Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Interview With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; Copycat Allegations Against Rand Paul; Toronto Mayor Admits to Smoking Crack Cocaine

Aired November 05, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey.

With all due respect to Bruce Springsteen, today is about a different boss here in New Jersey.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The politics lead, election 2013. What happens today could change the political landscape in hundreds of cities, New York, Boston, Detroit and many more, all electing new mayors. And we are closely watching two gubernatorial races, one in Virginia that could be a weather vane for political winds and the other in New Jersey, here, which could be the crucible for a 2016 White House run by Governor Chris Christie, who is looking to cruise to reelection, according to polls.

I will board the campaign bus to spend the day with Christie, sitting down with him for an exclusive behind-the-scenes interview about everything from Obamacare to problems plaguing his party to his recent weight loss.

And one of Christie's potential Republican rivals in 2016, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, once again accused of not keeping his eyes on his own paper, making changes in his office after multiple plagiarism allegations, if it will get people to leave him the hell alone, he says, in his words.

Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey, on this Election Day 2013. I'm here getting exclusive behind the scenes access to Governor Chris Christie and his campaign. We will begin with the politics lead.

Sure, we may not be picking a president today or filling any Senate seats, but all eyes are on the two gubernatorial races that take place after presidential elections and before the midterms which could cast the tea leaves for both 2014 and 2016.

One is in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where polls show that voters believe they're choosing between the lesser of two evils. Clinton- friendly Democrat Terry McAuliffe has held a small but consistent lead over Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general. Both men are viewed unfavorably in the most recent Quinnipiac poll.

That other closely watched gubernatorial race, of course, is right here in the Garden State, New Jersey. The Republican incumbent Governor Chris Christie is taking on, quick, can you name Governor Chris Christie's Democratic opponent? It's state Senator Barbara Buono. And we phrase it that way not to knock her, but merely as a reflection of the current polls and the fact that national Democrats haven't exactly been bending over backwards to give her a hand.

Christie is leading Buono by nearly 30 percent in the Quinnipiac poll that just came out yesterday. The governor is a Republican in a decidedly blue state. President Obama won here last year by 18 points. A landslide tonight could allow him to appeal to his party and say I can do the same thing at the national level if I run for president, and appeal to Democrats and he's made no secret that a run for the Oval Office is a possibility.

But first things first. Earlier, I boarded Christie's bus to spend the day getting exclusive behind-the-scenes access to his reelection campaign for governor.


TAPPER (voice-over): It's morning in Mendham, New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie's hometown. And it's decision day across the Garden State. The governor, expected to handily win another term here, says he knows most voters have already made up their minds about him.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Vote for me, please. There's really nothing else to say. If after four years of me, they don't know me, then they haven't been paying attention.

TAPPER: We spent the day with the governor as he shook a few final hands and reflected on what the Republican Party can learn from his campaign. He is polling well here and it's anticipated he may make inroads with traditionally Democratic voters, women, minorities.

(on camera): You have obviously been talking about this in terms of a lesson for the Republican Party nationally, not just a New Jersey lesson. You're hoping for Democrats, independents, women, minorities, groups that the Republican Party has been struggling with statewide in national elections.

CHRISTIE: It's certainly been my goal for the last four years, you know, and I think one of the mistakes our party has made is that we go six, eight, nine months before an election and start to talk to groups that haven't normally been, you know, supportive of us and say, well, how about looking at us now? And I think those folks are rightfully suspicious when you do that. So we have been working...

TAPPER: African-Americans or...

CHRISTIE: African-Americans, Hispanics, folks who have not normally been in the Republican column. I think you need to go to those folks for four years and include them in the governing process, and then make your pitch during a campaign as to why what you did as a governor is worthy of their support when you come up for an election.

I tried this four years ago and wasn't very successful in attracting those votes, I think in part because they just didn't know who I was and how I would govern. I think we will do much better this time.

TAPPER: I notice you went to a town that a few years ago, a largely African-American one, where I think you got something like 4 percent of the vote.

