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Podcast: Conservatives no more? Why Chris Christie is criticizing Trump and DeSantis

Podcast: Conservatives no more? Why Chris Christie is criticizing Trump and DeSantis

TRANSCRIPT: Conservatives no more? Why Chris Christie is criticizing Trump and DeSantis

Chris Christie:

I think there's one lane to the nomination. And right now, Donald Trump's in the front of that lane. And if you want to get in the front of that lane, you better intervene and go right through him, because otherwise, trying to go around him ... I don't think is a strategy.

Ian Bremmer:

Hello, and welcome to the GZERO World Podcast. This is where you'll find extended versions of my interviews on public television. I'm Ian Bremmer, and I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but election season in America is already well underway. And with months to go before the first primary ballots are cast, the candidates are declaring, the rallies are starting, the cringey political ads are airing, and we're already tired. Joe Biden being the Democratic nominee is pretty much a foregone conclusion. I mean, unless, you know ... The dude is 80.

But the Republican race is a lot more interesting. No matter what ends up happening, the GOP nomination will have some notable firsts. A former president under criminal indictment, a former vice president who refused to subvert an election, the most politically experienced woman to run ever as a Republican, and a very popular governor who's publicly feuding with Mickey Mouse. At a time when the Grand Old Party is going through an identity crisis, how will nominees stand out in a crowded field? What are Republicans' priorities for 2024? Can we hope for anything besides a Biden versus Trump repeat? I'm talking about all this and more with my guest, rumored Republican candidate and former New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie. Let's get into it.

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Ian Bremmer:

Chris Christie, thanks so much for joining us on GZERO.

Chris Christie:

My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Ian.

Ian Bremmer:

So much stuff to talk about that we want to get into, but I want to start with the news of the day, the news of the week, which is the debt limit crisis. How confident are you that this gets resolved without both parties looking really, really stupid?

Chris Christie:

Well, look. I'm pretty confident it will be, for two reasons. One is the current shakiness of our economy to begin with. Neither side can have confidence that if, in fact, they ever allow this to go past the deadline, that it wouldn't have some real serious consequences for our economy, and be really hurting Americans on an everyday basis. So they don't have a lot of room for risk here, given the current state of the economy. And secondly, there has been an enormous amount of spending. Starting with the Trump administration, working its way, all the way through to where we are with the Biden administration. And there is room to be able to reduce spending without doing a lot of harm or damage to anybody. And so I think those two factors make me somewhat optimistic that they'll get it done.

Ian Bremmer:

Now, as of the time that we are talking right now, the two sides are very, very, very far apart. If we look what the Republicans are talking about in the house and the amount of restraint on spending and Biden's unwillingness to talk about anything in that environment, what is it that you think forces the change and who blinks first?

Chris Christie:

Well, look. I think what forces the change is the fact that the deadline will come and the consequences of not meeting the deadline are unknown. And I think that will make them both sides very nervous and more into a situation where they'll be ready to compromise. But also, Ian, I'll tell you that I think that when you look at these negotiations, typically everyone takes their absolute dispositions. They're gauging in their own mind when they have to move. I don't think there'll be a blink first moment. I think there will be a moment where they both say, "All right, I'm going to give you a little bit of what you need. I'm going to give you a little cover for what you need and we're going to move on." Because again, as I said in the first answer, the consequences could be so significant and very difficult to undo that I don't think either side wants to take that risk.

Ian Bremmer:

Does there at least need to be some level of direct market consequence, actual pain experienced before one or both of those sides starts moving down? Because you're saying it's a fear of the unknown, but right now the unknown doesn't feel so scary.

Chris Christie:

Well, it depends on where you sit. I mean, I think that if you're a person out there right now in the United States who is experiencing the inflation, we've been experiencing how much more difficult it is to be able to afford to pay your bills over time. The banking crisis has people nervous as well. I don't think you want to put more uncertainty into this economy. So I think it's that that will drive them to getting to a conclusion. But obviously, these are human endeavors and human beings can make mistakes and we could wind up having that happen. I just don't think it's likely that it will.

