It is going to be one great year for political talk radio, and mine began with New jersey Governor Chris Christie:
HH: So great to begin it with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who gave a major speech on his campaign today in New Hampshire. Governor Christie, Happy New Year to you.
CC: Thank you, Hugh, and Happy New Year to you.
HH: There’s a lot to talk about in this speech, but I have to begin with some less-than-serious questions first of all.
HH: You’re friends with Jerry Jones, right?
CC: I am.
HH: All right. Can we get you to call him to take Manziel off our hands? I mean, don’t you think…
CC: (laughing) No thanks, buddy.
HH: Now look, look, he would do great in Dallas, Governor. He’s just not our guy in Cleveland. I just renewed my Cleveland Browns season tickets. We’re going to draft a new QB. He would be great in Dallas.
CC: Listen, he hadn’t, no one’s ever gotten in trouble for partying in Dallas, right, Hugh? So Johnny Manziel would be perfect for Dallas. That’d be great.
HH: So you’re not buying my pitch, huh?
CC: No, that’s classic New Jersey sarcasm.
HH: Okay, okay, just asking, then.
HH: Second question, are you a Downton Abbey guy?
CC: I am not.
HH: Is Mary Pat a Downton Abbey person?
CC: Mary Pat is not a Downton Abbey person, either. No, neither one of us.
HH: Because it had a prosecution in it that took four seasons to wrap up. And I was going to ask you about that. Are you a Homeland person? Do you watch Homeland?
CC: I do not watch Homeland, either.
HH: What do you do for popular culture?
CC: (laughing) Run for president, Hugh. That’s what I do.
HH: Well, there is a piece of popular culture coming out called 13 Hours. It’s a movie by Michael Bay, which I happened to have seen a screening of. It’s about Benghazi.
HH: It’s an amazing movie. It doesn’t say a word about Hillary, or President Obama. But it damns them. Do you think Benghazi is going to be an issue through this campaign?
CC: Yes, as will all the judgments that the Obama-Clinton team have made in foreign policy and that have put us in such an awful position – weakness, timidity, that have been interpreted appropriately by the world as weakness and timidity, and have caused more violence, more danger for Americans and other freedom-loving folks around the world. And all of that, including Benghazi, will be a part of her record, and part of the record that I will prosecute against her come next September.
HH: Here’s what the former First Lady and former Secretary of State had to say yesterday about the Saudi Arabian-Iranian confrontation.
HRC: I think that even our friends who we work with on so many other areas should not be immune from our criticism and our questions about rule of law, about their treatment of minorities. But clearly, this raises serious questions that we have to raise directly with the Saudi government. I think this is counterproductive for them. This will inflame the region even more, and I think cause even more dissent and more upheaval within Saudi Arabia. So even in the short and medium term, I don’t think it was a smart decision for them to make, and I will criticize them publicly about that.
HH: Now Governor Christie, after screwing up Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, she condemns one of our last remaining allies in the region? Isn’t that astonishing?
CC: Well, I mean, if you want to talk about inflaming the region, she and the President know a lot about inflaming the region by doing what they did with Iran. That’s done more to inflame the region and cause danger for folks in the region, and now having Iran continue to play this role in Syria, the fact is that Mrs. Clinton has done enough. She’s done enough damage. And it’s time to get her out from behind the foreign policy wheel, because she doesn’t belong there. She is a dangerous driver of American foreign policy. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. And what she’s causing now is to have us have even fewer and fewer friends. Should we be concerned about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia? Of course, we should. And we should have those conversations quietly and public as friends do.
HH: Now do you see an emerging possibility of, there apparently are talks between Saudi Arabia and, of all people, Israel. Egypt and Israel are apparently cooperating on the war against ISIS in the Sanai Peninsula. King Abdullah is doing everything he can to keep Syria from spilling over. Is there a possibility that with leadership, we could put together a Sunni alliance that would be strong and enduring?
CC: Absolutely, there is. And they’re begging for us to do it. Include the Emirates in that group as well. They’re begging for us to do it. But they want to know that we’re going to be good to our word. They want to know that when we say we’re in, we’re in, and that we’re going to work with them and not face every policy decision on the next poll or focus group, which is what this administration has done, or the opinions of the Nobel Committee. I mean, so you know, the fact is that we have to put American interests first. And having a strong Sunni Arab alliance with the United States is, in my view, in American interests.
HH: Now Governor, I want to turn to your St. Anselm College speech today. Chris Cillizza over at the Washington Post has posted the entire thing, which I actually don’t think I’ve seen in the Washington Post for a long time. But the key takeaway, as I read through it, is anger alone is not a solution. So clearly, you’re feeling the heat out there that is generating so much turmoil on the Republican side.
