The role former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants to play in the Republican presidential primary is that of Trump critic—but that doesn’t mean he’s letting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis off the hook, especially when he can get a double play. And boy, DeSantis made it easy for Christie with his answer to an audience question about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Asked by a high school student if he believes “that Trump violated the peaceful transfer of power, a key principle of American democracy that we must uphold,” DeSantis sounded like a small child denying that they made a mess. “So, I wasn't anywhere near Washington that day,” he said. “I have nothing to do with what happened that day. Obviously I didn't enjoy seeing, you know, what happened, but we've got to go forward on this stuff. We cannot be looking backwards and be mired in the past.”
No one is saying you personally invaded the Capitol, Ron. The question is whether you think Donald Trump violated the peaceful transfer of power.
On Wednesday evening, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked Christie whether he thinks that’s how Republicans should respond to such questions. The answer is no.
“He wasn't anywhere near Washington. Did he have a TV? Was he alive that day? Did he see what was going on? I mean, that's one of the most ridiculous answers I've heard in this race so far. You don't have an opinion about January 6th except to say, I didn't particularly enjoy what happened? People were killed.”
“We had members of Congress who were running for their lives. We had people trying to hunt down the vice president of the United States chanting, ‘Hang Mike Pence.’ And Donald Trump the entire time sat outside the Oval Office in that little dining room of his eating a well done cheeseburger and watching TV, and doing nothing to stop what was going on until it got to the point where even he could no longer stand it, and he finally, at 4-something in the afternoon, put out a video asking people to leave the Capitol. And Ron DeSantis doesn't have any opinion on that?”
Christie then took a little detour to talk about the high school student who asked DeSantis the question, saying, “I’m pretty sure I know who that high school student was. He goes to every town hall meeting in New Hampshire. He's been to three of mine, and he asks really tough questions. And I said to him, the last town hall meeting he was at of mine, see if any of the candidates will answer your questions directly, and grade them on it. I suspect when I go back and see Colin in New Hampshire next time I’m up there, DeSantis is going to get an F for that answer.”
This is a viciously subtle way to highlight just how bad Ron DeSantis is at retail politics, as well as on the substance of the question. Does anyone think DeSantis would be able to talk in that kind of detail about his own interactions with a specific New Hampshire high school student?
Collins then asked Christie how he would answer the question about Donald Trump and Jan. 6.
I would say it was one of the most disgraceful days in American history and that the president was principally responsible for it. One, through the conduct and his words from election night forward and his words, inciting people and insisting that the election was stolen when it wasn’t. Through his speech that day when he attacked directly his own vice president and incited those people to be angry at Mike Pence, who was just performing his constitutional duty, and he had no choice. Every lawyer, good lawyer, had told people that, that he couldn’t do anything different than that. And then while the event was going on, while the riot was going on, on Capitol Hill, we know that Donald Trump was watching it and was being urged even by members of his own family to get out there and say something, and he refused, because he was enjoying watching people yell, scream, and destroy things in his name. That’s the kind of answer you should give, and that makes someone, in addition to all the other things, unfit to be president of the United States.
Christie neatly sums up much of what Trump did to incite the attack on Congress, and in so doing, he highlights that DeSantis is too much of a coward to give that kind of answer.
Chris Christie is no hero here. He governed New Jersey as an arrogant bully—in very much the kind of hectoring, posturing way DeSantis is governing Florida, down to their shared choice of teachers as targets. Once Christie concluded he wasn’t going to win the 2016 presidential primary, he sucked up to Trump as energetically as any other Republican. But the guy can talk, and if what he wants to say lays bare the corruption and anti-democratic slant of his own party and its leading candidates, and the cowardice of its number two candidate, that’s no bad thing.