Chris Christie Reacts To The Debate And The Way Forward In His Campaign
HH: Joined now by the man who I wrote at CNNopinion.com today I believe won the debate, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Governor Christie, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
CC: Hugh, happy to be back.
HH: How did you like the tone and outcome of Tuesday night’s clash?
CC: Listen, I thought it was great, and I will tell you, I said this to Wolf Blitzer and to Dana afterwards, I thought you guys controlled the debate better than it’s been controlled in the first number of ones that we had, and prevented a lot of interrupting and a lot of talking over people, and so people got to give good, substantive answers, and we got some good dialogue back and forth as well on certain issues. So I felt really good about it. It’s obviously the most important issue in this campaign, and I felt we had a real substantive conversation about it.
HH: Now I won’t ask you many horserace questions. In fact, I’ll only ask you one. But a lot of the post-debate analysis says look, when it comes right down to it now, this is a Christie-Cruz-Rubio race with Donald Trump as a wild card. Do you agree with that assessment?
CC: I do. I do, and I think that you know, these debates have really helped to narrow that focus for people. I think you know, what folks saw on the stage on Tuesday night was that I am prepared to be the commander-in-chief of the United States military, and that there’s no one who is better prepared to protect this country against terrorism, no one who’s made more decisions about those kind of issues, real like decisions affecting real people over the last 13 years, than I have as a federal prosecutor and as the governor of New Jersey. And so I’m encouraged by the way things are developing, but you know, we’ve got lots of work to do, Hugh, so you know, I just got back from the West Coast myself this afternoon, about an hour ago, and then I’ll be back to New Hampshire tomorrow night.
HH: Well, I bring you some sad news. You’ve lost the Putin primary, obviously, Vladimir Putin saying today about Donald Trump he is a very outstanding man, unquestionably talented. Are you disappointed with that?
CC: No, no, I’m really glad not to win the Putin primary. Donald can win that one.
CC: I’ll concede right now on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
HH: Okay. The President today, President Obama, went to the National Counterterrorism Threat Center and said, “Just as the threat evolves, so do we. We are constantly adapting, constantly improving.” Governor Christie, are we doing so fast enough? And do you think that was sugar talk to a worried nation?
CC: It’s sugar talk to a worried nation, because this President has done nothing. As I’ve said about this administration over and over again, Hugh, often wrong, never in doubt. This President laid out his strategy to the nation on Sunday, a week ago Sunday, which was we’re doing nothing different. And I think what he’s seen in the ten days or so since he made his speech is that the country is completely dismayed by having a President who is so disconnected from this threat. But again, this is a President who doesn’t use the phrase radical Islamic jihadism. This is a President who will not tell the American people the truth. And by the way, he has proven himself to be inept at managing the terrorist threat that we have by calling ISIS the jayvee, and constantly under-evaluating the nature and the severity of this threat. You know, as a former federal prosecutor who’s done this for a good part of my life, when I’m president, we will never under-evaluate the threat that’s put to America, because keeping our citizens safe is the single most important task of the American president.
HH: This threat is evolving rapidly. In fact, I ran into Carly Fiorina last night at a remote studio, and that’s how Caesar felt when he went to the Forum that morning, let me tell you…
HH: …because after nine and a half minutes, she was not, she didn’t get the same amount of time that you did, Governor. But she is the one who is on top of the technology. Do you think that gives her an advantage coming back? Or is that something any candidate can master or find the skill set to learn or the people to teach them?
CC: Well, first of all, I don’t necessarily think that she is, just because she was a failed CEO of Hewlett-Packard a number of years ago. So I don’t think that Carly is necessarily on top of that, and I don’t think anything she said in the debate Tuesday night displays that in any way. Basically, we just, you know, continue to get kind of a joy ride through the people she’s met in her career. The fact is that we’re one of the only states, one of two states in the country that has a cyberwarfare threat organization set up here in New Jersey. It’s ourselves and Maryland who have done it. We’re working with the private sector every day in New Jersey to harden our assets here, both private and public, against cyberwarfare. And so you know, we’re on the cutting edge of that here in New Jersey. My homeland security chief, Dr. Chris Rodriguez, is a former CIA person. And the fact is that Chris is really doing a great job here, so we’re, you know, we’re going to continue to be right on the edge here in New Jersey, and I’ll bring that expertise to the presidency.