Ian Bremmer:

Okay. Let's move to the fun bit, which is the presidential campaign. I want to ask you, not if you're running, I want to ask you if you were just Chris Christie watching yourself on TV over the last few weeks with the comments that you've made, the statements when you made, would you say, "Hey, that guy sounds to me like he's running."

Chris Christie:

What I'd say is, "That guy has something to say, now let's see what he does with it." And I think that's always the key in politics. There are two options. You become a candidate or you stay on the outside of that process, but you try to influence it through things you're saying to the people who are candidates. So what I would say about the guy who's been on TV the last few weeks is he's definitely got something to say. Let's see what he does with it.

Ian Bremmer:

It sounds to me if I were Chris Christie watching Chris Christie, I think you're running, I'm just going to say that. I'm just going to put it out there. I want to know about Trump. So you helped made Trump credible. You certainly helped him on the debate stage. You prepped him. And you also briefly were involved in a pretty senior way on that team. Do you feel any level of personal responsibility, maybe even culpability for the fact that this guy right now looks like he's going to be, or at least is on track to be, the nominee for the party?

Chris Christie:

No, I don't because I've been speaking out against what the former president's been saying since election night of 2020. So it's been nearly two and a half years now of being pretty consistent and speaking out against what he has said about the election, the actions he took in the immediate aftermath of the election, the lack of action he took on January 6th, and the things that he is continued to say since then, including his conduct around the 2022 election. So no, I think there's a statute of limitations on all that, and ultimately the person who is culpable or responsible for Donald Trump is Donald Trump.

Ian Bremmer:

Now, we've seen a lot of these, the cases are starting to play out. He's already been arraigned in perhaps the least serious of them, but nonetheless, something you don't want to see for a former president. Now, I know when you and I have talked about this, you've said, "Hey, on balance, better not to be indicted and arraigned than to be if you're running for president." I understand that, but when I look at the polls for Trump since then, they seem to be improving. In fact the most recent show Trump in a heads-up against Biden from Washington Post, winning by a reasonable margin. What is going on here, Chris?

Chris Christie:

Well, there's been no campaign yet, Ian. So I think what you see right now is that Joe Biden's been in the news and on TV much more than Donald Trump has been. And what that means when you're dealing with Donald Trump and Joe Biden, is the more exposure they get, the worse they get in polling. So Biden should really just go back into the White House, not show his face. Trump's doing a town hall this week on CNN and he's going out to campaign in Iowa, apparently. Believe me, by next week those polls will be flipped because people will have seen Trump again and wound up not liking him. And if Biden just stays low-key, he'll wind up moving back up in the polls.

Ian Bremmer:

Now, why has Trump decided that he's going to appear on CNN? Is this basically just a middle finger to Fox and saying, "Okay, I'll show you. I'm going to give ratings to your principal competitor?"

Chris Christie:

Yes. There's no other good reason for him to do it. That's why he's doing it. And we'll see how he performs. He's going to be being asked questions by voters. It's going to be a town hall type format, which he never does. And so we'll see how straight CNN plays it, because CNN supposedly is picking the voters who will come in there. Let's see how straight they play it. Let's see how Caitlin Collins does, and let's see how Donald Trump does. But there's no question that this is Donald Trump's response to Fox having settled the Dominion Voting Systems case.

Ian Bremmer:

How do you think Fox comes out of all of this? I mean, we see of course, that he seems to be, in terms of the coverage that he's getting across Fox, much more in their grace than he was say three months ago.

Chris Christie:

Yeah, look, I think that's going to vary from time to time, and I think it's going to vary from host to host and show to show on Fox, daytime different than the evening hours, et cetera. In the end, I hope that what Fox has learned from this is that authenticity matters and that people should be on the air saying what they really believe.

Ian Bremmer:

Has Trump learned anything in terms of the way he is campaigning right now? One thing I noticed is he's going after a lot of endorsements in Florida, he's certainly picking up a lot. That was not the strategy last time around, and it probably couldn't have been the strategy last time around. Do you see learning either from Trump himself and/or from his campaign team at this point?

