Chris Christie joins the race and goes after Trump.
But does he stand a chance?
[energetic piano music] This week on "Firing Line."
- If he committed a crime and there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove that crime, then he must be charged.
He must be tried.
- [Hoover] He's the former governor of New Jersey known for his blunt talk.
- This is about how you conduct yourself in the office with the nation's secrets - [Hoover] His on again, off again relationship with the former president and his colorful history with the Kushner family.
- I mean, it's one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted when I was U.S. attorney.
And I was U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Margaret, so we had some loathsome and disgusting crime going on there.
- [Hoover] Gov.
Chris Christie didn't run for president in 2012 when the GOP establishment wanted him.
He did run in 2016.
- I am now ready to fight for the people [audience cheering] of the United States of America.
- [Hoover] But his campaign fizzled.
- He's a very talented man.
- [Hoover] And Christie instead ran the Trump transition team.
In 2020, as the votes were tallied, Christie broke with Trump over election lies.
- There's just no basis to make that argument tonight.
There just isn't.
- [Hoover] Now he's one of at least nine contenders in a crowded GOP field that feels like deja vu.
With a new Trump indictment just handed down, what does Gov.
Chris Christie say now?
- [Announcer] "Firing Line" with Margaret Hoover is made possible in part by Robert Granieri, Charles R. Schwab, The Fairweather Foundation, The Tepper Foundation, The Margaret and Daniel Loeb Foundation, The Asness Family Foundation, Jeffrey and Lisa Bewkes, The Beth and Ravenel Curry Foundation, Peter and Mary Kalikow, and by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Damon Button, The Center for the Study of the International Economy Inc, The Pritzker Military Foundation on behalf of the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, and the Mark Haas Foundation.
Corporate funding is provided by Stevens Inc. - Gov.
Christie, now candidate Christie, welcome back to "Firing Line."
- Happy to be back, Margaret.
Thanks for having me.
- You announced that you are going to seek the Republican nomination for the presidency this week in New Hampshire.
You're polling at about two percent right now and there are eight or nine candidates that'll be in the race in short order.
Unlike most of your competitors, you have not minced words in condemning President Trump's record, while still owning the fact that you supported him at one time.
So what do you say to the skeptic that says you're in this as a torpedo for Trump?
You can never win.
The GOP base simply isn't what it used to be.
- Well, first of all, I don't buy it.
25 to 30 percent of our Republican primary voters say they're voting for Trump.
Then you have about 45 percent of voters who say, I might vote for Trump, but I would be willing to consider an alternative.
And then you have the remainder, 25 to 30 percent, who say, I'll never vote for Trump.
So it looks to me like you've got 70 to 75 percent of the people who would either be willing to consider an alternative or won't consider him at all.
That seems like a pretty broad base for me to go after and appeal to.
- In 2012, you were begged by the Republican establishment, in particular the donor class, to get into the race and to run against Barack Obama.
In 2016 you finally did.
It didn't work out.
You lost to Donald Trump.
- What is different in 2024?
- Well, first off, I think, in 2012, I just wasn't ready to be president.
And that was a personal decision that me and Mary Pat made.
And I think the only thing worse than running for president when you're not ready is being elected president.
when you're not ready.
Moving forward to now, what's different is eight years ago we all became convinced and by all I mean folks like me and Jeff Bush and John Kasich and Marco Rubio that there was an establishment lane that we had to compete in first and become the winner of that lane.
And like the NCAA tournament, move on to face the winner of Trump, Cruz, Fiorina and Carson.
It was a completely faulty way of looking at it.
We were wrong.
I was wrong.
And everybody else who did that was wrong.
There's one lane, Margaret, and the lane has Donald Trump at the head of it.
And if you wanna win it, you gotta go directly through that lane and go through him.
- How does taking him on make him weaker?
Because we've seen over and over again that as people surround him and attack him, his base consolidates around him.