HH: Now I want to turn to some of the questions I didn’t get to ask you, though I did get to ask them, specifically the triad, the air, land and sea nuclear weapons and the priorities you would have. It led to a bit of a jumble at the end there, and Senator Rubio explained it. I’m not sure Donald Trump did, and Dr. Carson had some grasp of it. What is your assessment, because $350 billion dollars over the next decade, a trillion dollars over 20 years to rebuild the three legs of the triad. Can we really do that?
CC: Well, listen, you have to prioritize it, Hugh. And the first thing is, and you’ve heard me say this before, I think the submarine-based leg of the triad is the single most important one to modernize first. It’s the one that’s least accessible to attack. It’s the one that I think would be the most effective if, God forbid, we ever had to use any of these weapons. And so that’s why I’ve been an advocate since last spring of the upgrade and improvement of the Ohio-class submarine. And we’d start with that, and I think that’s where my priority would be. And then based upon the other things that we’re doing militarily to rebuild our military troop strength and air strength for our bombers and our fighters, we’d have to prioritize the other two legs of the triad. But the first one that I would work on would be the submarine-based, because I think they’re the least vulnerable to attack, and to be the most effective if we needed to use them.
HH: Now one of the people who helped me get ready for the last debate, and I hope for the next one, I think I’ll see you again in Miami, was the Center For a New American Security, and they have a report out called Retreat Beyond Range by Captain Jerry Hendricks, about the increasing vulnerability of our aircraft carriers. And the question is as president, are you going to be willing to put them out there where new weapon systems like China now possesses, and Russia, could actually make them vulnerable, because that’s what you need, you need to be willing to risk it. And they get so expensive, you wonder whether or not will a president be willing to risk our biggest assets. What do you say, Chris Christie?
CC: Well, I think a president has to be willing to take those risks. Now all these risks have to be educated risks, Hugh, and you have to evaluate the threat that you’re trying to thwart by putting your carriers out there, the message you’re trying to send to both allies and adversaries, and you have to measure that against the true vulnerability. But that’s where you rely upon your experts in the military and your own judgment as someone who’s been making decisions, hard decisions with what I’m sure is going to be some varied opinion sitting around the table if you have the right people advising you as president, which I will. And then you’ve got to make the hard call. I think it’s, once again, it’s a decision of balancing the interests, but in my view, you know, if there’s assets that we need to use that sends a strong message, then you’re going to have to take some of that risk.
HH: Who is helping you get ready on the national security side, Chris Christie, because I do ask most of the candidates who their teams are. Some have none, some have many. Who are Chris Christie’s national security go-to’s?
CC: Well, you know, I started about two years ago working on this, and Dr. Henry Kissinger has been an extraordinary asset for me on the foreign policy/national security side, and he’s been extraordinarily generous with his time in helping to walk me through a lot of the complicated strategic issues that we have to confront.
HH: Well, that kind of plays the ace of hearts at the top, doesn’t it? That shows your hole card.
CC: Yeah, well listen, you know, the fact is that Dr. Kissinger has been an extraordinary mentor for me on these subjects. And I’ve learned an extraordinary amount. It’s like going back to school, which is invigorating and challenging. Brian Hook is part of my team, and Brian has done a great job in terms of helping me out a lot of the foreign policy issues. Eliot Cohen has also been advising me on some issues over time. So we have a good group of folks who are working with me on a weekly basis to talk about these issues as they evolve in the news, and events around the world. And you know, Sunday night, I had another call with that group of folks, and Eric Edelman as well, to get me prepared for any topics that Hugh Hewitt might throw at me on Tuesday night.
HH: Well, let’s go back to one that did come up, but not from me, from Dana, I believe. It was on cybersecurity. Maybe Wolf brought it up, because we did kind of pass those around. North Korea destroyed Sony Corporation files. Russia demonstrated it can shut the lights out in neighboring states. China breaks into the OPM. You called for countermeasures against the hacking. What specific measures are we talking about? And would you take those against Russia and North Korea as well?
CC: Well listen, depending upon what attacks they put on us, Hugh, yes. You know, you can’t just attacked in a cyberwarfare way as we did at OPM by China. And OPM, for those who don’t know it, is the Office of Personnel Management, which maintains all of the secret and sensitive personnel records of people at the highest levels of the American government. The fact is that you need to fight back. And I said very clearly in the debate that what I would do is to ask our folks who are better at this cyber issue than anyone in the world, let’s find out what the most sensitive secrets are of China that they in fact want to keep from their own people, and let’s attack back on those types of things, and let them understand that there’s a cost to be paid by them if they’re going to continue to engage in this kind of conduct, and the same would apply to Russia, North Korea or any other adversary in the world who decided they wanted to try to affect America in this way. We need to use our authority back. This is no different than dealing with a schoolyard bully, Hugh. You know, if you continue to let them punch you, they’ll continue to punch you and steal your lunch money. And if you punch them back often, they get the message.
