Is Chris Christie A Man Without A Party? : The NPR Politics Podcast The former governor of New Jersey is running to be the Republican nominee for president for a second time, having lost to Donald Trump in 2016. In an interview with The NPR Politics Podcast, Christie says both he and the GOP have changed in the intervening years, but his break with Trump and Christie's positions on abortion & Ukraine increasingly put him out of step with the party he hopes to lead.

This episode: politics correspondent Susan Davis and senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

This episode was produced by Casey Morell. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi.

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Is Chris Christie A Man Without A Party?

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(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: And I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And we're continuing our series of interviewing the contenders for the Republican nomination for president. Joining us now, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Governor, thanks for coming on the podcast.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Thanks for having me on.

DAVIS: So as our listeners know, this is not your first run for the White House. You ran for the nomination in 2016. You bowed out after a sixth place showing in New Hampshire, and then you endorsed Donald Trump. So let's start here. What makes you think this time is going to be any different?

CHRISTIE: Look. I think our country is in a much different place. And I think I'm a much different candidate than I was eight years ago. I'm looking at this as a real moment for change for our party. And I got into this race because I felt like no one was making that case. No one was willing to take the case directly to Donald Trump as to why he - and, through his conduct, had disqualified himself for ever being president of the United States again. I want to make that case. I've been making that case. I think it's important not only for my party, but for our country.

DAVIS: Is it fair to say that the impetus behind your campaign was the president's actions before, during and after the January 6 attack on the Capitol? In other words, would you be running if not for what happened around that attack?

CHRISTIE: That certainly is what led me to affirmatively break from him back in - on election night of 2020. And there are a lot of other issues that I care deeply about, but what ultimately was the straw that broke the camel's back was his continued conduct from election night forward and no one else in my party's willingness to take that on directly. And I felt like I had a lot to offer as president but that my first task was going to be to make sure that this case was made against Donald Trump.

KEITH: So I want to ask you about the boos, because when you're out on the campaign trail trying to connect with voters, you have been getting booed when you criticize Trump, and the same thing is happening to your rivals, people like Mike Pence and Asa Hutchinson. So beyond just Trump himself, has the Republican Party moved away from you?

CHRISTIE: Well, look. There's certainly elements of the Republican Party which have changed, and there's no questioning that. But when I look at what - the reception I'm getting in places like New Hampshire, I don't see that. Now, obviously, I went to the Faith and Freedom meeting in D.C. I knew that if I said those things, if I told the truth, that there would be folks in that audience who would boo me. In very same way, I knew the same thing would happen at the debate because the RNC filled that place with supporters of the former president, even though he wasn't there. I knew that was going to happen. But you can't let that determine what the truth is and whether you're willing to tell the truth. I'm - look. I'm a Republican from New Jersey. Booing is not something that's foreign.

KEITH: I think you're pretty accustomed to it from your time as governor of New Jersey, in fact.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. So, you know, it doesn't matter to me. You know, I hear it. I take it in. But it doesn't change what I'm saying if I believe in my heart, what I'm saying is the truth, and in this instance, I absolutely do.

DAVIS: So what do you make of people like Vivek Ramaswamy? He's having a moment in this primary. He's outpolling you, in fact, in New Hampshire where you've spent all this, time and he's running on this sort of rocket-fuel version of MAGA populism, isolationism. What does that tell you about the mindset of Republican base voters, that people who are looking for an alternative to Trump are landing on him?

CHRISTIE: Well, first off, he's not ahead of me in New Hampshire. The latest New Hampshire poll has me at 14 and Vivek at 11. But I don't make much of it. We have had candidates like Vivek over time in the times I've been watching our primaries, who come from a much different position in terms of their experience. And, you know, they catch fascination for a short period of time based upon the way they conduct themselves, but I don't really make much of him as a candidate. In fact, it appears to me he's auditioning much more for a potential Trump vice presidency or Cabinet position than he is to actually be president.

DAVIS: I promise that we are going to get to issues, but I do want to just ask you a tactical question about this Republican primary. You ran in 2016, where it was this wide-open field, and any time anyone dropped out, half the support went to Trump and half the support went to someone else, and all the someone elses stayed in, thinking that they would be the one that would take on Trump and take him out. And there was sort of a collective action problem. Does that exist now? And when should people be getting out?