- But they've never had anybody prosecute the case against him, a fellow Republican prosecute the case against him.
They've never had a Republican come out and really directly make the case in the context of a campaign on the facts against his record.
Margaret, he said he was gonna, you know, repeal and replace Obamacare.
He didn't do it, even with the Republican Congress.
He said he was gonna build a wall across the entire border and Mexico was gonna pay for it.
He not only didn't build the wall, we haven't got our first peso from Mexico.
He said he was gonna balance the budget in four years.
He left with the highest deficit of any president in modern history.
Said he was gonna retire the national debt in eight years.
He's added trillions to the national debt.
There is a record here, well beyond his character flaws, a record of failure as president.
I like the way former Attorney General Bill Barr said it.
He said, "If you like the Trump agenda, he's the last person you'd hire to execute it because he doesn't have the first idea of how to do it."
Did he do some things that worked out?
Sure he did.
The tax cut was good.
Some of his regulatory reform was good.
The Abraham Accords in the Middle East were good.
But other than that, on the main core things he promised our Republican base, he failed.
No one's prosecuted that case.
- How will you know if it's working?
- Same ways you always know, Margaret.
Can you continue to raise money?
Where do your poll numbers go?
Are you trending in the right direction?
In the end, I'm a very realistic guy and I'll make the decision based upon what I think my real chances are.
But I gotta tell you, I think that there is a large part of our party that quietly in a whispered tone, has had enough.
- You've said that Donald Trump has disqualified himself.
On what grounds has he disqualified himself?
- The first one to me was election night 2020.
When you're the president of the United States and you say the election was stolen when you have no evidence to prove that it was, you are undercutting the very democracy that gave you the privilege and the honor of being president.
And you're doing it under the people's roof.
That's disqualifying to me.
And January 6th.
He sat by watching it on TV and did nothing for hours.
And then finally, the way he's conducted himself in the post-presidency, his conduct with classified documents, and not just having them, because, as we've seen, Joe Biden had some.
Mike Pence had some.
Sometimes classified documents can mistakenly be taken.
I believe that he intentionally kept those documents and obstructed the government from getting them back and returning them to the people, and protecting our national security secrets.
That's a further disqualification for someone to have the authority to possess those secrets and to make those decisions on behalf of our country.
- I just wanna be clear, there's no circumstance under which you'll support Donald Trump for the 2024 nomination or presidency?
- Yeah I've said that before, and I'm happy to affirm that for you.
- So the Republican National Committee has announced the conditions that candidates must meet in order to participate in the primary debates.
And one of them is the commitment to support whoever the nominee is.
- You said you'll take the pledge as seriously as Trump did back in '16.
- You bet I will.
- [Hoover] When he abandoned it.
- Every bit as seriously.
[Hoover laughs] - So you plan to make the pledge.
- Look, I plan to do whatever I have to do to save my party and save my country.
And to do that, I've gotta be on the debate stage.
So they want me to sign a piece of paper?
I'll sign a piece of paper the same way Donald Trump signed it in 2016 and then got on the debate stage and nine of us raised our hands to reaffirm the pledge we had signed, and he refused to.
And no one kicked him off the stage after that.
No one prevented them from being in another debate.
So I'm happy to rest on that precedent.
- You've also criticized your competitors for shying away from being willing to confront Trump in the same way you have.
But since this week, as you have come out strongly against Donald Trump, the rhetoric from some of your competitors has also heated up a bit.
You're starting to see DeSantis use elevated rhetoric about Donald Trump.
You're starting to see Vice President Mike Pence draw a slightly sharper contrast between him and his former boss.
Only slightly sharper, but still.
Do you think there's a chance you are shifting what is permissible in terms of criticizing President Trump?
- I'd characterize it differently.
I'd call it leadership.
And if what that does is inspire the rest of the folks in this race to be better, then I think it shows an example to the American people of what I can do if I get a chance to be president.
I would say though, too, that while you are acknowledging some slight shifts by those folks, it's not nearly enough.
