Asserting that “character is the first and most important consideration” when choosing a president, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told a packed Loew Auditorium on Thursday that, in an era of seemingly intractable problems, it was time to “dispense with TV tough guys” who did not know which questions to ask, much less the solutions to propose.
The Republican presidential candidate was at Dartmouth as part of the Path to the Presidency speaker series, which is co-sponsored by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences and the Dartmouth Political Union and has brought a number of candidates to campus this fall.
The event, which took place in the Loew Auditorium in the Black Family Visual Arts Center, attracted a near-capacity crowd of 200 people, the majority of them students, and was also watched by more than 1,000 people online. The evening was moderated by Anna Mahoney, the executive director of the Rockefeller Center.
Christie addressed a sweeping set of concerns: the national deficit of more than $33 trillion; climate change and a domestic energy policy; the role of the U.S. in a world where countries such as Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are jostling for military and economic dominance; whether the ages of both President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump should be a consideration when voting; and the role that the New Hampshire primary plays in national politics.
Christie pointed out that there are always events that cannot be predicted, noting that when Al Gore and George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, no one talked about the possibility of a catastrophic attack on the U.S.
In 2016, COVID-19 was nowhere on the radar; and on October 6 of this year, the possibility of a large-scale terrorist attack on Israel the next day by Hamas militants was not seriously anticipated.
“In times like this we need people who have character to address the really difficult problems here and in the world,” Christie said.
Trump was a running theme during Christie’s talk. Trump’s term “led to more deaths and more damage to our society than there needed to be. He cared more about his re-election,” Christie said.
A year ago, if Christie had been asked whether he would run, he would have said no, he said. But in light of Trump’s frontrunner status atop of the Republican polls, and the reluctance of many of the Republican candidates to publicly criticize the Trump record, Christie said he could not envision a national campaign “in which no one took him on.”
“It’s like this guy is Voldemort. They feared even saying his name,” Christie quipped, alluding to the menacing antagonist in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
As he looked out over the auditorium, he said he worried about this generation of young people, and the enormous challenges facing them. “It is an extraordinarily dangerous time in the world,” he said, referring to the wars between Ukraine and Russia, and Israel and Hamas. The latter is going to be “very, very difficult to resolve,” he added.
Both Ukraine and Israel are friends to the U.S., which supports both nations with military assistance. “We need to stand with them,” Christie said.
Mahoney asked Christie about New Hampshire’s role in presidential politics and whether it should still be first in the presidential primary calendar. “Pander alert,” Christie joked, likening the New Hampshire electorate to wine tasters carefully evaluating a parade of candidates in an “open and available process.” He criticized Biden for wanting to shift the order of the state primaries to put South Carolina first.
Christie spoke at length about the right to freedom of speech in the climate of protests currently roiling American university and college campuses, noting that this generation of college students are under tremendous scrutiny for how they are responding to the Israel-Hamas war.
“Free speech is conditioned on respect,” he said. “Free speech is not free if you have to worry about participating in public discourse. What do you want (people) to see and what do you want them to hear? Everyone is watching you now and everyone is listening.”
Christie called for “disagreement that’s respectful and smart and informed.”
After his speech, John del Puerto ’27 said he welcomed the chance to listen to Christie, and other candidates. “I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed his speech.”
Alexander Barrow ’27, a registered Republican who favors former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, said he found Christie “articulate and funnier than expected.” He liked Christie’s energy policy ideas on using America’s abundant resources of natural gas, balanced with nuclear power, and solar and wind power. Christie was the third presidential candidate Barrow has seen in person on campus.
“I didn’t have a strong opinion on Christie,” before attending the Loew Auditorium event, said Erin Karas ’27. A moderate, she said she doesn’t know yet which candidate she will support. But she is looking at all of them, she said, as she will be voting in her first presidential election in 2024.