Recapping the GOP Debate Ahead of the New Hampshire Primary

Tomorrow may be the most significant day in Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential bid. New Hampshire primary voters could decide whether Christie’s campaign has a good night and lives to see another primary or says goodbye to its presidential bid. The Republican candidates have held eight debates with Christie turning up the heat on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. On Saturday night, the governor brought the fire in a display of debate skills that has pundits debating the impact on the race. NJTV News Correspondents David Cruz and Michael Hill discussed the debate.

Hill: David, what did you make of this? Is this going to be an opportunity for a bounce for Chris Christie?

Cruz: Well I will say Michael, I’m sure you remember this, Ronald Reagan saying to Jimmy Carter, “There you go again.” Or Lloyd Bentsen in a vice presidential debate telling Dan Quayle, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” It was sort of like that. I think it’s worth watching it again and showing it to folks who maybe haven’t seen it yet because for debate nerds, it was like a thing of beauty. It started with a question to Christie about leadership or experience and the White House. And so Christie went into his standard attack of Marco Rubio and Marco Rubio came back and talked about New Jersey’s downgrades, which is a valid point that Christie can be injured on, but then he pivoted to his usual let’s dispel this notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And that was all Chris Christie needed.

“You see everybody, I want the people at home to think about this. That’s what Washington, D.C. does. The drive-by shot at the beginning, with incorrect and incomplete information. And then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisors gave him. See, Marco, the thing is this. When you’re president of the United States, when you’re a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end of it doesn’t solve one problem for one person. They expect you to plow the snow, they expect you to get the schools open. And when the worst natural disaster in your state’s history hits you, they expect you to rebuild their state, which is what I’ve done. None of that stuff happens on the floor of the United States Senate. It’s a fine job. I’m glad you ran for it. But it does not prepare you for president of the United States.” –Christie

“Chris, your state got hit by a massive snowstorm two weeks ago. You didn’t even want to go back. They had to shame you into going back. And then you stayed there for 36 hours, and then he left and came back to campaign. Those are the facts. Here’s the bottom line — this notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not true.” –Rubio

“There it is — the memorized 25-second speech. There it is everybody.” –Christie

“Well that’s the reason why this campaign is so important. Because I think this notion, I think this is an important point. We have to understand what we’re going through here. We are not facing a president that doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows what he is doing.” –Rubio

Cruz: You hear there also something that’s really a Christie trademark. He’s had so many press conferences where he’s held them in public, so he uses that opportunity to get the audience behind him and against the individual that’s asking the question, in this case, in this debate. And it really worked for him because you hear the audience turning against Rubio right there.

Hill: Now that’s the audience, David. What about the impact overall, especially in New Hampshire where so many people are undecided?

Cruz: Yeah, well you know Christie needed to stand out and draw some blood. And he really took an opportunity to do that. Christie has, you know, he was all over the Sunday morning talk shows.

Hill: And in the newspapers too.

Cruz: Yeah, totally. And even this morning, he was on “Morning Joe” and took another bunch of free swings at Marco Rubio.

“I mean, you did something the other night that will be remembered I think as long as, you know, ‘I know Jack Kennedy. You’re no Jack Kennedy’ or Ronald Reagan saying, ‘There you go again’ when you said, ‘There it is.’ Was that something that was planned or did he walk into that by repeating it the fourth time?” –Joe Scarborough

“No, it wasn’t planned. But certainly, that’s who he is. And so to the extent…” –Christie

“What do you mean that’s who he is?” –Scarborough

“Well, what I mean is that’s what he does all the time. I mean, Marco, he gets told what to say and he repeats it.” –Christie

Cruz: Asked if Rubio should have been ready for this attack, Christie quoted, of all people, Mike Tyson who said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. And Rubio certainly took a punch in the face this weekend.

Hill: Now, David, you had been to New Hampshire four or five times for reporting on this primary race. I talked to a guy who’s a firefighter from New Hampshire last week and he just said at some point we’re tired of this, we just want candidates to go home. But are all these people who are showing up at these different rallies for the governor in these town halls, are they political tourists? Are they New Hampshirites? Who are these people?

Cruz: There is a phenomenon of political tourists. Not everybody can be drawing these great crowds. And I know while we were there as recently as two weeks ago, about 30, 40 percent of the people were from out of town, out of state.

Hill: So that’s interesting.