CHRISTIE: Well, 4.7. Don't short me, Jake, 4.7 percent of the vote.


TAPPER (voice-over): But even with what's anticipated to be a comfortable margin of victory, Christie has some campaigning to do, so we joined him on the final leg of his New Jersey bus tour.

I asked him about the new language President Obama used last night to describe the if you like your health care you can keep your health care promise from 2009.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we said was you could keep it, if it hasn't changed since the law's passed.

TAPPER (on camera): The president's trying to explain what he meant in 2009 and 2010 when he said if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Obviously, that's not entirely true for millions of Americans. It might be minority, but it's still not true.


TAPPER: What advice would you give him?

CHRISTIE: Here's what my suggestion would be to him. Don't be so cute. And when you make a mistake, admit it. Listen, if it was a mistake in 2009, if he was mistaken in 2009-2010 on his understanding of how the law would operate, then just admit it to people.

Say, you know what? I said it, I was wrong. I'm sorry, and we're going to try to fix this and make it better.

I think people would give any leader in that circumstance a lot of credit for just, you know, owning up to it, instead of now trying to like -- don't lawyer it. People don't like lawyers. I'm a lawyer. They don't like them. Don't lawyer it. When I saw that this morning, I saw that this morning for the first time, I thought, he's lawyering it. That's Barack Obama the lawyer, not the leader. People want leaders, not lawyers.

TAPPER: And so you think he should just -- I misspoke in 2009 or I misunderstood in 2009?


You know, listen, I'm assuming that's the case, because it's pretty clear that what he said is not true. And I think if what happened was he had a certain understanding what the law would do and it turns out he was wrong, just admit you were wrong. I absolutely believe that when you tell people the truth, even if they disagree with it, or you admit you made a mistake, we're a pretty forgiving people in this country. And I think people would say OK, then fix it, Mr. President. Then he's got to follow through and fix it.

TAPPER: The national implications for the party. Your party is in something of a troubled spot right now.


TAPPER: Dick Cheney told me last week that the Republican Party is in trouble. It needs new candidates. And he was obviously plugging his daughter, but what do you think national Republicans should look at when they look at this race vs. Virginia?

CHRISTIE: Yes. Well, listen, I don't know about vs. Virginia because we don't know what's going to happen in Virginia yet.

TAPPER: Well, we know it's going to be a struggle, though.

CHRISTIE: It is going to be a tight race as compared to here.

Listen, I think that the party's got to focus on winning again. You know, sometimes, I feel like our party cares more about winning the argument than they care about winning elections. And if you don't win elections, you can't govern. And if you can't govern, you can't change the direction of a state, like we have done in New Jersey.

And, so, I don't -- so, one, I think we need to get ourself refocused on that. And, secondly, I think sometimes we forget that candidates matter. It's not just about a checklist of issues. It's also about how a person presents themselves as a candidate, how they articulate their view on things and how they react to situations. And people make judgments based on all those things.

TAPPER: It's interesting you say that, because I heard a criticism from a Democrat about you, and actually more about the media and the public, which is that if Christie wins, in their view, in this Democrat's view, it's a triumph of personality over policy, meaning people in this state tend to disagree with you on a lot of issues, but they're going to reelect you because they like your style.

Is that a fair criticism?


It's why they're losing, because they think that that's the way people make decisions. It's kind of what I was implying in the last answer. They think that people go down a checklist of issues and like a pro and con and they draw a line down the middle of the sheet and they go, well, OK, if there's more checks for this person than for that person, then that's the person I vote for.

That's not the way people vote, in my experience. I think that voting is much more visceral. People say, can I trust this person? Do they lead, do they tell me the truth? They look at the issues, too, but that analysis from that Democrat is just like as if people are robots, and they just check a list. They don't do that.

And I think if we win tonight, it will be, I believe, an affirmation of leadership, in that you don't have to agree with the candidate 100 percent of the time. I say this to folks in town hall meetings all the time. If you're looking for the candidate you agree with 100 percent of the time, go home and look in the mirror, because you're it. You're the only person you agree with 100 percent of the time.