Chris Christie:

What I see is a professional politician, that's what he is now. And no matter what he'd like to say otherwise, he's now a professional politician who's going after endorsements, something that he completely poo-pooed when he ran in 2016. So again, Donald Trump, the guy who was going to change the Washington establishment has now become a part of the Washington establishment, and he's counting endorsements from congressmen in Florida. Look, the real reason he's doing that, Ian, as you well know, is to try to intimidate and embarrass Governor DeSantis. That's his goal. Believe me, he could care less about those people who have endorsed him. He doesn't believe there's any value to their individual endorsement except to embarrassed DeSantis.

Ian Bremmer:

I would say conventional wisdom in the Republican Party, tell me if I'm wrong, three months ago, was that if Trump gets the nomination and if he wins, he's going to have a team of clowns around him as opposed to a team of very competent people, mostly, last time around because of everything that's happened since. It feels to me that that is increasingly shifting towards if he gets the nomination, almost all of the GOP, yourself excluded notably, would be aligned with him. Is that wrong?

Chris Christie:

I think it's much too early to tell because there's going to be a campaign that's going to come in the midst of all that, and how he conducts himself and what he does will determine a lot of the way people feel. But I think that given the way he's treated the people that have worked for him over time, whether it's Reince Priebus or John Kelly, or Mick Mulvaney, or H. R. McMaster, or John Bolton in the White House team, or Anthony Scaramucci for that matter, who he gave 11 days to, or even been members of his cabinet. And what he's called them afterwards, the things he said about Elaine Chao, the things that he has said about Betsy DeVos, the things that he has said about Mick Mulvaney, all who were members of his cabinet. I think there's going to be a lot of people who would be very reluctant to ever work for someone like that. Again, it is the reason why I never took a job from him.

Ian Bremmer:

You've got a running grievance list there. We could do Festivus just on the people that are annoyed with Trump at this point.

Chris Christie:

By the way, it's a short list. I didn't give you all the names.

Ian Bremmer:

No, that's fair enough. So how do you think the Republicans that are either declared or seem to be about to declare, again, yourself completely excluded from this, have actually conducted themselves so far? Talk about Mike Pence with me, for example.

Chris Christie:

Well, Mike's not in the race yet, so I think with all of them, quite frankly, there really hasn't been a campaign yet. And I don't think there's going to be a campaign until August when the first debate occurs, and I think that's when the campaign will really kick off. I'm concerned that none of the folks that are currently in the race, or rumored to be in it, are taking on Trump directly. I think that's a mistake both from a good-of-the-party perspective and, quite frankly, I think it's a tactical mistake as well.

Ian Bremmer:

Why is it a tactical mistake?

Chris Christie:

Because I don't believe in this lane business, that everybody has different lanes. I think there's one lane to the nomination, and right now Donald Trump's in the front of that lane. If you want to get in the front of that lane, you better intervene and go right through him, because otherwise trying to go around him, or trying to side up next to him and hope that his car runs off the road, I don't think is a strategy. Hope is not a strategy.

Ian Bremmer:

Did you see that leaked video from DeSantis' earlier debate prep where he basically said, "Look, you can't upset the Trump base, you can't upset the Trump voters?"

Chris Christie:

Yeah, I did. I also saw that they told him to make sure he wrote 'LIKABLE' in capital letters on his pad when he got out to the stage. That's never a good thing.

Ian Bremmer:

He has not come across as a retail politician so far.

Chris Christie:

Not as far as I can tell.

Ian Bremmer:

Okay. So leaving aside Trump for a moment, which is always fun to do, can we talk about policy and where you think the GOP needs to be on policy that they are not right now?

Chris Christie:

Sure. There's a number of things. We've got to get back to being the fiscally responsible party. The level of debt and deficit that we ran up under Donald Trump and a Republican Congress in the first two years, just unconscionable. And we're paying the price in part for that. And the even more excessive Biden spending. We've got to become the fiscally responsible party once again. I think, secondly, we have to be the party that remembers that America's strength economically comes from its friendships around the world, and we need to make sure that we work hard to try to reestablish those, that we cannot be the party that fills in the moat and pulls up the drawbridge, and thinks that America and the world are going to be the same after we do that. I think that's a mistake for us. I think we need to be the party.

