Chris Christie Proves Just How Stupid the Sunday Shows Are

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 11 2013 8:29 AM

Chris Christie Proves Just How Stupid the Sunday Shows Are

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David Gregory and his counterparts at ABC and CBS should be asking themselves some questions.

Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for NBCUniversal

In October 2006, a little further along in that presidential election cycle than we are now in ours, freshman Sen. Barack Obama appeared on Meet the Press to hawk his new book. The subtext: Obama might run for president. But Tim Russert didn't lead off with a question about that.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"Let me start with Iraq, because you write about it in your book and you’ve been talking about it on the campaign a little bit," said Russert. "This is what you told New Yorker magazine: 'There’s an old saying in politics: when your opponent’s in trouble, just get out of the way ... in political terms, I don’t think that Democrats are obligated to solve Iraq for the Administration.' Is there an obligation in nonpolitical terms?"

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As the interview went on, Russert picked quotes and numbers from Obama's book and threw them right back at the senator. Did he want to intervene in Darfur? Which government programs did he think weren't "working as advertised"? Why did he vote against John Roberts' confirmation?

None of this made news at the time, because by the end Russert asked whether it was "fair" to say Obama was considering a bid for president, and four months later Obama was running. But it was a model interview, one that got a slippery candidate to search for answers on a ton of policy questions by digging through his record and his own quotes.

I bring this up just to emphasize how laughable Sunday's rounds of interviews with Chris Christie went. If the governor of New Jersey came away thinking that the Beltway media would be easier to conquer than the media in New Jersey, he could be excused—no one even tried to lay a glove on him. Here, to start, are all the questions David Gregory asked him on Meet the Press.

Unless you want to announce on the show this morning, and I suspect you don't, let me ask this question, which is how do you think, even as governor of New Jersey, that you can effect, that you can impact the Republican Party with this re-election?
Mitt Romney told me here last week that you could save the Republican Party. Does it need saving? And are you the guy to save it?
In New Jersey, according to the exit poll there, shows that you would trail Hillary Clinton even in your own state. Do you view that and say that she is formidable, that you'd be an underdog if it were to come to that?
Here's the question. Are you a moderate or are you a conservative? This is how our blog First Read described some of that criticism already coming from the likes of Rand Paul or Marco Rubio. 
The Wall Street Journal, about your economic record, concluded this is an editorial Wednesday as the biggest area of disappointment, failing to improve the state's economy. The state jobless rate is still 8.5 percent, among the 10 highest in the country. 
Do you think Obamacare is doomed? Do you think the Republican Party has an obligation to make it work at this point?

Marvel at the uselessness of these questions. Why is the Wall Street Journal cited as the authority on New Jersey economic numbers—why aren't the numbers enough? Why is the NBC News politics blog cited at all, and why is the only question about Medicaid one about how conservatives will attack Christie for expanding it? Oh, it's too depressing—on to This Week. It starts with George Stephanopoulos asking Christie about the interview the show just aired with John Kerry—"What would you need to see from Iran in order to support relieving sanctions?" When Christie whiffs and insists that "there are people who are significantly better briefed on this than I am as the governor of New Jersey," the host moves on.

When Rand Paul was asked if you're the man to beat in 2016, he called you a moderate. ... He said that it's a tough road for you, is he right? So is he right? Can you play in places like Iowa and South Carolina?
You also said that undocumented students in New Jersey should get in-state tuition rates. Do you think other states should adopt that policy as well?
Do you think that national solution [on immigration] should include both a path to citizenship and that relief on in-state college tuition?
There's also been a lot of questions about the president's health care plan. You called on him to apologize this week. He seemed to take your advice, a couple of days later he did apologize for people who were getting their health plans canceled.
You didn't set up an exchange, but you did accept the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. And some, again, of your potential rivals like Ted Cruz are going to come after you on that. What's your answer?
A possible run for president brings a whole 'nother level of scrutiny, are you prepared for that?
You saw that Time magazine cover this week. We're going to show it right there. "The elephant in the room." Did that bother you at all or did you think it was clever?

The only attempt to bring Christie to earth on policy occurs in the immigration round—yet Stephanopoulos never gets the governor off his talking points about how the federal system is broken. Stephanopoulos lets Christie say that "anyone who's ever run anything" knew that healthcare.gov would fail, and "that's why" the state of New Jersey doesn't have its own exchange. Does the host come back with a question about how Kentucky—Kentucky!—has been able to set up an exchange with few problems? No. He gets back to the well-chewed cud of "what conservatives say" about the governor.

OK. On to Face the Nation, which began again with more Christie fuddle-duddle about how he's merely the governor of New Jersey and has no opinion about negotiations with Iran. Host Norah O'Donnell moved right on.

You won 66 percent of independents, 51 percent of Hispanic voters. ... Is there a lesson there for the rest of the Republican Party?
Do you believe the Republican Party, Congress, needs to pass an immigration bill in the next 14 months in order to appeal to Hispanic voters?
A lot of Republicans tell me you are already laying the groundwork for a run for president in 2016? What does Mary Pat say about this?
What major policy and political goals do you have for the next year?
[On Obamacare and Obama] This week he apologized to the American people. Do you think that's enough?
You were the one who suggested to President Obama that he do an interview and say, I'm sorry?

This might be the worst interview of the three, although at least O'Donnell didn't toss a softball about Double Down. (Christie lights up like a Christmas tree on fire when he gets to make fun of that book's claims and its readers.) Christie closes, again, by explaining that he was foresighted in his opposition to a state-based exchanged: "I was not going to get the people of New Jersey involved in this train wreck." Does O'Donnell point out that this means, functionally, that the people of New Jersey are locked into the healthcare.gov system? Nope. Does she ask how Christie will achieve his policy goals when his Republicans gained exactly none of the state Senate seats Christie campaigned for, leaving him with another Democratic legislature? Nope. In not one of the interviews did Christie get a potentially irritating, but fact-based, question about whether his lack of coattails said anything about the limits of his appeal or strategy. He got no questions, really, that he's never had to answer before—not on the Voting Rights Act, not on the gay rights bill moving through Congress, not on the minimum wage ballot measure that passed in New Jersey on the same day he was elected, nada, nothing.

What have we learned? That so far Chris Christie's able to run circles around the dazzled reporters who don't know how to interview him. And that we really, really needed Tim Russert.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.