And if we demand that of candidates, then you know what they are going to do? They will just lie to you. They figure you want to hear that, they will lie to you and then they will go do something else. I don't think people want that. And I think that's why I have gotten some leeway from people in New Jersey about areas where we disagree, because at least they know I'm telling the truth.

TAPPER: One part of your style, and I thought this was interesting, is that there was a poll of New Jersey residents that suggested that I think like 75 percent thought of you as a fighter vs. 25 percent who thought you were a bully.

That seems to think that -- that seems to suggest that people agree with your take on your style, but there are incidents where there was a teacher that you had some words with the other day, where I wonder if you ever have second thoughts about how you handle something, because even at the end of the day, even if you believe, hey, I'm standing up against the teachers unions and I'm fighting for the students and I'm fighting for the teachers themselves, the photograph of this big strong governor berating a poor little teacher, as some might see it, I know you don't see it that way, could be counterproductive to what you want to achieve.

CHRISTIE: Well, two things. First is that whole incident as an incident was mischaracterized and overdramatized by the teacher, who belongs to a portion of the teachers union...


TAPPER: ... badass teachers or something?

CHRISTIE: Yes, you said it. If I said it, then it would be part of my style, you know?

TAPPER: Right.

CHRISTIE: But the other thing is, listen, are there times when I wished that I wouldn't have said something? I said sure.

And I don't think there's anybody in life, especially someone who is in public life and on camera most of the time, who ever says, oh, I have said everything perfectly and just the way I wanted to say it.

But what I think people see in me is that I'm genuine. I am who I am. And that sometimes is going to include things that I wish I could take back. And I have apologized at times to folks for things that I have said that I thought went over the line.

And I'm sure that will happen again in the future. But they never have to wonder what I'm thinking and they don't have to wonder whether I'm really being myself or whether I'm being, you know, focus group- tested. I don't think anybody wonders about that.

TAPPER: And if you were to look ahead, I can't help but think about this new book "Double Down." And I don't want to get into all the details. And I know you haven't read the book.

But it seems very clear that when you submitted information, confidential information to the Romney campaign when they were considering you for vice president, somebody violated that trust and gave information to the authors of this book. There will be time later for you to address all those issues. But I wonder what you think about that, about the fact that you trusted these people and one of them clearly betrayed you.

CHRISTIE: It's very disappointing.

And that was the first thing. When it came to light a few months ago that it had been leaked, you know, Mitt called me right away. And I could tell he was really embarrassed and outraged about it. And I think that's the kind of reaction that the person in charge should have.

So I'm really disappointed that folks would do that. I think it is a complete violation of trust of me and the spirit within which I entered that process, which was, you know, Beth Myers couldn't have been clearer with me and Mitt, when they both spoke with me, that only a few people have access to this and it will all be returned to you afterwards, and no one will have an extra copy and it will never get out.

You know, now, there's nothing in there that I have any huge problem with, all right, but it is a violation of trust and it seems it only happened to me.


TAPPER: Coming up, we're waiting to hear from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who just admitted he smoked crack in a drunken stupor. Awkward. What will he say next? We will bring his comments to you coming up.

But, first, more of my exclusive interview with Governor Chris Christie. He will talk more about President Obama's leadership and he tells me how the diet is going. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Live from Asbury Park in New Jersey.

And the rest of my conversation with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, up for re-election today, although he has not officially been re-elected to a second term, four more years in the governor's mansion seem at least according to polls almost inevitable for Christie, so much so the media focus hasn't been so much on this election, but one that will take place a few years from now -- the presidential race, in 2016.


TAPPER (voice-over): Even though he's asking voters here in New Jersey for four more years as governor, many suspect Governor Christie's sights are already set on a 2016 presidential bid. Christie insists he's focused on this one campaign for now for governor, but he has taken steps to address some of the questions that might nag a presidential hopeful, such as his health. He recently had lap band surgery to help control his weight.