I think we need to be the party, once again, that talks about fixing the immigration system, because if you don't fix the immigration system all the wrong people are going to keep getting in and all the right people are going to be kept out, in my view. So those are some things that we need to talk about, and we need to be the party that talks about empowering parents in education, giving them choices, giving their children choices in their education. We should not be allowing bureaucrats to decide that. So I think those are things that we should be talking about, that in the main we're not.

Ian Bremmer:

You did not mention the culture wars, which seem to be getting so much play in so many of the policy conversations that we're having right now, whether it's about transgender rights or it's about Disney and book banning, and all the rest. Obviously, everyone's going to get asked about those questions. What does a former governor of New Jersey say when those issues come up?

Chris Christie:

I talk about those in the context of the other issues that I mentioned to you. So when you're talking about putting parents in charge of children's education, I do think parents should generally be charged with the idea of what their children learn or don't learn about sex and sexuality between kindergarten and the third grade. I don't think that's something I want a teacher or a principal, or school administrator deciding. I think parents should decide that. I think each of those issues become important, but only in the context of larger issues. And I think that mistakes like Governor DeSantis is with taking on Disney, the mistake becomes, you didn't take a conservative position. Conservatives don't believe that you should use the power and the levers of government to try to make sure that you punish someone for speech that you don't like. I always was taught that's what liberals did. And so when you take those anti-conservative positions, unlike he did on that, those are things that I'll talk about in those contexts. They're important, but in and of themselves I think, you can't look at those things. You have to look at them as part of how do they affect an individual part of, let's say our business community and how this woke business is affecting them, and then our educational community and how it's affecting them.

Ian Bremmer:

Now, since you're not a candidate at this point, how would you advise DeSantis to get out of this Disney hole?

Chris Christie:

I think it's almost too late for him now, unless he can negotiate some type of arrangement with them. I think he should have never done it in the first place. And then once Disney made their counter move, outfoxing him down there on the governance issue, he should have just let it go. But instead he's going to continue to push it and up the ante. And I think that's just a mistake. I think it's anti-conservative, I think it's a mistake.

Ian Bremmer:

Okay. Let's talk about abortion. The Republicans are also getting hammered on that. It's obviously not a position that the GOP is in that aligns with the average voter, in many cases, not even the average Republican voters. We see these votes that are playing out state by state. What do you do as someone who represents a pretty diverse state like New Jersey? What's the position on that issue?

Chris Christie:

I think each state should make their own decision on this stuff. As conservatives, we fought for 50 years to get the federal government out of the abortion question and return that question to the states. Now we achieved that through the Dobbs decision at the Supreme Court, and somehow we're now saying the federal government should get back involved. I don't think they should be involved. I think each state should make their own determination.

Ian Bremmer:

Do you think that abortion should be banned in the state of New Jersey?

Chris Christie:

I think the state of New Jersey and the people of the state of New Jersey should make the determination themselves as to what it should happen. I've always been a person who's believed in exceptions for rape and incest, life of the mother. And I've said that both when I ran for governor back in 2009, and my position's always been consistent on that. In the end, Ian, I think we've worked hard as conservatives to get the Supreme Court to give the states the right to make those decisions, but each state should be able to make that determination and then we'll be able to see what really forms as a national consensus, from looking at how all the states conduct themselves.

Ian Bremmer:

So again, I'm sensitive to the fact that this is not an easy question to answer, but I assuming that New Jersey is kind of aligned more with the country on this and wants abortions say to be legal for some 12, 15 weeks, something like that, that's a position you'd be comfortable with?

Chris Christie:

Listen, my view on this, I'd be comfortable with allowing the people of New Jersey to make that call themselves. We haven't done that. We've had our state legislature do it, and I don't know where the people of the state really are on this issue, Ian.

Ian Bremmer:

So in China, you see Jake Sullivan came out with a big policy last week, new Washington consensus. It seems like one of the few things that Democrats and Republicans agree on right now is a harder line on the second largest, most think soon to be the largest economy, in the world. Where do you think American policy should be in level of engagement with, integration with, and sanctions against China?