HH: Have you had a chance to read Ted Koppel’s Lights Out, yet, by chance, Governor?
CC: I have not.
HH: Okay, I recommend it to you. Let me move onto the South China Sea. The Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea belong to Japan. We all know that. But longstanding U.S. policy says let’s not say that out loud. We don’t need any fights with the Chinese. Under a Christie administration, would the U.S. take positions on all of these territorial disputes and try and side with our friends and send very clear messages to the PRC?
CC: Well, I think what we would do, Hugh, is to deal, we have to have a much different relationship with China moving forward. And the new president, and I believe that will be me, is going to have to sit down with the Chinese president, and as I said at the debate, determine what type of relationship China really wants to have with us. This is right now a very confusing relationship. We’re very interdependent from an economic perspective. And we want to make sure that what we do is develop this relationship in a way that’s productive. And so on all these issues, and you know, I’ve said that I would fly Air Force One over some of these disputed islands so that the Chinese understood we would not recognize their ability to claim them as their own. But I think you also have to have really intense discussions with the Chinese about where exactly our relationship as a whole is going from here. One of the problems I have with the Obama administration is they are purely tactical. They move from one crisis to the next, one challenge to the next without understanding or having an overall strategy about how each one of those decisions then affects the next one. I would have an overall strategic approach to China that would include these issues, but lots of other issues that we have to discuss with China over the course of time. And so I would leave myself open on that, but I think our allies would know that when I gave my word, that that word would be kept. And that’s certainly not the way they feel about Barack Obama.
HH: Now the President has put together the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Are you for that deal? Donald Trump called it a terrible deal. Is Chris Christie thinking in outline, at least, it’s okay?
CC: I have grave concerns about it, Hugh, and the reason I do is because this President negotiated it. If you look at what he’s done with the Iranian deal, if you look at what he’s done with other deals that he’s agreed to in this administration, it’s never a deal that’s in America’s best interest. And so I have grave concerns just in general on that. And then I heard some things about this deal, and we’re still working through it, as you know, it’s nearly 6,000 pages long.
CC: We’re working our way through it. But I have real concerns about, you know, little booby-traps the President may have allowed to be put in there, or maybe even encouraged to be put in there regarding climate change and certain requirements that might be placed on the United States and other signatories to TPP that would not apply to other non-signatories to TPP. I don’t want to put, Hugh, the United States at an economic disadvantage. I am for trade, but I am for fair trade and free trade, and not the type of trade which puts us, you know, like this climate change deal that they’re proposing would do, which is to give other people undue advantages over American workers and American companies.
HH: So do you want the Senate majority leader to put this on the back burner until and unless we have a new president?
CC: Yes, sir.
HH: All right, then let me ask you about the military. We talked about it briefly earlier. Both Ms. Fiorina and Governor Kasich have called for huge increases in the size of the military. I applaud that. Governor Kasich actually said 15 carrier Navy, and I think Carly said 50 brigade Army and a $700 billion dollar budget per year. Have you costed out, yet, what you think the buildup has to be and where it has to come in terms of dollar amounts and annual amounts?
CC: Well, as you know in the speech that we gave back in the spring at Portsmouth Naval Yard, we laid out our troops levels. We said no less than a 500,000 soldier Army, no less than 185,000 active duty Marines, a 350 ship Navy, and no less than 2,600 coded aircraft ready to go in the Air Force. And so we’ve laid out our priorities, but different than anybody else, Hugh, we also are the only campaign that’s laid out a detailed entitlement reform program that’s been scored by CBO to save over $1 trillion dollars over the next ten years, so we’re showing a way that will pay for this in part without raising taxes on the American people. And so, you know, it’s all well and good to say you’re going to rebuild the military, but you need to tell the American people how you’re going to pay for it. I’m the only one that’s been willing to bite the bullet and talk about entitlement reform that will not only save those entitlement programs, but will also give us the flexibility to get out of this sequester era funding of our military and get our military rebuilt in a way that supports our troops, first and foremost, but also sends a clear message to the rest of the world that America’s not taking a back seat, and this will allow us to also put some more gentle pressure on our allies for them to do the same.