(on camera): How do you feel? How is your health?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I feel really good. You know, we're a little bit more than halfway to my goal, in the last eight months, so that's really good. And I sleep better. I mean, the biggest difference for me, I didn't feel badly at my previous weight, but I didn't realize how poorly I slept until how --

TAPPER: Just woke up a lot or --

CHRISTIE: Yes, I woke up a lot during the night. I just didn't get a lot of continuous sleep. Now, I'm sleeping a lot better. So, it's really bad news for my staff because I have more energy, which they didn't think was possible.

TAPPER: And you're halfway to your goal?

CHRISTIE: A little more than halfway, little more than halfway to my goal in eight months. So, I'm really happy about that. Yes, it's a great feeling and you know, it's hard work. But I feel like for the first time in 25 years, I feel like I've got a pathway, which is really nice -- really nice not to be as frustrated as I was before.

TAPPER (voice-over): The governor said he's got plenty to tackle in his second term here.

(on camera): "The Star Ledger" had an interesting endorsement of you.

CHRISTIE: Yes, I think so.

TAPPER: It was an endorsement. It was an endorsement.

CHRISTIE: Yes. Oh, yes.

TAPPER: One of the -- it said you're one of the most gifted politicians of its -- of your time. What do you want to achieve in the second term? They faulted you for not achieving as much as they had hoped. What do you want to achieve in your second term?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think, first, I want to get income taxes reduced in the state. It was one of the few things that I laid out as an agenda item in the first term that we didn't get done.

Secondly, there are more things to do on property taxes. In terms of allowing for shared services and civil service reform, to allow localities to manage better, to be able to control their costs.

Third, education reform. I want to have an opportunity for scholarships like they have in Florida where kids in failing districts have the opportunity to leave that school district and go to a private or parochial school.

Also, I like to see us do more on teacher tenure reform that we've done already. We've done a lot. But I would like to do a little more on that.

Also, try to institute merit pay across the -- across the state. So, I think that's important for our future.

TAPPER: A lot on education.


TAPPER: You're still talking a lot on education.

CHRISTIE: Yes. I think it's really important. I don't, you know, in this race, we have 200 failing schools in New Jersey, a judged failing by the Department of Education. My opponent in this race said that's not a bad percentage. And I said that sounds like somebody who never sent their kid to one of those schools.

So, to me, until we get that number down to a very small statistically insignificant number, then we are failing those kids. And when you're governor, what you realize is all those kids are your kids. So that's why there is so much of my emphasis on that.

TAPPER: You have been talking about Superstorm Sandy and recovery as more than just your job, as a mission.


TAPPER: You've even compared it on a level to the mission that a soldier in battle, not that you're comparing the heroism but the idea of how it's something in your soul.


TAPPER: Explain that.

CHRISTIE: Well, I mean, hard to explain unless you were here and saw it. But when you see that level of destruction and loss and suffering, you -- and people look to you to be the person to try to spearhead the effort to get their lives back to normal, to restore some of their heart, then it's bigger than a job.

It's not like you forget about that when you go home at 6:00 or 7:00 at night. It's with me every day. Those images of those people and their suffering and their loss are with me every day. So, to finish that is not a job. It's a mission, because it's sacred.

There's something really important about normalcy in life. It gives people the ability to be able to achieve, to be able to love, to be able to give to others if they have normalcy in their own lives. And that's why it's such a sacred thing. And I want to try to restore that to folks. It's not just something that's another thing with tax cuts and education reform. It's a mission to get that done.

TAPPER: What did you think of President Obama's leadership during the government shutdown?

CHRISTIE: I didn't think he showed much. You know, he kind of was sitting back, letting things happen. I thought it was very political.

I think everybody was playing politics -- the president, the Senate Democrats, the House Republicans, everybody was playing politics and not worrying about actually accomplishing something.

TAPPER: It was the House Republicans, though, that forced the shutdown. I mean --

CHRISTIE: Well, I mean, you can have a different perspective on that. You know, the House Republicans think there should have been things that could have been done by the Senate Democrats that they could have reasonably agreed to and sent to the president.

