New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did something at the GOP debate on Tuesday night that no other candidate had done before: he targeted Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in nearly every single answer.
Christie spoke ten times, and addressed Hillary Clinton in ten of his twelve responses (or rebuttals). Other candidates grew frustrated, and tried to draw him into internecine debates. But Christie kept his eyes firmly on his target.
Over and over again, Christie marked Hillary Clinton as the continuation of Barack Obama’s policies. For example, in answering a question about interest rates, he concluded:
Be very aware now, because what Hillary Clinton is talking about doing if she’s President of the United States, is to make sure that the government gets even more involved in the economy, even more in: volved in making choices for everybody. You do not want that to happen. You need someone who’s going to stand up on that stage and prosecute the case against her and prosecute it strong–that’s what I’ll do.
(The emphasis on the verb “prosecute” was also, no doubt, deliberate–a reference to Christie’s past as a federal prosecutor, and to Hillary Clinton’s mounting legal troubles regarding her private email server.)
Christie had been relegated to the undercard debate after the Fox Business Network narrowed the top-tier debate to eight candidates instead of ten. While the other three candidates focused on attacking each other, however, Christie focused on Hillary Clinton.
The tactic marked a shift for Christie, who spent much of the first Republican presidential debate tangling with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) over national security policy. The only candidate to put a spotlight on Clinton had been former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who did so in her first two debates.
Since then, however, Republicans had been focused on frontrunner Donald Trump, and on pushing back against hostile, liberal debate moderators.
On Tuesday, however, Christie took every opportunity to pivot to Hillary Clinton. At one point, when Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana tried to focus on Christie’s economic policies, Christie emphasized that the differences among the Republican candidates on economic policy were less important than the differences with the increasingly socialist Democrats. And, Christie added: “The fact is, we need someone who knows how to debate Democrats.”
Christie’s record of winning in a blue state is part of what endeared him to the Republican establishment–and, at times, drew criticism from the conservative media. But his focus on Hillary Clinton will likely be praised by those conservatives who have lamented Republicans’ lack of attention to Clinton and Democrats generally.
Christie deviated from his attacks on Hillary Clinton twice, after going 7-for-7 in his first answers. The first time was to attack the Obama administration generally on law enforcement–a strong theme for Christie in the last Republican debate, and a topic very much in the headlines with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and student protest at universities across the nation causing panic among administrators.
The second time was in his answer on taxes, where he stuck to his explanation of his tax policy, staying strictly inside the boundaries of the question.