It's not nearly enough given what Donald Trump has done.
And it's not nearly enough for them to win.
There is only one path to winning, and that's beating Donald Trump.
And the only way to beat someone in my experience is to draw the distinctions between you and them directly and honestly.
I welcome any of the other people in this race to follow my lead.
- There have been times in your past, where you have been reticent to fully criticize Donald Trump.
Even when your last book came out, "Republican Rescue," and you were on this program, you were reluctant to say that you wouldn't support him necessarily if you had the nomination in 2024.
What changed for you?
- I always believe, you know, and I think this is part of my religious background.
I'm a Catholic.
I believe in redemption, and I believe people can change.
I've concluded he can't.
- A federal indictment of the former president appears imminent.
Former Vice President Mike Pence was asked about this last night in a CNN town hall.
And Pence answered like this.
Look at this.
- Let me be clear that no one's above the law.
But I would just hope that there would be a way for them to move forward without the dramatic and drastic and divisive step of indicting a former president of the United States - Former Vice President Mike Pence believes they should not indict.
Do you agree?
- No, and worse yet, what Mike seems to be saying there is, "Let's find some other way to deal with this."
What is he talking about?
It is ridiculous, in my view, to say that someone who you believe is guilty of committing a crime shouldn't be charged.
The fact is, he's a private citizen.
And if Jack Smith has evidence that he believes proves the president's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, he has no choice but to bring that case because that's the oath he's taken.
- You're a prosecutor, though.
What is your view of prosecutorial discretion with a former president?
- Well, everyone, you have prosecutorial discretion with everyone.
And you should exercise that discretion.
I think Alvin Bragg should have executed that discretion in Manhattan on a case that was seven years ago that I don't think increases or enhances the safety and security of the people in Manhattan in any way.
This is different because what we're talking about here is the potentially illegal retention and use of classified documents regarding American national security.
That's different than paying 140 grand to a porn star.
So the thing I don't understand about Mike's answer is that if you believe in the rule of law, then you must believe in the rule of law.
Because, remember, these crimes occurred, if they were crimes, after he left office.
he was a private citizen, not the president of the United States.
- I think Vice President Pence was making the case that it will be unnecessarily divisive to prosecute a former president.
Do you agree?
- I understand the argument we need to move on, but he hasn't moved on.
Now if Donald Trump were no longer a candidate for public office, maybe, maybe there might be some difference there.
But he is now seeking the presidency of the United States.
He does not want to move on.
And so if he doesn't wanna move on, I think that's a very thin excuse for asking a prosecutor to move on.
- Look, being indicted by the Manhattan DA did not hurt Trump's standing with Republican primary voter, as his lead has only grown since then.
If there is a federal indictment, how will that impact the race?
- Not sure, but it's significantly different, I think, than the Manhattan issue.
Look, I equate Donald Trump to Bill Clinton in this regard.
[Hoover laughs] - Go on.
- Yeah, well, they're both scoundrels, okay, with women.
We know that about them, and we knew that when we elected them.
And we incorporated that into our judgment of them.
This is different.
This is about how you conduct yourself in the office with the nation's secrets.
So I don't know exactly how it'll affect it, Margaret, but it is markedly different than paying a porn star money to keep quiet that you allegedly had a relationship with.
You know, I think the American people probably believe he did have a relationship with her, in the main, and they don't care, because they said we knew that about Donald Trump going in, and we certainly don't think it's something he should go to jail for.
- You said many things I found very refreshing in your announcement to be president this week in New Hampshire.
And one of the things you said, very few individuals, especially challenging Trump, have mentioned.
You essentially accused the Trump family of stealing from taxpayers.
- The grift from this family is breathtaking.
- You noted the $2 billion that Jared Kushner's new firm secured from a Saudi investment fund six months after he left the White House?
What is your understanding of how Kushner's firm secured that deal?
