Last year, just a few days after Russian forces entered Crimea, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was asked for his perspective on the developments. It didn’t go well – the New York Times reported that the governor, “usually known for his oratorical sure-footedness, offered a wobbly reply, displaying little grasp of the facts.”
One of the Republican activists in the room described Christie’s response as “disturbingly heavy on swagger and light on substance.” Another called it “uncomfortable to watch.”
The New Jersey governor’s pitch, in effect, was that Vladimir Putin wouldn’t take such provocative steps if Christie were president because the Russian leader would be so intimidated by his bluster. “I don’t believe, given who I am, that he would make the same judgment,” Christie said.
This underwhelming posture was, in fairness, several months ago, and Christie has been taking lessons on how to talk and think about foreign policy since. With this in mind, Hugh Hewitt posed a related question to the governor yesterday.
HEWITT: How do you think you could stand up against the Russian autocrat and his PRC counterparts?CHRISTIE: How do you think, Hugh?HEWITT: (laughing)CHRISTIE: I mean, you know…HEWITT: I just ask the questions, Governor.CHRISTIE: Listen, most of the time, you know, you’ll see a lot of people in the media who criticize me for being too tough, and being too direct and too blunt. Let me put it this way. My view is this. There would be no misunderstandings between me and any foreign leaders if I decided to run for president and was elected. Our allies would know that I would stand firmly with them without reservation, and our adversaries would know that this United States under that leadership would stand firmly opposed to those things which we believe are contrary to American interests…. There would be no misunderstandings between Mr. Putin and I if I were president.
In other words, very little has changed. Christie still genuinely seems to believe foreign-policy challenges can be resolved with bravado and tough-guy posturing.
When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) recently argued that he could effectively address terrorist threats because he’d fought political battles against unions, much of the political world laughed at him. It was a foolish reply based on absurd assumptions – a dispute against school teachers in Wisconsin is poor preparation for addressing national-security crises.
But Steve M. argued persuasively that Walker’s embarrassing misstep is no worse than Christie’s bluster yesterday – they’re both predicated on the assumption that Republican presidents can address global challenges by telling everyone how “tough” they are.
It’s also evidence of Christie failing to learn much over the last year. Putin didn’t invade Crimea because of President Obama, but in the New Jersey governor’s mind, the two are linked. Russia wouldn’t dare do anything provocative with Christie in the White House because Putin would be terrified of the governor’s persona.
Look out, Moscow. You’ve got bridges and Chris Christie knows how to use them.
If Christie’s thesis were correct, Russia would also be on its best behavior throughout the Bush/Cheney era because Putin would be terrified of the Republican tough guys in the White House. It’s a childish little thought belied by actual events.
As for the significance of this in the 2016 presidential race, voters have every reason to take bravado like this seriously, because it tells the public quite a bit about what to expect in the event of a Republican victory. Christie is making it clear that he doesn’t see diplomacy and economic sanctions as sufficiently fierce; he believes tough guys are eager to use force.
It’s the kind of posturing that tends to carry real consequences.