CHRISTIE: Collective action problems in individual activities always exist. So I don't think this is anything new. And the idea that at this point we should have any idea when that should happen is pretending that we have a crystal ball and can see into the future, and we don't. It's going to matter, you know, who continues to raise money. It's going to matter who continues to do well in debates. It's going to matter who continues to do well on the ground. You know, I think you'll see the field winnow a bit between now and the debate in the Reagan Library on September 27. And I think you'll continue to see that winnowing occur between now and Iowa on January 15. And my guess is that we're down to - including Donald Trump, to five or six candidates when we get to Iowa.

DAVIS: Speaking of Trump, he is now under indictment in four different jurisdictions. You have said this makes him unfit for the office. But a lot of people in this country, especially in your party, have lost faith in the Justice Department and the FBI. They see these as political prosecutions. You're a former U.S. attorney. Do you have any doubt about these indictments? Do you believe that they're driven by politics? And do you have any reason to doubt the motives of these investigators, in particular people like Special Counsel Jack Smith?

CHRISTIE: First off, what I say disqualifies him are not the indictments themselves. It's the conduct that underlies those indictments. So to be clear, I think it's the conduct of the man that disqualifies him from being president much more than the judgment of any individual prosecutor. I've said publicly, too, that I think I would not have brought either the New York case or the Atlanta case against Donald Trump. I think the New York case was a silly one to bring. And while I don't approve of his conduct of paying off a porn star to hide a extramarital affair while you're running for president, I do not think that that's something that should be a top priority of the Manhattan DA's office given what I see happening in Manhattan every week from a crime perspective.

And the Atlanta case, I think, had already been brought against Donald Trump by Jack Smith. And I think, you know, doubling up on those kind of prosecutions never makes sense. When I was a U.S. attorney, I always tried to make sure I cooperated with local prosecutors. And we either did a case together where possible, or we made a choice as to which one of us would bring it based upon what would be best for the investigation. But the two federal cases, I believe, are absolutely appropriate cases to have been brought. He is entitled to the presumption of innocence, as everybody in this country is. But I think particularly the classified documents case is one that he will have a very, very hard time either legally or factually getting out from under.

DAVIS: Are you concerned at all about the decline in trust in institutions, in the justice system that has occurred among members of your party?

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I definitely am concerned about it because those institutions are part of what helps to ensure that the rule of law is enforced in our country and that law and order is the result of that. And so when I become president, I'm going to make sure we have an attorney general who does that and a White House that stays away from the Department of Justice on criminal matters. They have no business being involved. I wasn't involved in those things when I was governor. Despite all my background as a U.S. attorney, I had opinions, but that wasn't my job anymore. And I think we need to get politics out of our justice system.

KEITH: Do you think that this White House is interfering in this Justice Department?

CHRISTIE: What I would say to you is the way the Hunter Biden case was handled leads everyone to conclude that there's either been gross incompetence or political interference. But in the end, the judge did her job and said, this plea is so one-sided that I'm not going to approve it. And I think that when you see the aggressiveness the Justice Department's taken against Donald Trump, much of which, I think, has been appropriate - but the deal they wanted to make with Hunter Biden - I conclude one of two things about David Weiss and his Justice Department participation.

DAVIS: And he's now the special counsel in that case, just to clarify for our audience.

CHRISTIE: Either gross incompetence or partisanship because you can't look at millions of dollars in income that was not claimed on Hunter Biden's tax returns and see that as a misdemeanor. Those are felonies. The gun charge, which is now apparently going to be brought that was going to be dismissed, was absolutely inappropriate to be proposed. And then a blanket immunity going forward when you claim to still have an ongoing investigation is absolutely inappropriate. So I think that, you know, whether it's political interference or whether it's rank incompetence, it doesn't put a good light on the Biden Justice Department.

DAVIS: There is a growing number of lawmakers in Congress, particularly in the House, that believe that they already have enough of a case to bring impeachment charges against the president for his son's business dealings. Do you think that case is there? Do you think that an impeachment case should be brought against the president?

CHRISTIE: Not at this point. But I do think that it's necessary, given what we've seen, for there to be oversight by the House. If that oversight then gives us evidence that the president was somehow involved - and he's been very clear about saying, as has his spokespeople, that he's had no involvement at any time with his son's business now - you know, whether those phone calls that we've heard about amount to enough to impeach, I would doubt. But I need to see the rest of the evidence. So, no, I don't think there's a case at the moment. But I do think there's enough smoke that the DOJ should be looking into it. And David Weiss, as special counsel, should be looking into that. And the House should be providing appropriate oversight to get the facts out.