Chris Christie:

Well, look, I think that what we need to do is to let the Chinese know that we're willing to play with them, but we have to play a game that's fair. So for instance, when you hear people now talking about banning TikTok, I'm for banning TikTok from this country as well, but I'm for banning TikTok because they don't allow Facebook and Twitter and all those things into China. If they want to have a fair exchange of ideas, a fair exchange of products, a fair exchange of intellectual property, I'm all for that, but it's got to be fair. Those things are not fair. I think we have to make very clear to them that their adventurism around the world is not something that we're going to look kindly upon, not something that we favor. The trade deals have been made, including the Trump trade deal with China was not a good deal for the United States, and we should be looking to make better deals with China than the ones that have been made previously, particularly in the Trump administration.

But I do think that, in the end, we are in a proxy war right now with China, whether we like it or not, I think what's going on in Ukraine, and their support of Russia in Ukraine, is proof of that. And that's another area where we have to make sure we send a very clear message not only to the Chinese, Ian, but to our own allies, that America's not going to be a cut and run country. Because if we continue to show that inclination, I think a lot of our friends are going to be looking for other friends.

Ian Bremmer:

So it sounds like you're very comfortable with the level of military support as well as the level of economic sanctions for Ukraine and of the Russians over the last 14, 15 months.

Chris Christie:

I am. I would have done more sooner with Ukraine on the defensive weapons situation, but that's water over the dam now. So I think we have to make sure that we give them the tools they need to get this thing to a resolution.

Ian Bremmer:

So going forward, the next 1, 2, 3 years minimum, if that's what it takes, the United States should remain in the lead in providing military equipment to the Ukrainians.

Chris Christie:

Yes.

Ian Bremmer:

But go back to China for just one second. Under the Trump administration, the tariffs that were put on Chinese goods, not strategic goods, just goods that the American taxpayers, consumers are paying for, they're paying higher prices as a consequence of that. Do you think that those tariffs are appropriate or do you want to see tariffs come down both from the Americans and the Chinese in a reciprocal way?

Chris Christie:

I would say the latter. I'd like to see tariffs come down in a reciprocal way, and I don't think it's something we should do unilaterally. Look, there were a lot of advantages that the United States gave to the Chinese as we were trying to welcome them back into the world markets and the world order. That's long since been taken care of in my view, Ian, and we now need to be treating them what they are. They're our number one competitor in the world, and so we need to be treating them in a way which gives them the status. They so badly want it. And when you're dealing with people who are of relatively the same economic strength as you, what you need to do is to negotiate with them head to head and fairly, not with giving advantages away to them like we did back in the early part of the relationship.

Ian Bremmer:

And then a little bit on the economy. When we think about where inflation is right now, when we think about where unemployment is right now, around the world, most people are saying the Americans are the most robust of the G7 economies in the way that we've responded to the pandemic, and also in terms of the outlook going forward. And yet when you ask the average American, their level of confidence about their own situation seems markedly more negative. Is this sort of disinformation environment, is this a reflection of a real phenomenon? What do you think is behind it?

Chris Christie:

It's reality, Ian. Look. Two things can be correct at the same time. We can have the most robust recovery from COVID amongst the G7, and have the most robust economy amongst the G7, but it still can be in a situation where the American people are not satisfied. And I think the key to that is inflation. Look, I went to the supermarket yesterday. I picked up six items that cost me $50, $50.24 to be exact, and I was stunned. I went to the self-checkout thing. I could not believe that that's where the prices were for some of these items. And I think that's what people in America are experiencing every day. So while you see pretty good job numbers in the last jobs report, and you see objective indicia of the economy doing certainly better than lots of other places across the world, when you're an American citizen and you're going into a supermarket, into a drug store, into a hardware store, and you're seeing what the prices of items are and how much more they are now than they were before Joe Biden became president, that's what determines when they think things are going well for them or not. Not all this other objective data.

