New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talks often of his response to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated his state days before the 2012 Election. But on Wednesday, he told a less-frequently discussed story—at least by him—his appearance with President Obama just days before Mitt Romney’s loss.
“The old, ‘nobody-ever-saw-it-because-it-didn’t-happen hug,’” Christie said at a town hall at the Milford Fire Department. “You hear about this all the time, so let’s talk about it.”
It was an unusual effort by Christie to volunteer a story that to at least some Republicans is deeply unsettling, blaming him for providing Obama with a bipartisan bump. Among Republican primary voters, the supposed hug has always been a far greater vulnerability for Christie than the closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge by his former aides.
“You have to put your people first,” Christie said midway through a 10-minute answer on federal and state disaster response, pivoting his answer on Sandy toward the still sore wound.
“I traveled to 26 states for Mitt Romney between Oct. 2011 and Oct. 2012,” he offered. “I think other than Paul Ryan, there wasn’t another elected official who worked harder for Mitt Romney or went to more places.”
Christie said he called Romney a few days before the storm hit to update him on the situation because he was supposed to spend the final days of the campaign stumping for Romney.
“He said, ‘You don’t worry about me again, I’ll finish the campaign and you do what you need to do at home,’” Christie said. “I did, and what I did was put my people first every day and I put politics aside. And that hurt, because man I invested a lot in that campaign. But what he knew was that in those last eight days, my job was to be there for my people and doing my job.”
Moving on to Obama, Christie acknowledged that the supposed hug featured prominently in an attack ad aired by Conservative Solutions PAC, the super PAC backing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
“A hug with the president,” Christie said. Yeah, no, I’ve got to tell you, I can’t disappoint you all enough, I didn’t hug him. And as you all have learned in New Hampshire, I hug everybody. So it was a disappointment probably for him that I didn’t hug him.”
Christie acknowledged that he had shook Obama’s hand. “When he got off Air Force One, I did shake his hand, which I’ll tell you what, civilized human beings do with other civilized human beings,” he said.
In the days following the election, aides to Mitt Romney, particularly those in his inner orbit, griped about Christie’s appearance with Obama, but as time faded and emotions have cooled, many have come around. “I was one of those people who was upset at the time,” said Spencer Zwick, Romney’s top fundraiser who was in attendance as Christie retold the story Wednesday night. “But looking back, [Christie] is right, it was the right thing to do.”
“The only person who never asked me for an apology or an explanation ever? Mitt Romney,” Christie continued. “You know why, because he was a governor and he’s a man of accomplishment. And he knows that he would have done the exact same thing in the exact same position.”
Christie, who is trailing in New Hampshire but hoping for a rebound, said he added the story unprompted so that voters will know what type of president he will be. “I will put the interest, the fate, the safety of my people every day ahead of politics. Every day,” he said, drawing applause.