KEITH: I want to ask you about another one of your Republican opponents. This past weekend, I was in the pool of reporters that traveled with President Biden down to Florida to survey the damage from Hurricane Idalia. And Governor Ron DeSantis was not there. He pointedly did not appear with the president. You have some experience with this type of thing. What did you make of it?

CHRISTIE: I think he was playing politics, and I think it's wholly inappropriate to play politics when there are hundreds of thousands of the citizens of your state suffering from a natural disaster and concerned about making sure that there's complete coordination between the federal government and their state government to move towards recovery and rebuilding of the parts of the state that were destroyed by the hurricane. You're right. I went through this with Superstorm Sandy, which was a significantly more destructive storm than Idalia. But, you know, it was six days before a presidential election. And the fact is that I was Mitt Romney's keynote speaker at the convention and his No. 1 surrogate on the road campaigning for him and against Barack Obama. But when duty calls, you perform your duty. I took an oath, and my oath was to serve the people of the state of New Jersey and not my political career. And I think it was wrong for Governor DeSantis to avoid meeting with the president 'cause he was afraid of some picture that might be taken. I don't think that's appropriate, and I think he made a mistake, but it's his choice. He prioritized politics over the people of his state.

DAVIS: Disasters are a moment for bipartisan cooperation, as you say. More broadly, you have, throughout your career, embraced bipartisanship, in part because you had to as a Republican governor of a blue state. But are those days over? Are the days of cooperation just behind the U.S.? Is there any cure to the polarization that exists?

CHRISTIE: Yeah. Leadership is the cure. You know, we haven't had a president, frankly, who's been concerned about bipartisanship since George W. Bush. And then, you know, he was able to achieve that in the beginning through some of the initiatives that he pursued in the first eight months of his presidency. And then he obviously achieved it in the aftermath of 9/11. But since George W. Bush, we have not had a president who has put the time, the effort and the energy into bipartisanship that you need to put in. Believe me. I spent more time as governor of New Jersey with people that I didn't agree with and some people that I didn't like.

DAVIS: Did you tell them that?

CHRISTIE: Sometimes, yeah. But it's your job. People elected them, too, and it's your job to work with them. But the reason, I think, that most presidents haven't done it - some of it's been dispositional. But some of it is it takes a lot of time and a lot of energy, and you have to make it a priority. And since President Bush, 43, I don't think we've had a president who has been willing to either spend the time on it or been dispositionally able to do it. I think with Barack Obama, it was an unwillingness to spend the time on those relationships to be able to get it done. And I think with Donald Trump, it was dispositional - that he really didn't have an interest in doing it. With Joe Biden, I think he just does not any longer have the energy and the ability at 80 years old to do what needs to be done.

DAVIS: OK. Let's take a quick break, and we'll be back with Governor Christie on the issues.

And we're back. And let's talk about some of the issues that are important to both Republican primary voters and the country as a whole. Governor, we've been asking these same questions to every candidate we interview, and we start here. Do you believe that Joe Biden was the lawfully elected president in 2020?

CHRISTIE: Yes.

DAVIS: And if you are the nominee, do you plan on releasing your tax returns?

CHRISTIE: Yes.

KEITH: What about divesting from any private stock holdings or business arrangements?

CHRISTIE: The way I did it as governor of New Jersey was I put all of my holdings into a blind trust for all eight years that I was governor. So I made none of the decisions, nor was I consulted, nor was my wife consulted on any of those decisions during the eight years. And I think if you do that, you don't have to divest. But I think as long as you're not making decisions that could be influenced by the information that you're entitled to receive as president, then no one should have any concern about it. So my preferred method would be to put any holdings we have into a blind trust and let them be managed during the eight years that I'm president.

DAVIS: If Congress sends to your desk any legislation that would put restrictions on abortion access, would you sign it into law?

