So the host followed up, asking about what the policy solution on immigration should look like, and Christie dodged again. “I think the national solution has to be – has to be figured out by the people who are in charge of our national government,” he said.
So Stephanopoulos pressed further, asking about a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States. Again, Christie refused to say, responding that he doesn’t “get to make those determinations.”
When the host reminded him that he’s able to share an opinion about a pressing issue, the governor replied, “Well, listen, I can have an opinion about lots of things, George, but we’re not going to go through all that this morning are we?”
There are a few relevant angles to this. First, for the record, Christie hasn’t always been quite so shy about his position on comprehensive immigration reform. Back in 2010, the governor appeared on the exact same program and was willing to speak his mind: “The president and the Congress have to step up to the plate, they have to secure our borders and they have to put forward a commonsense path to citizenship for people.” Three years later, Christie can’t bring himself to endorse publicly the same position he’s already taken.
Second, this is likely the start of a larger evolution. As Christie makes the transition from a Republican governor in a blue state to a Republican presidential candidate running in GOP primaries, expect him to start feeling shy about all kinds of positions he used to be proud of. Christie won’t exactly be running on a “straight talk” platform.
And third, watching Christie struggle to deflect simple questions about a major national issue, it was a reminder that for all his bravado, the governor consistently lacks the kind of political courage he wants others to see in him.
For example, as the U.S. policy in Syria reached a crisis point, Christie refused to take a stand. When New Jersey’s legislature approved a gun-safety measure he asked for, Christie vetoed it. When it came time to schedule a Senate special election, Christie picked a Wednesday in October because he was too afraid to be on the same ballot as Cory Booker.
Now he’s afraid to endorse an immigration position he’d previously been proud of.
The governor clearly wants to be thought of as a tough, straight-talking, no-nonsense leader. It’s a shame the real Chris Christie keeps getting in the way of his so-called “brand.”