CC: No question. Listen, we see it around the country, Hugh. It’s not just up here in New Hampshire. It’s all over the country. The voters are angry, frustrated and anxiety-ridden because of the incompetence of this government. The way to solve that is to make the government work again. The way to solve that is to put somebody in charge who’s a grown up, who’s made difficult decisions in executive positions before, and knows how to execute upon them and make it work. And so my argument today in the St. Anselm speech is there’s much more that unites us than divides us as Republicans. And if we divide each other, we guarantee a Hillary Clinton victory. And what we need is someone who understands this anger, who’s heard it, who has internalized it, and now can turn that anger into productive results for the American people.
HH: Now at one point, you write show time is over. We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief. Showmanship is fun, but it is not the kind of leadership that will change America. If we were going to turn our frustration and anger with the D.C. insiders, the politicians of yesterday and the carnival barkers of today into something that actually changes Americans’ lives, we must elect someone who has been tested. Is that a broadside at Donald Trump?
CC: That’s a broadside at all the people who have used this on that stage as an opportunity to just say things that people want to hear, and who don’t understand what it means to actually have to then get those things done. And it’s failure of our government leaders to get things done, both Republicans in Congress and the Democrat in the White House, that has led to the enormous frustration and anger of the American people. And so anyone who is not proposing serious solutions like I have on entitlement reform, which no one else has done, proposed serious solutions on military preparedness, as you know I have done across the board with new military support levels, and the modernization of our nuclear capability, doesn’t belong sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office. When I say show time is over, I mean it’s time for us to demand serious answers from the folks who are running for president, and to then test those serious answers. And that’s what I’m saying.
HH: At the last debate, you just referenced our nuclear triad. I brought that up to both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. I did not have a chance to put the question to you, though I would have loved to. What did you make of Donald Trump’s response and of Marco Rubio’s response?
CC: Well listen, as for Donald’s response, it just sounded like he did not know what the nuclear triad was. And if he did, he didn’t give any specific priorities or answers as to you know, exactly what he would do and address as president on the nuclear triad. I made it really clear, as you know, that I believe the Ohio-Class submarines need to be dealt with first. I think that’s the most important part of the nuclear triad for us. It’s the most flexible, it’s the most mobile, it’s the most protectable, and it’s the one that we should modernize first. And so my priorities have been set, and you know, we said those in a speech in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, back in May of 2015.
CC: So we’ve been on the record on this, and you know, I think that I’ve given a direct and very substantive response on this. And I think that’s what you should demand of anybody who’s a serious candidate for president of the United States.
HH: Do you have a senior foreign policy cabinet, something I ask Donald about whenever he comes on, and he keeps promising it to me. I’m sure he will eventually deliver it. But who is the senior foreign policy advisory circle around Chris Christie?
CC: Well, you mean currently?
CC: Well listen, as I think we’ve talked about this before, you know, the first and most important mentor I’ve had on this is Henry Kissinger, and that I’ve been meeting directly with Dr. Kissinger for 18 months now going through issues of foreign policy. And he’s been incredibly generous with his time and with his advice. Brian Hook is another person who I’ve worked very closely with over the course of time. And he’s coordinated briefings with me with people both in the Defense realm who have been very helpful, and in the foreign policy world.
HH: So they’re sticking with you? Are they putting their name on the endorsement line, especially Dr. Kissinger?
CC: Well, I don’t think Dr. Kissinger is in the position where he’s endorsing anyone. I think Dr. Kissinger has made it really clear that he wants to be a resource for serious candidates for president of the United States. But I know that he and I have met frequently. We’re meeting again in the near future. And it’s been an enormous help to me to help to get his input on the strategic view of the world not only as events occur now, but also looking down the road and anticipating events that could happen.
HH: All right, let me turn to back to the speech you gave today. There’s a line in there that resonated with me. The election of 1980 took place in another atmosphere of crisis as the Carter administration had presided over economic hardships at home and embarrassments abroad. Carter also made a change in his last year. Do you see any change in this president’s last year?
CC: No. I think we’re going to get more of the same from this president in his last year. In fact, you’re going to get more of the same on steroids. I think he’s just going to continue to be the petulant child that he is. The more the American people reject his policies, the more he attempts to implement them. I mean, if you look at what’s happened, Hugh, over the course of his presidency, when he came in, in 2008, he ushered in a big House majority for the Democrats. He ushered in a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate. And he had 29 of the 50 governorships in the country were in the hands of Democrats. What’s happened seven years later? The largest House majority for Republicans since 1928, a now-Republican majority in the United States Senate, and 31 of the 50 governorships are now in the hands of the Republican party. The voters have made wholesale rejection of his liberal, Democratic policies, and those of Hillary Clinton. And it’s on that basis that I am going to fight this election come this fall against Mrs. Clinton.