Ian Bremmer:

Before we close, let me just let you go back a little bit. We talked about Trump. We haven't talked about Biden aside from the last moment. So much of the Biden criticism from the right has been the guy is too old, his health is not going to hold up. Is that fair?

Chris Christie:

It's fair. And it's fair because all you need to do is look at him, Ian, and come to that conclusion. I've known Joe Biden now for 40 years. I met him when I was a sophomore at the University of Delaware and known him ever since. And this is not the same Joe Biden, and it's not just because he's old. His aging has significantly impacted his ability to do this job. And I think if you watch him at press conferences, if you watch him in Gaggles with reporters, if you watch him on the world stage, this is a guy who looks every bit of his 80 years. And I think, given how hard this job is, how taxing it is on you physically, psychologically, emotionally, I just don't think he's competent for it at this age. No one beats father time, Ian. And I think given that we've never had a president the age that he is now, let alone asking for another four years, which would take him to 86, I think is an absolutely relevant issue and one that needs to be discussed thoroughly, and that the American people have a good understanding of before they make a decision in '24.

Ian Bremmer:

The fact that he's an incumbent president, of course, is also a huge advantage. Are you sympathetic to the fact that running someone that isn't your incumbent president, it's actually a very significant uphill struggle for anyone that's going to make that effort?

Chris Christie:

Oh, absolutely. Look, over the last 30 years in the United States, only four incumbent governors have been defeated over that 30 year period. And I was someone who beat one of those incumbent governors over that period of time, and I went through it and know how hard it is to defeat an incumbent. It's very difficult. And whether it's an incumbent governor or an incumbent president, that's very difficult. But we've seen it done. We've seen Donald Trump beaten two years ago, three years ago now, almost. We saw George Bush 41 defeated, and just in my voting lifetime, we've seen Jimmy Carter defeated as well. So we've seen it happen. But you are right. Americans tend to like their presidents for two terms, and so it'll be a tough race if Joe Biden is in it for any Republican, but it's certainly doable. And having done it before at the gubernatorial level, I know how hard it is, but I also know they wouldn't be calling me governor if I hadn't done it.

Ian Bremmer:

So you're a fighter, if you're in the ring with Donald Trump as we look forward to the GOP nomination, what's his glass jaw? Where's he most vulnerable?

Chris Christie:

Look, I think that he failed in so many of the things that he promised he would do. This is a guy who said he would repeal and replace Obamacare. He had a Republican Congress, he didn't get it done. This is a guy who said he was going to build a wall across the entire border with Mexico. He then got nowhere near getting it done. He said that Mexico would pay for it. We're still waiting for our first peso on that one. He said he was going to balance the budget in five years. He left with the worst deficit any president's ever left with. He was going to retire the national debt in eight years. We're at 31 trillion dollars. And he also criticized Barack Obama for playing too much golf, and he played 260 rounds of golf in four years. So this is a guy who did not keep a lot of the promises that he made to the American people, and to Republican voters in particular, in 2016. I was on that stage when he was making those promises, and if I were to run, I would hold him to account for not fulfilling them.

Ian Bremmer:

Chris Christie, great to be with you and I'm sure I'll see you soon.

Chris Christie:

Absolutely, Ian. Thanks a lot.

Ian Bremmer:

That's it for today's edition of the GZERO World Podcast. Do you like what you heard? Of course you did. Well, why don't you check us out at gzeromedia.com and take a moment to sign up for our newsletter. It's called GZERO Daily.

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The GZERO World Podcast is brought to you by our founding sponsor, First Republic. First Republic, a private bank and wealth management company, places clients' needs first by providing responsive, relevant, and customized solutions, visit firstrepublic.com to learn more. GZERO World would also like to share a message from our friends at Foreign Policy, an endangered purpose, a fish whose bladder fetches tens of thousands of dollars on the black market, the highly desirable and delicious, colossal shrimp travel to the Gulf of California on a new season of The Catch. A podcast from Foreign Policy and the Walton Family Foundation. You'll hear about the tension local fishermen face in providing for their families and protecting marine habitats, and your role in returning balance to the environment. Follow and listen to The Catch wherever you get your podcasts.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform, to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.
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