- I don't have a personal understanding of how they did it, but I'll tell you what I see as the circumstantial evidence.
First of all, let's remember, Donald Trump in a way that's almost unprecedented, hired his daughter and his son-in-law to be government employees in the White House.
First of all, a hugely bad decision in general to hire your family.
But secondly, it's bad because they had absolutely no experience to hold the jobs they had.
Secondly, on Jared Kushner, what was he doing gallivanting all over the Middle East?
We had a Secretary of State in Rex Tillerson.
We had a Secretary of State in Mike Pompeo.
Both of whom extraordinarily well credentialed, experienced men who had traveled the world.
Mike having served in the military as director of the CIA.
Rex as CEO of one of the biggest corporations in the world.
And yet we had the president's son-in-law being authorized by the president to undercut secretaries of state and to be dealing directly, and we know he dealt directly, with the leader of Saudi Arabia.
And then we're supposed to expect that it's just coincidence that Jared Kushner gets $2 billion six months after he leaves office from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.
Is it because of his great investing acumen?
I mean, he is the guy who bought 666 Fifth Avenue, which was a monumental loser for his own family.
So I don't know what motivated the Saudis.
I'd have to investigate it to find the evidence to do it.
But what I will tell you is that the idea of having a president's family in the White House exercising authority like that and then finding that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is something that should really worry people about returning that family to the Oval Office.
And let me say this, Margaret, this very well could apply to the President Biden as well.
There is beginning a growing evidence that Hunter Biden, Jim Biden, other members of the Biden family have used then Vice President Biden's influence to make money from the private sector.
And I hope that those issues are brought forward, too.
Because if we're gonna have a justice system that truly respects the rule of law, if Hunter Biden committed those crimes, and any other member of the Biden family traded on Joe Biden's position as vice president, that's just as big a grift as what the Trumps were doing as well.
- I just wanna be really clear.
Is it then straight corruption to trade on the office of the presidency for your own pocketbook if you're a member of the president's family?
- Yes, of course it is.
[Christie laughs] Even, even if it's not illegal, it's not right.
But particularly wrong in the situation with Donald Trump, where he gave them government jobs where they had not apparent influence, which is what Hunter Biden had, but they had actual influence in jobs where they could access the levers of power.
Hunter Biden's influence was a parent influence and it looks like he exercised it fairly frequently.
Both are bad.
- Should family members of presidents be allowed to work in the White House?
[Christie laughs] - You've been really clear about what you view Donald Trump's role and responsibility in the January 6th Capitol attacks was.
Michael Fanone, one of the Capitol police officers who was injured on that day, suffered a heart attack, later testified in front of the January 6th committee, has said, I'm paraphrasing it, that we have seen what Trump is willing to do and if he does returned to office, there's nothing that will keep him from doing it again.
What do you think the consequences of a second Trump term could be?
- It doesn't matter what I think, Margaret.
Let's just listen to what he said.
He said, "I will be your retribution."
- So what do you think that would look like in a second term?
- I think he would take retribution against anyone who he believes wronged him.
- Who could... - Not wronged America.
Who could it be?
It could be anybody.
It could be anybody who said that they think the election wasn't stolen.
It could be those who he thinks pursued prosecutions against him, whether they were justified or not.
Could be anything.
But here's what we know it won't be.
It won't be to try to uplift the American people.
It won't be to try to make the country stronger and better.
It won't be about anyone other than Donald Trump because it's never about anyone other than Donald Trump.
- Do you think a second Trump term would be dangerous for the American experiment?
- I don't think he should be president again and that's why I'm running.
- In your town hall earlier this week, you talked about some of your shortcomings and your failings and what you've learned from them.
You talked explicitly about the controversy called Bridgegate and what you learned from it.
You said one of the things you learned is that you had trusted the wrong characters.
Characters without character.
You had previously been friends with Donald Trump.
How should the American people judge that you have learned how to judge character?
- Watch me and listen to me.
