New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended Donald Trump on Tuesday against allegations of racism after the presumptive GOP nominee ignited a firestorm by saying a U.S. judge of Mexican heritage shouldn’t preside over a Trump University lawsuit.
After casting his vote in New Jersey’s presidential primary, Christie said he could not comment on Judge Gonzalo Curiel or the specifics of the case. But Christie said the business mogul is no racist.
“I’ve said this before. I know Donald Trump. I’ve known him for 14 years, and Donald Trump is not a racist. So the allegations that he is are absolutely contrary to every experience that I’ve had with him over the last 14 years. We’re going to end it there,” he told reporters in Mendham Township, N.J.
Christie’s comments came shortly after House Speaker Paul Ryan condemned Trump’s attack line against Curiel as a “textbook definition of a racist comment.” Trump, citing his plan to build a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, insists that Curiel’s heritage is a conflict of interest and the judge should recuse himself from the Trump University case.
Journalists asked Christie to address Ryan’s comments.
“I’m not going into that. Next. Next,” Christie replied, but the journalists kept pressing. “You know what? Congressman Ryan is entitled to his opinion.”
The governor also said he knows the media loves controversy but that the voters of New Jersey and elsewhere will not base their decisions on this “kerfuffle.”
Christie, who in February endorsed Trump shortly after suspending his own presidential campaign, admitted the real estate magnate has said things that went too far. But Christie said that’s merely an occupational hazard for honest politicians who speak their minds.
“If you have this many microphones and cameras in front of you on a regular basis and you’re not, you know, a preprogrammed robotic politician, you’re going to make some statements at times that you’d wish you could take back. I’ve done it. He’s done it. And anybody who’s honest in this business has done it,” he said.
Christie’s jab at “robotic politicians” could have been a reference to candidates like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who infamously repeated the same 25-second line during a primary debate earlier this year. At the time, Christie memorably called out Rubio for using canned lines. Rubio was mercilessly mocked with monikers like “Robot Rubio.”
“Frankly, from my perspective, it’s refreshing to have someone who is willing to speak their mind and, you know, is not reading from a script,” Christie said Tuesday. “There’s lots of things you can say about Donald. He’s not reading from a script.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, another former Trump rival, recently urged his fellow Republicans to withdraw their Trump endorsements after his comments about Curiel, calling them an “off-ramp.” When asked about Graham, Christie said the senator had already lost all credibility.
“Lindsey Graham has changed his mind so many times about who he’s endorsing and not endorsing so many different times that it’s hard for me to keep track,” he said. “I think Sen. Graham has lost any credibility that he may have had at any time to give an opinion on this.”