Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie played defense for President Donald Trump Wednesday morning after he failed to unequivocally denounce white supremacists during Tuesday night’s fractious debate.
“I heard it differently last night,” Christie said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Trump, given a direct opportunity by moderator Chris Wallace to condemn the nation’s biggest domestic terrorist groups, instead told them to “stand back and stand by.” The president also said recent violence in cities like Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wis., were a “left-wing problem, not a right-wing problem.”
Far-right groups such as the Proud Boys quickly seized on the comments by the president, which they took as a call to action. Anti-racism advocates were outraged by what they characterized as essentially a dog whistle from Trump to hate groups.
The comments are poised to become one of the few crystallizing moments from a debate otherwise marred by bickering, cross talk, and personal insults. Trump’s failure to condemn a hate group put his defenders on the spot in the hours after the debate.
Pressed by “Good Morning America” anchor George Stephanopoulos on the president’s “stand down” directive, Christie reiterated that he “didn’t read it that way, but if you want to read it that way that’s your prerogative.”
Christie, who along with ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, helped prep Trump for the debate, said that Trump needed to quickly go out and clear up any confusion on the matter.
“The way to do that is the next opportunity the president has to clarify that answer because folks like you and others are confused by it, then he should do that,” Christie said.
The president, typically loathe to admit an error, has fumbled such attempts in the past — most notably his declaration that there were good people “on both sides” during the deadly 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist demonstration and counter protests.
Christie reiterated comments he made Tuesday night shortly after the debate concluded that Trump miscalibrated and “came out much too hot,” potentially putting off undecided voters and throwing off the tenor of the debate.
He said that it threatens to overshadow Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s own missteps.
“I don’t think anybody should feel assured by either one of their performances last night and they have work to do when both get back on stage for the next debate on October 15th,” Christie said.