CHRISTIE: As I've said on this issue, I think we fought as conservatives for 50 years to say this is not a federal issue. It's a state issue. And so first, I hope that what happens over the course of the next 16 months or so is that each of the states and their people weigh in on this issue of abortion, whether it's through referenda or whether it's through actions by the legislature and the governor. After that, if there were a consensus, an obvious national consensus that was adopted by the Congress, I would consider signing such a piece of legislation. But I don't think the federal government should preempt the rights of the states and their people to make these decisions. And I have a hard time at the moment believing you could get 60 votes in the Senate for any of those proposals. But if a national consensus were formed by the wisdom of the 50 states, their action, I'd consider it. But the states should be the ones who are making the calls on this and the people of each of those 50 states.

KEITH: Because this is such a live issue and you want to be president of the United States, I'm hoping that we could get you to tell us if you think there are any limits that should be in place. Should it be a 15-week ban? Should it be a six-week ban? As you say, the nominee of the party sets the agenda. So what do you think the agenda should be?

CHRISTIE: What I just said - that the states should make the determination.

KEITH: Are there any states that have limits that you think are too strict or too lenient?

CHRISTIE: Sure. I think Oklahoma having no abortion available except to save the life of the mother is too strict. And I think New Jersey allowing abortions up to the ninth month of pregnancy is too lenient. I really believe that the states should make these determinations. I'm willing to give you what I think are outliers on both sides, but I want the states to make these calls. I've argued both as a lawyer and as a politician that Roe v. Wade was wrong, that it shouldn't have been a federal issue, that it's not a constitutional issue. And I think it would be hypocritical of me now to say, well, now that Roe is gone, let's have the federal government take this over in making the call. I think the states should do it.

DAVIS: You do not support more restrictive gun laws, but do you believe that there are any policies that could be implemented that might reduce gun violence, not just in the context of mass shootings that the country experiences but also to confront the reality that guns are now the No. 1 cause of death of children in this country.

CHRISTIE: I think enforce the laws that we already have, especially on the criminal justice side. When I see what's happening in this country with the failure of local prosecutors to enforce the laws against guns and violent crime, it's sickening. And I would tell you that as president, one of the things I would do is look at the violent crime rate in each of our major cities. In any of those major cities that had reached the epidemic level of violent crime - and I think you see it now in LA and San Francisco, in Chicago, in New York in particular - I would instruct the U.S. attorneys in those districts through the attorney general to begin enforcing the gun laws and the other laws against violent crime federally and take those matters federally unless and until the local prosecutors there decided they were going to enforce the laws against those who illegally carry and use guns in our country. And I think that's one of the most important things you could do early on.

DAVIS: But the answer is tougher prosecution of existing gun laws, not necessarily any new laws, you think.

CHRISTIE: Correct.

KEITH: What about red flag laws or other efforts to avoid suicide, for instance?

CHRISTIE: Look. You know, the suicide issue and other issues in that realm, I think, are much better handled by us making mental health treatment much more available and making involuntary commitment easier in many of our states. For folks who have violent ideations, whether it's on social media or just acting out verbally, we need to be able to be more aggressive about getting these folks the help they need and getting them off the streets before they commit some of the mass acts of violence we've seen over the course of the last decade in this country.

KEITH: On foreign policy, how far should the U.S. be willing to go to support Ukraine's defense against the Russian invasion?

CHRISTIE: We should give them every type of weaponry they need and supply it as quickly as possible and as aggressively as possible. And we haven't done that. Barack Obama did none of it. Donald Trump did a small amount, did a little bit better. Joe Biden has done better yet, but he still is giving them only enough not to lose. Ukraine is getting outgunned in artillery shells, for instance, by a ratio of 10 to 1. It's very difficult to win a war with that kind of ratio in artillery.

I met with President Zelenskyy. I went to Ukraine a month ago. And what I could tell you is he does not want American or allied troops there. He wouldn't accept them. He wants the Ukrainian people to win the war, but he needs help to fight against the Russian war machine, which is being financed by the Chinese and being enhanced by the North Koreans and the Iranians. America and its allies need to be just as aggressive, if not more aggressive, than China, North Korea and Iran in this war because I believe it is a proxy war between China in the United States. And the Chinese are financing it. We need to make sure they understand that this kind of authoritarian aggression is juice that's not worth the squeeze.

DAVIS: What do you say to the Republicans in your party, especially those on Capitol Hill and in the race for the nomination, who don't want to give another dime to the Ukrainian cause?