I mean, look, and I wanna be clear about the Bridgegate folks.
I didn't exactly say they were characters without character.
- I said that.
What I said was that I put them in positions of trust that they wound up not deserving and that they made mistakes that I ultimately had to be accountable for.
And it was my mistake having put people in that position that would think for a moment that any of the stuff they participated in was okay.
And on Donald Trump.
I mean, look, at the end of the day, I've explained over and over why I supported him in 2016.
And I've acknowledged that my hope that I could make him a better candidate and a better president was wrong.
But I think what people should judge about me is, do you think it's a strength or a weakness to admit when you've made a mistake?
I believe that leadership shows its strength not only in moments where they're right but in moments when they make an honest mistake and they admit it.
And so I'm always gonna admit when I've made mistakes I did that during my governorship, and I'll reaffirm that now.
If you're looking for the perfect candidate, I am not the perfect candidate.
But if you want a perfect candidate, all you're gonna get is somebody who's lying to you about being perfect 'cause none of us are perfect.
- Is one of your imperfections the inability to judge who is trustworthy?
I picked thousands of people to work for me when I was governor.
And there were three that disappointed me.
I'll take that track record.
- And Donald Trump.
- Well, I didn't pick him to work for me.
[Hoover laughs] - [Hoover] You went to work for him?
- Kind of.
But you know what?
It wasn't that I misjudged his character.
It was that I was hopeful I could make him better.
And I wound up failing in that way.
And he wound up failing me and failing the country.
- This week, religious broadcaster and presidential candidate on the Republican side, Pat Robertson passed away at the age of 93.
In 1987, he appeared on the original "Firing Line" with William F. Buckly Jr. And this is what he said then.
Take a look.
- One possible result of your candidacy is that it might move the Republican Party further to the right, out of the mainstream of American politics.
- 50 to 60 percent of my audience have been Democrats.
And I'm switching Democrats to the Republican Party by the thousands.
[audience applauding] Well, I'm a Democrat who turned Republican because I just couldn't buy the platform they put together out in San Francisco in '84.
That's my goal, [audience applauding] to broaden the party, not to shrink it.
- Pat Robertson left a lasting imprint on the Republican coalition.
How do you see that legacy?
- I see it as predominantly good.
I think he was right with what he said in that clip.
I think he was trying to broaden the party.
And I think if we as Republicans aren't willing to accept former Democrats who listen to us and say, you know what?
I agree with them more.
Or listen to their own party and say, I can't be here anymore, then we're going to, never going to expand our party to where it needs to be.
- Smoke from hundreds of wildfires throughout Canada has descended on the northeast of the United States this week.
Do you think climate change is an existential threat and how will you prioritize it if you are president?
- I think the only way that we're gonna deal with climate change is to engage the whole world in trying to change climate change, in trying to change the climate.
And I think the next president, if you care deeply about this issue, which people should.
It is the future of our planet.
We need to engage with China on getting them to join in trying to make the climate cleaner, and saying America will lead with you, but not without you.
And I would say one thing, since you brought this up, that if we're gonna solve this problem, nuclear energy has to be a part of the solution.
- Chris Christie, thank you for joining me on "Firing Line."
We're gonna be following closely.
- Thank you, Margaret, for having me.
[energetic piano music] - [Announcer] "Firing Line" with Margaret Hoover is made possible in part by Robert Granieri, Charles R. Schwab, The Fairweather Foundation, The Tepper Foundation, The Margaret and Daniel Loeb Foundation, The Asness Family Foundation, Jeffrey and Lisa Bewkes, The Beth and Ravenel Curry Foundation, Peter and Mary Kalikow.
And by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Damon Button, The Center for the Study of the International Economy Inc, The Pritzker Military Foundation on behalf of the Pritzker Military Museum and Library and the Mark Haas Foundation.
Corporate funding is provided by Stephens Inc. [energetic electronic music] [calming piano music] - [Announcer] You're watching PBS.