Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has begun telling audiences that ”thousands and thousands” of Jersey City residents “cheered” when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. Pressed for proof, the Republican has so far offered nothing, though he insists he saw the celebrations, reality notwithstanding.
Local law enforcement officials have said Trump is wrong. The mayor of Jersey City has explained that Trump is wrong. Even the Republican who was governor of New York on 9/11 has said Trump is wrong. And yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was given a chance to defend his own constituents and make clear that Trump’s claims are ridiculous.
But Christie just wasn’t prepared to do that. BuzzFeed reported last night on reporters pressing the governor on the point.
QUESTION: Governor, you were in New Jersey in 2001 right after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Do you recall ever seeing – were there ever instances in Jersey City of thousands of people cheering?CHRISTIE: I don’t recall that. I don’t. I mean, listen, I can’t say, Matt, I can’t say that I have – it was a pretty emotional time for me because, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s family involved, there’s friends involved and so it was a pretty harrowing time. I do not remember that. And so, it’s not something that was part of my recollection. I think if it had happened, I would remember it. But, you know, there could be things I forget, too. I don’t remember that. No.
Note the pointless equivocating. Christie could have just said Trump is wrong, but instead he felt the need to add qualifiers about his ability to remember things. The question called for straightforward candor about his own constituents, but instead Christie was reduced to, “[Y]ou know, there could be things I forget” before eventually saying he doesn’t “remember” Jersey City residents celebrating the death of thousands.
The weak answer came hours after Christie was interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper, who asked the governor what he thinks should happen to the Syrian refugees who’ve already been resettled in New Jersey. The host asked more than once, but Christie wouldn’t answer.
The great irony is, the official slogan of Christie’s presidential campaign – appearing in all caps at the top of his home page – is “Telling It Like It Is.”
To be sure, I think there’s probably room in the crowded Republican presidential field for a straight-talking, no-nonsense contender who offers hard truths, without regard for whether the facts are popular. There may have even been a point at which Christie could have been that candidate.
But let’s be clear: he abandoned that mantle quite a while ago.
There was a point four years ago when the governor nominated a Muslim American to serve on a state court, prompting complaints from the far-right. Christie, to his credit, said in reference to conservative critics, “I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.”
Four years later, he’s pandering to those crazies, claiming a bad memory about 9/11 celebrations that never happened, telling the world how scared he is of orphaned toddlers, and ducking tough questions – often waiting until his Republican rivals have already spoken – for fear of alienating the GOP base.
Given the state of the race, it seems unlikely that Christie will be his party’s 2016 nominee. And if those assumptions are true, one wonders whether the New Jersey Republican will soon look back at this period and wonder what might have happened if he’d shown a little more courage.