Politics

Christie Takes the JV Debate

Urges fellow candidates to stay focused on real foe — Hillary Clinton

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dominated Tuesday’s undercard Republican presidential debate, deflecting attacks by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and turning each brickbat into an opportunity to bash Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — who had complained about his lack of speaking time during previous debates when he was the main stage — and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum were afterthoughts for much of the Fox Business Channel debate broadcast from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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Jindal clearly entered the debate with a strategy of taking out Christie, who was on the junior varsity stage for the first time after he failed to make the cut for the prime-time affair.

“I’ll give you a ribbon for participation — and a juice box,” Jindal told Christie at one point. “But in the real world, it’s about results. It’s about actually cutting government spending, not just talking about cutting government spending.”

Christie steadfastly refused to take the bait. He parried each criticism into an attack on Clinton — drawing applause whenever he did.

After Jindal trained his fire on Huckabee, accusing him of presiding over increases in taxes, spending and government payroll as Arkansas governor, Christie pounced — on Hillary.

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If people are concerned about Huckabee or Jindal, Christie said, “Wait till you see what Hillary Clinton will do to drown this country in debt. She is the real adversary. … Don’t worry about Huckabee or Jindal. Worry about her.”

Christie said New Jersey government spending has declined except for health spending, which he blamed on Obamacare, and pensions. For the most part, though, he appeared uninterested in engaging Jindal.

“They’ll call me lots of different things” in New Jersey, Christie said. “A liberal is not one of them.”

“They’ll call me lots of different things” in New Jersey, Christie said. “A liberal is not one of them.”

Christie said Clinton would “completely nationalize the health care system” if given the chance. He said he was appalled when Clinton said during the Democratic presidential debate that Republicans were her enemy and accused President Obama of failing to support police officers.

Christie said small differences among the various proposals of the Republican candidates should not be what decides the primary contest.

“We need somebody who knows how to beat Democrats,” he said.

The hour-long confrontation revealed agreement on a number of issues. All four candidates said the Federal Reserve Board has artificially kept interest rates low.

On taxes, Huckabee pitched his “fair tax” plan that would replace income and investment taxes with a national consumption tax. Santorum offered his 20-percent flat tax that would apply equally to earned income and investments. Jindal argued for a minimum tax rate of 2 percent because everyone should pay something. Christie’s plan includes a bottom rate of 8 percent and top rate of 28 percent.

Asked about how the United States should respond to an economy that is more service-based, Huckabee rejected the premise.

“I don’t know why we have to move aways from manufacturing,” he said.

Huckabee defended his view that it is wrong for the federal government to reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits. On veterans’ health, he asked, “What would happen if the president and Congress had to get their health care from the VA?”

Santorum emphasized his blue-collar roots.

“The middle of America is hollowing out.” he said. “All you have to do is listen to the last Democratic debate. You’d think there was a Republican president the way they’ve were complaining.”

All four candidates declined a request to name a Democrat they admire. But Santorum said the GOP should borrow from the other party’s playbook.

“You know why I respect them?” he said. “Because they fight.”

But GOP pollster Frank Luntz summed up the outcome in a tweet: “Looks like @ChrisChristie is doing what Carly Fiorina did so well:  Save the attacks for the other party, not your own. … The opponent isn’t each other. The opponent is Hillary Clinton.”

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