Gov. Chris Christie called a news conference Thursday in Trenton to talk about New Jersey’s unemployment rate, but he wound up spending a large part of the nearly two-hour event talking about his recent departure from the presidential campaign trail and his subsequent endorsement of controversial businessman Donald Trump.“I believe he is the best person to beat Hillary Clinton,” Christie said.
The governor has come under fire in the past week for endorsing Trump despite previously claiming him unfit to be president and disagreeing on an array of policy items. The backlash prompted several prominent New Jersey newspapers to run editorials calling for his resignation. Christie also ignited a social media firestorm on Super Tuesday for his overly subdued demeanor as he stood behind the former Atlantic City casino mogul during a news conference.
He took particular exception with a front-page Star-Ledger editorial that ran Thursday morning.
“They’re trying to be relevant,” Christie said of the newspapers. “And the only way to do that is to set themselves on fire.”
Christie’s latest remarks come as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whom Christie endorsed for president in 2012, called Trump a “phony” who is “playing the American public for suckers” in a separate news conference Thursday.
“We have a political disagreement,” Christie said of Romney, whom he said he still considers a friend. “He has every right to express his opinion and his view.”
Christie said he will rejoin Trump on the campaign trail at some point, but he will not be a “full-time surrogate” for him. He also attempted to put to rest any notion that he was not spending enough time focusing on state affairs in the midst of continuing to be involved in presidential politics.
“I’ve been out of the presidential race for about 22 days, by my calculation,” Christie said. “And I’ve been here 19 of those 22 days and I’ve been working.”
As far as his intended topic of conversation, Christie said New Jersey’s latest unemployment rate of 4.8 percent is the lowest it’s been since he took office in 2010, inheriting a 9.8 percent mark.
The governor said the drop was the result of the significant focus his administration has placed on the economy during his six years in office.
“It’s a monumental day for New Jersey’s economic recovery,” said Christie.
Responding to criticism that he didn’t take off-topic questions at a news conference earlier in the week following his announcement that he was nominating David Bauman for a state Supreme Court opening, Christie said it wasn’t the time or place.
“That was not the day for politics and to talk about my political career,” Christie said.
Christie also spoke to a few questions regarding the state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund and a bipartisan measure advanced last week by a Senate panel calling for a gradual phase-out of New Jersey’s estate tax, something Christie himself has suggested be repealed.
Despite chatter that phasing out the estate tax may be connected to a potential gas tax increase to help replenish the Transportation Trust Fund as a way of achieving the so-called “tax fairness” that Christie and others have clamored for, the governor said he doesn’t think there’s a correlation.
“I don’t see the two as being connected,” said Christie.