CHRISTIE: That they're naive and shortsighted. The naivete is thinking that they're going to be able to convince Vladimir Putin to abandon China and become our friend. That has never happened. And it's not going to happen no matter who the president is. So when Donald Trump says he'll settle the war in 24 hours, I fear that what he'll do is just turn the deed to Ukraine over to his buddy Vladimir Putin. And I think it's also shortsighted because if you think, if we back away from this fight, that the Chinese will be deterred in any way from going after Taiwan, I think you're shortsighted and wrong.

KEITH: At the debate, there was a question about whether the candidates believe in human-caused climate change. The answers were derailed. We'd like to get your answer.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. I think that climate change is real and that human activity contributes to it. And I believe that there are things that we have already done by reducing our carbon output in this country by a billion tons a year over the last 10 years that have helped to improve the situation. But what we know is that the situation is not going to be anywhere near being solved when the Chinese, in that same 10-year period, are increasing their carbon output by 5 billion tons a year. So this is not only an environmental issue. This is a key foreign policy issue that we need to address with the Chinese because if they're not going to participate fully in trying to alleviate this problem, it's a problem that cannot be fixed by unilateral disarmament, so to speak, by the United States.

DAVIS: So if you were president, would you keep the U.S. pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2030, eliminate emissions by 2050?

CHRISTIE: What I would do is continue to pursue a policy environmentally where all different types of energy continue to be developed and, when they're at their point where they can be utilized efficiently and effectively, that they be utilized. I think that we've got to spend much more time and money on nuclear energy. I think it's a clean energy and one that helps to address the carbon issue while also being a consistent and steady contributor to our power grid in the country.

I also favor continuing to develop solar energy. When I was governor of New Jersey, we produced the second most solar energy in the country. And I believe in continuing to pursue wind energy as well. But we also have to continue to utilize the oil and natural gas reserves that we have in this country both to power our own economy and way of life and to be a fair supplier of those energies to other countries around the world so that they wouldn't have to rely on bad actors like Russia, Iran, Venezuela and others for their energy. So I think all of those things are things that we need to do for our energy production, which has a direct impact on our environment and will continue, I think, if we pursued it that way, to have a positive impact on the environment.

KEITH: You are the only Republican in the race who opposes bans on specialized health care for transgender youth, and we're wondering what shaped your view on this.

CHRISTIE: Well, I thought what shaped my view is I'm a conservative Republican who doesn't want the government telling mothers and fathers how to treat their children. No one loves my four children more than I do and my wife does. And no one knows what's better for our children than we do. Certainly no governor sitting in a state capitol knows better how my children should be raised than I do. And I believe that's a conservative Republican position. And I'm not a big-government Republican. I think any type of government intervention of that kind between parents and their children is wrong. And that's why I oppose it.

KEITH: Governor, finally, last question - if you are not the Republican nominee, will you support whoever is?

CHRISTIE: Well, I've said that I can't support someone who's convicted of a felony for president. I did not raise my hand last couple of Wednesdays ago in the debate. I was one of two people on the stage that didn't. I believe the minimum requirement should have for somebody as president of United States is to not be a felon. But, you know, in the end, I hope to be the Republican nominee. And if I'm not, I hope we nominate someone who I am able to wholeheartedly support because I don't want Joe Biden to be president of United States for another four years.

KEITH: What do you do if Donald Trump's the nominee? How do you vote next November?

CHRISTIE: Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, guys. But at this point, I think I've made my position clearer than anybody else in the race.

DAVIS: I actually want to pry in there just ever so slightly.

CHRISTIE: Good try (ph).

DAVIS: You say that you can't endorse someone or vote for someone who has been convicted, but what if the trials aren't complete, and - or what if Donald Trump is acquitted?

CHRISTIE: Yep. If my aunt had wheels, she'd be a trolley car. You know, we're not going to go through every if scenario, guys. I think the voters and, quite frankly, both of you should have respect for the fact that I've been clearer on this issue than any other candidate in this race. And I'm not going to go through every what-if scenario. I don't think there's a need. I think people understand my point of view, and I think I've been clearer on it and more forthright about it than anybody else in the race.

DAVIS: Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey, thank you so much for your time.

CHRISTIE: Guys, thanks for having me on. It was very, very entertaining.

DAVIS: And we have talked to two other Republican candidates so far, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and former Texas Congressman Will Hurd. You can find links to those interviews at npr.org. We plan to have more of these interviews as the campaign season continues. That's it for us today. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Our editor is Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Elena Moore and Casey Morell. Thanks to Krishnadev Calamur and Lexi Schapitl. I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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