HH: Is that the first part, the rebuild of the military, it might be $700 billion and then come down, or $800 billion, is that number one for Chris Christie?
CC: It is absolutely number one on the expenditure side, yes.
CC: Number one on the other side is tax and regulatory reform.
HH: I get that, and now I want to turn, one more foreign affairs. Israel did not come up. That’s largely because in the cone room, or the room where all the debate questions went around, we just did not think there’s much difference between the Republicans, but here’s one area. Would you annex the Golan Heights? I mean, would you recognize the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights?
CC: You know, Hugh, I think what we need to do is have a complete reset of our relationship with Israel. And I would sit down with Prime Minister Netanyahu within the first hundred days in my administration and 1) let him vent about the way Israel has been treated, to lay out his vision for what he thinks are the most important priorities, whether that’s a recognition of Jerusalem as the capital, moving of our embassy there. There’s a number of different priorities that the Israeli may have that I’d want to sit down and talk with Prime Minister Netanyahu about, and then decide how we proceed as allies are supposed to do, understanding what our most important priorities are, and then trying to adjust our policies to help to meet those priorities of allies that are as strong and loyal as Israel has been.
HH: All right, now we also did not get a chance to get to South America. Rarely do Republican debates get there, but Venezuela is a festering sore that is a volcano of terrorism and a volcano of cartelism and a volcano of instability. Reagan committed a lot to the freedom agenda down there, Chris Christie. How often, if at all, have you been there? And how do you communicate seriousness about our hemisphere?
CC: I have not been there personally, Hugh, and the fact is that we need to spend a lot more time talking about that issue, because in our own hemisphere, and I would start with Canada and Mexico. We have not had the kind of relationships with Canada and Mexico that have been the most productive relationships. We do not give them the time and attention that they need and deserve, so we need to start, in my view, in this hemisphere, with our two closest neighbors, in Canada and Mexico, strengthen those relationships, stop the madness of the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline, show our Canadian friends that we in fact want to be full economic and strategic partners with them, and the same with our neighbors in Mexico, who are good neighbors, and who are people who want to work with us, economically and strategically, and then to work our way south from there. But I think my first priority in this hemisphere would be strengthening our relationships with Canada and Mexico, which this President has largely ignored, or made the object of scorn.
HH: Now I have been a proponent of the wall that Mr. Trump wants to build since 2005, and I know that everyone says they’re for border security. What does Chris Christie say specifically about the wall?
CC: I am not a proponent of the wall, Hugh. I do not believe we need a wall, or that it’s the most effective way for us to protect our southern border. I believe we need to do a combination of things. First, some walling or fencing in the most populated areas, second, the use of drones and stationary cameras in our more remote areas of the border, third, putting FBI, DEA and ATF agents embedded with Border Patrol agents to stop the flow or slow the flow of guns and drugs across our border illegally, fourth, I think we need E-verify to be used, and that the fine should be double the amount you make off of any employee that you hire who is not in the United States legally, and fifth, to have a biometrically-based visa tracking system in the country to make sure that we do not have people overstaying their visas. That’s the best way to secure our border over the long haul. It’s five steps. It’s a very direct, specific process that’s both affordable and achievable, and that’s what I’ll do to assure the American people that once again, they have a border that they can count on being secure.
HH: One more set of questions before politics. This is prosecutorial stuff. You mentioned federal prosecutor about eight times. I think they had a Bingo card, and Mary Pat was filling it out until you mentioned federal prosecutor.
HH: But that’s okay, because there’s a unique set of skills. Having been in the Department of Justice and stayed at the Holiday Inn, I know what it is. The cartels that are operating out of Mexico and across the world are increasingly sophisticated, as are the organized crime rings that run everything from identity theft to women and children across borders for the purposes of illicit sexual activity. As your prosecutorial skill set, how does that set you apart from other people and the level of complexity or understanding of the complexity you can bring to these particular issues?