HH: Now if I know my President Obama, and I follow him pretty closely, the Hammond, Oregon takeover of the wildlife refuge empty building will become very important to him. It will become an occasion for him to preen and to proclaim. Do you agree with me about that?
CC: Yeah, I think it sounds like something the President will pontificate on.
HH: And what ought the Republicans to be saying about what is a lawless action?
CC: Listen, this is what I’ve said. I’ve said that the most important thing is you have to make clear to folks that the law will be enforced, that laws matter, and that the law will be enforced. Now you should attempt to do that if you can, Hugh, without the loss of human life. That should always be the goal of law enforcement when enforcing the law, that if we can enforce the law without the loss of human life, we need to do so and at least try to do so. But in the end, the guiding principle must be that we must enforce the law.
HH: Okay, now a lot of African-Americans who hear that think Tamir Rice, LaQuan McDonald. They think about everything that we have seen over the last year. Are they wrong to believe that there are two standards at work here?
CC: Listen, justice in this country is a constantly evolving, challenging thing. And as a member of the Department of Justice for seven years, let me tell you what I used to tell every assistant United States Attorney when I walked them in before I swore them in for their office as a federal prosecutor. I would ask them to read aloud the seal of the Department. And they would say out loud the Department of Justice. And I said right. That doesn’t say the Department of Prosecutions. It says the Department of Justice. And your job is to make sure that in everything we do and oversee, that justice is done. Enforcing the law will make that happen. And if you have law enforcement officers who operate outside the line, you need to hold them to account by enforcing the law in the exact same way against them that you would against any other American citizen. That’s the type of Attorney General I’ll hire as president. And that’s the type of president I will be – enforcing the law, fairly, evenly and justly. It’s the job of the Department of Justice, and that’s the kind of Attorney General I’ll have. They will execute their job in that way.
HH: It’s pretty clear that Chicago is melting down. Should Rahm Emmanuel resign?
CC: Listen, you know, resignation is a very personal decision. I think that first, the Mayor of Chicago has to answer some questions. He has to really come clean with what went on in Chicago, and why there has been such a disintegration of order in Chicago, and why the people of Chicago fear that they’ve been lied to. And so I think before we even discuss resignation, Hugh, we need to discuss transparency from the Mayor of Chicago.
HH: Does he need to do a Chris Christie two and a half hour press conference like you did after the Bridgegate thing?
CC: I absolutely think that what would be smart for the Mayor to do is get out there in front of the Chicago press corps and the national press corps and answer every question just like I did for an hour and 50 minutes until they have no questions left. And that’s where you start to regain the trust of the people that you represent.
HH: Well said. Back to the speech, you said today there’s been a lot of wild talk lately about third party runs or a brokered convention, or big GOP donors switching to Democrats if they don’t like our nominee. I’m one of those people that don’t think it’s wrong to think we might have an open convention because of our rules set. But I also don’t think that’s wild talk. That’s just kind of the way the rules are. Would an open convention be the worst thing in the world, Chris Christie?
CC: Listen, I don’t think it’s the best thing in the world to defeat Hillary Clinton. And I am singularly focused on defeating Hillary Clinton, and I would like us as a party to come to a consensus and have a nominee prior to the convention. I think that makes the process of focusing on our general election opponent as quickly as possible, easiest. And so listen, as you said, given our rules and everything else, you know, you can’t control what’s going to happen. The voters in the Republican Party are going to determine what’s going to happen. But yeah, I think it would be much better for us to avoid a brokered convention if we could, and have a consensus nominee by the time we walk into the Q Center in Cleveland this July.
HH: Where Johnny Manziel should not be a member of the Browns, but should be…
HH: I’m telling you, you could do very well on March 15th in Ohio if you work…
CC: Look, let me just, Hugh, let me just say this. I’m really glad we drafted Zack Martin, All-Pro Zach Martin from the University of Notre Dame.
HH: Okay, going back to what I was going to ask you about politics, you’re doing very well in New Hampshire. You’ve got a sneaky campaign on the ground in Iowa. A lot of people aren’t looking at it. I want to ask you about South Carolina. And Dan Balz is coming up after you. And I’ve been making notes. South Carolina is a coastal state driven by tourism with a lot of people who are new to it with a lot of different ethnic identifications and a governor you’ve worked with for a long time. Has Chris Christie got a campaign in South Carolina we should be looking at?