Point is: everybody knew this was coming. This is like that car crash that you see coming from three miles away. Everybody knew these dates and that they were coming.

That's where I think the president failed the most. I think it was incumbent upon him to get everybody in a room over a period of time and to be able to get to a settlement on this thing before it crashed into the bridge abutment, you know?

And that's I think his biggest failing in this, because you're the executive. If you're waiting for Congress to lead, you're going to wait for a long time. The executive needs to lead.

TAPPER: Are you a Tea Partier? Are you a Tea Party Republican?

CHRISTIE: I'll tell you something, I think there are elements of the Tea Party that are Republicans at their best -- you know, limited government, in favor of individual liberty and freedom, tough on government spending, questioning taxes and whether you need to expand or grow them. So, I think the core of the Tea Party movement as I understand it I think is very consistent with good conservative Republicanism.

Now, what happens is when some folks use that movement, use that theory just to try to enhance themselves politically, sometimes that movement can then get perverted. And so, listen, there's a lot of principles about the Tea Party that I agree with and have governed in New Jersey in a way that's consistent with a lot of that, but, you know, some of the stuff that's happened of late down in Washington I think is not even consistent with what a lot of the real folks who started the Tea Party movement would agree with.

TAPPER: I don't know what you're talking about. You mean --

CHRISITE: Well, just the idea that you don't try to -- you know, for instance, on the sequester, we're actually succeeding as a movement in reducing government spending on the domestic side pretty significantly. But there's no acknowledgment of that by some folks in the Washington establishment.

I think we should have been talking more about that. It's a real accomplishment by our party to try to reduce spending in that way and what we should do is now move to the entitlement side to start to work on that side as well. Then, we can really look towards tax reform and other things that are consistent with what a lot of folks who call themselves members of the Tea Party want to see happen in Washington.

TAPPER: A lot of Tea Partiers I have heard from think you're what they call a RINO, Republican in name only.

CHRISTIE: I know. Listen, you know, that's some folks who will say if you ever say anything nice about a Democrat, you're a RINO.

They can call me whatever they want. I don't really care. My view is let people judge me by my record. I'm a guy who has cut taxes $2.3 billion in the state. Our budget in fiscal 2014 spends less than Jon Corzine's in fiscal 2008.

We have reformed teacher tenure. We reformed pension benefits to make folks pay more for their pensions and to lose the cost of living adjustments. I mean, you know, if they did that stuff in Washington, they would be having a parade for the Washington Republicans.

So, they can call me whatever they want to call me. You look at my record, I think most people objectively look at my record as we were talking about before when we were outside, it's a -- it's a solid conservative record.

And for goodness' sakes, almost everybody has been called a RINO now. If you weren't in favor of the government shutdown you're a RINO. I don't -- you know, I don't pay any attention to that.

TAPPER: You never won more than, what is it, 48 percent?

CHRISTIE: I was -- I was just short of 49 percent four years ago. Yes.

TAPPER: I think the last Republican governor to break 50 percent is Tom Kean.

CHRISTIE: Right. The last Republican state-wide was George Bush 41.

TAPPER: In 1988. Yes.

CHRISTIE: 1988, 25 years ago.

TAPPER: So, what do you -- every poll has you leading significantly. What will you be happy with?

CHRISTIE: Well, breaking that record. I mean, Christie Whitman was elected twice governor and never broke 50 percent. Nobody since 1988 has had a five in front of their name in a statewide race.

TAPPER: No Republican.

CHRISTIE: No Republican has. Right.

So, to me, always this race has been to at least get to 50 percent plus one, then anything above that is gravy. So, I'll be really happy with that, because that's a historical achievement. In 25 years, no one's done that in New Jersey. So, I'll be happy with that.

I suspect we may do better than that. And if we do, every point we do better above that will make me even happier tonight. So, if we go way above that, I'll be really happy. But that's always been my goal is to break that record, and I hoped to do that four years ago and we didn't. I want to try to get that done tonight.

TAPPER: Great. Thank you.