CC: Well, first of, Hugh, let’s start with human trafficking. There was no U.S. Attorney in America during the Bush years that did more cases on human trafficking than we did in New Jersey. Because we’re the most ethnically-diverse state in the country, human trafficking is an enormous problem in our state. It’s sex slavery and slavery for other things as well. These folks are making an enormous amount of money off of these poor, mostly women, but also young men as well who get sold into slavery and sent to our country to perform in the sex trade and in other types of trade where they’re essentially paid little or nothing for their labor. We did a lot of these cases. It’s sophisticated, it’s difficult, because these folks come from places often where they don’t trust law enforcement. And so they won’t turn to law enforcement for help. You have to try to embed yourself into these communities, and we did that during the time I was U.S. Attorney. And I think it gives me a much greater understanding. And working with Congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey, who is the main fighter against human trafficking in the House of Representatives, we’ve done a lot of great stuff together, and I would continue to do that as president, and understand the importance of this as a human rights issue in addition to a law enforcement issue.
HH: But when I went through the Vegas and Southern California airports today, I saw literally hundreds of TSA agents thinking to myself, if they were investigators or prosecutors of trafficking, whether it’s drugs or people, we could have a vastly expanded federal, appropriately directed agency cracking down on this, and we just don’t put troops on the prosecutorial lines. You must understand that as a federal prosecutor. We don’t put our money and our people where the problems are.
CC: No, Hugh, we need a reconfiguration at the executive level of how the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security interact, and how those resources are allocated. And it think that the Department of Homeland Security has been a very difficult jumble for anybody to manage, and we’re not, and we can see this from some of the visa problems we have and others. We’re not getting an effective crime fighting or homeland security tools out of the expenditures we’re making in those two departments. And so one of the things that I would be looking to do as president is to reconfigure that operation, those two operations, and make it much more effective, and to be able to use the resources we have in a way that you’re suggesting. And I don’t think we’re doing that right now.
HH: All right, politics, and then a couple of fun questions, and then we’re done, Governor. I know you must be as tired as I am. But the politics is if you’re up against Hillary Clinton, and no one’s out of this race, and Donald Trump could be the nominee, and Marco Rubio could be the nominee, but assuming for a moment Chris Christie is the nominee, Hillary Clinton is going to be the first woman nominated for president, and she’s going to accuse you, and she’s probably already accusing you of being a bully. How do you beat her on the optics of first woman versus the tough guy from New Jersey?
CC: Hugh, listen, I’m just going to be myself. And the fact is if anybody looks back at my 2013 reelection campaign for governor, I ran against a strong, tough woman who was an 18 year state senator in New Jersey named Barbara Buono. And never once in that campaign were there any accusations of bullying or any of the rest, because you conduct yourself in a way that’s tough and strong and professional. And that’s exactly the way I’ve conducted myself against Hillary Clinton, because I would base my critiques of her on the facts as she’s presented her plan for America, and based upon her record as Secretary of State owning this Obama foreign policy.
HH: So no holes barred? We will bring up Benghazi, we will bring up Egypt, we will talk about the reset button, everything is on the table? Because Republicans do feel like we’ve nominated but not run strong campaigns against the incumbent, in this case, the successor to the incumbent, Mrs. Clinton.
CC: Hugh, I think there might be any number of things people would be concerned about if I were the nominee. Being tough enough, I don’t think, would be one of them.
HH: All right, last two questions. Ohio State and Notre Dame, this is a difficult choice, don’t get this wrong, Govenror.
CC: Oh, listen, my daughter, our daughter, Sarah, is a 19 year old sophomore at Notre Dame.
HH: Oh, you get a pass.
CC: And our money goes to Notre Dame, so we’ll be rooting for Notre Dame, Hugh, I’m sorry.
HH: Okay, you get a pass. And then I’m just looking for one commitment. If you are the president of the United States, you know how President Obama does the ESPN brackets. I’m looking for an annual commitment where you’ll sit down and do the NFL before the season begins with me, the Browns fan, versus you, the Cowboys fan, and we just get to the playoffs. Can I get that out of you?
CC: Done deal.
HH: Done deal.
CC: And look, in fact, because that’ll be one of the more enjoyable things I’ll be doing.
HH: Hey, how many more debates, by the way? Do you think they should add more? I’m sneaking in a last question. And since that one went so well for you, are you one of the guys that are going to start lobbying for more debates rather than fewer?
CC: Listen, I think all of them have gone well for me, and my position all along has been give me a podium and a microphone anywhere, and I’ll show up.
HH: And so that’s a yes, I gather?
CC: Yes, sir.
HH: Governor Christie, a Merry Christmas, we’ll talk to you in the New Year.
CC: To you and your family, Hugh, and thanks again for Tuesday night. You guys did a great job.
HH: Thank you, Governor.
End of interview.