CC: Chris Christie has a campaign in South Carolina you should be looking at. And what’s going to happen is after I do very well in Iowa and New Hampshire, we’re going to head immediately to South Carolina personally, and we are going to work that next ten days. We’ll be in South Carolina at least two more times in the month of January to be working down in South Carolina. And so you know, yeah, you should be looking at what we’re going to do in South Carolina. And the fact is that we hope to be able to attract a lot of new and different voters who are Republicans in South Carolina, as you said, who have come to South Carolina recent vintage, and are wanting a real strong, direct, blunt leader to help lead our country. And I think we’ll do well there.
HH: Are there some coastal development issues that are unique to states like Jersey and South Carolina that live in the hurricane world?
CC: Absolutely, there are. And you know, quite frankly, I think that in many ways, South Carolina was a little bit ahead of New Jersey pre-Hurricane Sandy in terms of the way they dealt with coastal development. And so we’re adopting a number of the things that have been done in South Carolina for some time in New Jersey in the post-Sandy world in terms of elevation of homes, and protection of the coastline. We’re getting some help from the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers in that regard as well. And I think we’ll be much better positioned if and when another storm comes than we were on October of 2012.
HH: And back to the speech to wrap up, you said there are many Republican voters who are supporting what the media calls protest candidates like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. But most, if not all, of these same voters are loyal Republicans who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008 and President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. These same voters, these voters so demonized in the press, played a critical role of putting the Republicans in charge of the House and the Senate, and put 31 governorships into the state capital. Do you think they can become Christie voters?
CC: Of course, they can, because what they’re looking for is someone who is tough, who stands on principles, who is blunt and direct, and who can get things done for them. So absolutely, those folks can become Christie voters. Some of them already are Christie voters. And I think we’ll win many more converts in the course of the next four weeks in Iowa, and the next five weeks in New Hampshire. But my point today in the speech, Hugh, was that a divided Republican Party ensures a Hillary Clinton victory. And so while we need to have our arguments in the primary about who is best, I think what we need to have is a tested, mature leader who has gone through the wars, and gone through them recently, because that’s what it’s going to be against Hillary Clinton. And there are no silver medals in this one, Hugh. This is not like the Miss America pageant. The first runner-up doesn’t get to substitute for Miss America if she doesn’t work out. You know, you go home if you lose. And we need to put someone on that stage who can prosecute the case against Hillary Clinton, and I absolutely believe I’m the person that can more effectively do that in the current field.
HH: So I want to close by talking about immigration, which you do a lot in this speech. The last time you were on, you said you were against the wall. I’m a big proponent of the wall. I have been for ten years as the visible expression of an invisible resolve to control our border. Are you open to arguments on that, Chris Christie, because I do think it’s a major touchstone for Republican primary voters, many of whom are not hard-liners on deportation, or in fact are like me, big fans of regularization, but who want control?
CC: I am open to putting fencing and walling in the places where it’s most appropriate, which in my view, are in the most highly-populated areas. But I am not someone who believes in a thousands of miles of wall. I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it’s effective. I don’t think it’s efficient. I think we can use electronic means like drones and cameras to be able to oversee the most remote parts of the border. We should be increasing the presence of the FBI, the DEA and the ATF at the border with Border Patrol agents to interdict drugs and guns. Those are the things that I think we need to be doing, in addition to walling or fencing in the appropriate areas, but not a wall across the entire border. I just don’t think that makes sense.
HH: All right, last question is political. What are the expectations that you are managing for Iowa and New Hampshire, Governor?
CC: We need to do well, Hugh, but you know, I think in the next week or two, we’ll have a much better handle on how that’s defined. You know, experts who have been around New Hampshire politics a lot longer than I, and Iowa politics, have told me that most polls in Iowa and New Hampshire don’t really matter until January 15th forward. And so we’re going to be taking a look at those, and then you know, I’m happy to come back on the show and set specific expectations for you about what we consider to be a good result on primary night in New Hampshire, and on Caucus night in Iowa. But suffice to say, if you’re any one of the 12 members of this race now, you have to do well in Iowa and New Hampshire. If you don’t do well in Iowa or New Hampshire, then you’re going home.
HH: I also have to remind you to win the presidency, you’ve got to win Ohio, Governor, and I know Jerry Jones is on your speed dial right there. Third round, fourth round, that’s all I want.
CC: (laughing) Let me tell you something. You want a third or fourth round pick for Johnny Manziel?
CC: Are you kidding? Hugh, please, who do you think, I’m Barack Obama you’re negotiating with?
HH: (laughing) On that note, Governor Chris Christie, I’ll talk to again mid-Iowa. Have a great speech today and thanks for spending so much time with me.
CC: Thank you, Hugh.
End of interview.