Declaring that he “is running for president, not a surrogate for prom king” of the United States, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie launched his long-awaited campaign for the White House June 30 at his alma mater, Livingston High School.
Among his Jewish supporters in the audience was State Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Dist. 21).
“I am 100 percent behind Chris Christie,” he told NJ Jewish News as he waited for the governor’s arrival. “He is a very charismatic, no-nonsense leader, and I think that’s good for New Jersey and good for America.”
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of the Conservative Temple Emanu-El in Closter, a member of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, said, “Because of Christie’s support for Israel and the way he is as a governor, I couldn’t be more proud to live in New Jersey.”
Rabbi Yosef Carlebach of the Chabad House at Rutgers University in New Brunswick said he was unconcerned that many Jewish voters disagree with Christie on such social issues as gay rights and abortion.
“I think the governor’s support of Israel and his friendship with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu means a lot, and a lot of people are going to take that into consideration. He has proven himself a friend on many issues and he thinks out of the box.”
Robert Yudin, a Wyckoff resident who chairs the Bergen County Republican Committee, said, “We need a presidential candidate who has the ability to defeat Hillary Clinton. Of all the Republicans who are running, Christie has the best chance of beating her. If we nominate an ideologue, we will lose; we will get our heads handed to us.”
Acknowledging that a majority of Jewish voters support Democrats, Yudin said he is “very, very concerned about the direction of the Democratic Party relative to Israel.”
Citing poll numbers, he said, “The scary thing was that over 60 percent of the people polled who ID’ed themselves as Democrats did not support Israel’s right to defend itself in Gaza.” According to a July 2014 CNN poll, 45 percent of Democrats said that Israel’s military actions in Gaza were justified, compared to 56 percent among independents and 73 percent among Republicans.
“They felt Israel was wrong,” Yudin said of the Democrats. “That scares me, and it tells me that while the leadership in the Democratic Party supports Israel, their base does not. The Jewish community which is voting Democratic automatically better get wise.”
But some Republican Jewish voters in New Jersey are not backing their governor.
“Christie is not a significant candidate,” said Alan Steinberg of West Orange, a supporter of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, in a phone interview. “He has very little chance. His record is largely indefensible. The scandals — even if he is not found personally involved — reflect upon the kind of people he appointed and he created the supporting climate for that kind of reprisal.”
‘Tired of weakness’
Christie touched on foreign affairs in his announcement, drawing cheers when he said, “America is tired of weakness and hand-wringing in the Oval Office. We need to have strength and authority and decision-making back in the Oval Office, and that’s why today I am proud to announce my candidacy for the Republican nomination.”
He suggested that “President Obama lives in his own world and not in our world. After seven years of a weak and feckless foreign policy run by Barack Obama, we better not turn it over to his second mate, Hillary Clinton. If we are going to lead, we have to stop worrying about being loved and start caring about being respected again.”
Christie has been critical of Obama’s handling of relations with Israel and nuclear negotiations with Iran. Speaking May 28 at the Champions of Jewish Values Awards Gala, Christie said the “Middle East is on fire and what Obama needs to do is stand up and say to the world that America will not stand for it.”
Chiding the president at the same event, Christie said, “It seems at times this president is unwilling to stand up to anyone in the world except Prime Minister Netanyahu, who actually happens to be our friend.”
Christie has advocated for charter schools, vouchers, and other forms of “school choice,” an issue that appeals to Orthodox Jews and other parents of children in private schools.
In 2013, he signed a law imposing new sanctions against Iran that prohibit public contracts with any company or person that invests in Iran’s energy and finance sectors.
In 2012, Christie met with Netanyahu and then Israeli President Shimon Peres during a five-day visit to the Jewish state meant in part to buff his foreign policy credentials.
On June 28, the Democratic National Committee posted a critique of Christie that suggested his weaknesses among Jews and other groups that tend to vote Democratic. It cited his low approval ratings, his inaction on immigration reform, and his calls to “gut” Obamacare and education funding.
The post also referred to “an epic and dangerous traffic jam on the busiest bridge in the world,” referring to the indictments of the governor’s aides who allegedly closed lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 as political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie. Christie said he had no knowledge of the planning or execution of the lane closings until well afterward.
Bramnick said he was undisturbed by the bridge scandal.
“If every candidate around who ran for office was held 100 percent responsible for anyone in their administration who did anything, no one would be able to run for president,” Bramnick said.
Asked about the bridge scandal, Kirshner said, “I don’t think there is any politician who hasn’t had some skeleton in the closet. I think that the real test of time is how we overcome those skeletons.”