After Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie were moved down to the “Undercard” debate following low national polling numbers, and George Pataki and Lindsey Graham were formally uninvited from the debates altogether following even lower numbers, the remaining four candidates on stage sought to claw their way out of the unfavorable venue and back to the main stage for the next debate. Aside from Carly Fiorina, no candidate yet has moved from the “undercard” debates up to the “prime time” event, so the four candidates on stage, Chris Christie first among them, vied for their shot at unlikely political redemption.
Christie’s strategy — essentially ignoring his opponents and attacking Hillary Clinton — seemed to work well, highlighting his status as a big fish in a small pond. If you missed the undercard debate, we’ve collected a few of our favorite moments below:
Chris Christie on Hillary Clinton
Christie’s statements on spending and entitlement reform highlight the key aspect of his debate performance: acting like he didn’t belong on the undercard stage at all. Despite his slipping poll numbers, Christie gunned after Hillary Clinton, framing his candidacy as the only one reasonably able to defeat her nationwide (Christie is governor of a blue/purple state, New Jersey). One statement sums it up: “Don’t worry about Huckabee or Jindal, worry about her.”
Christie on Police
Responding to a question about which Democratic politicians he respected, Christie spoke on the “lawlessness” that Democrats were encouraging by not supporting the police. Chris Christie started his career in politics as a prosecutor, and he was especially active in anti-terrorism cases in the days after 9/11. He’s used his past to appeal to those in all sorts of uniforms – the military, usually, and the police. Citing the Black Lives Matter movement, which some on the right have accused of disrespecting police officers’ safety, Christie promised he would be a president for law enforcement, reminding “all 700,000 of them,” that a president Christie would have their backs.
Santorum on Infrastructure and the Democrats
Taking his time to answer two questions — one about infrastructure which passed him by earlier in the debate, and another (unanswered by the other candidates) about which Democrats he admires, Rick Santorum sold his policy experience and expertise as a former Senator and dropped perhaps the loudest moment of the night. Apparently, Democrats “Fight!”
Jindal Attacks Christie on Conservativism
Perhaps sensing the dynamic of the debate — that Chris Christie was dominating the stage, mainly by ignoring him — Bobby Jindal attacked Chris Christie from the left, attacking Christie’s ballooning budget in New Jersey, its credit downgrades, and Christie’s difficulty standing up to the Democrats in his state legislature. Christie responded by avoiding the attack entirely and defining his record on his own terms, but the volleys continued. There wasn’t actually much substance in the exchange, save the squealing sound of Bobby Jindal’s presidential hopes deflating to their fullest extent.