He smiled, he quipped that he felt like the friendly bartender, but Jon Stewart performed more like a relentless good cop. During a half-hour interview with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the late-night host pressed his subject like he was a friendly witness, but one with a serious consistency problem.
During Thursday night’s appearance on “The Daily Show,” the host asked the governor to explain how he could loathe President Obama one moment, then love him the next and how he could embrace federal aid in some cases (Hurricane Sandy relief) but hold it at arm’s length at others (implementing Obamacare.)
That still left time for chatter about Bruce Springsteen, man hugs and fat jokes. But Stewart spent most of the interview criticizing the “political game” in which he said politicians, and Republicans in particular, had become “more vitriolic and far more hyperbolic.” He noted that his late-night show previously “had some fun” at Christie’s expense regarding his much-discussed embrace of President Obama after the massive storm devastated much of the Jersey Shore.
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“Before the storm you were out there … ‘President Obama couldn’t lead his way out of a paper bag with a fistful of $20s,' " Stewart said. “And then right after the storm was over you were like ‘This man is a leader. He is a leader.' "
Christie, laughing and seeming hardly fazed, suggesting it was Obama who had changed: “What it tells me is that people have different skill sets at different times.“
Retorted Stewart: “So he wasn’t a leader until you needed leadership?”
Christie answered: “Maybe it’s that he was presented with a stark opportunity to lead.”
A similar exchange followed Stewart’s contention that Republicans liked only the government programs that personally helped them, as in the billion-dollar relief package requested by the Garden State after the hurricane.
“It always seems to me that for the Republican Party, if it’s not something they personally need, it’s an entitlement of the 47% that are sucking things out of the government,” Stewart argued, “but when they need it … there’s all the reasons in the world why it should be there to the tune of $30 billion.”
Christie said that Republicans weren’t against all government but only wanted it used as a last resort, while Democrats turned to it routinely. “Maybe the difference between the two parties is that sometimes the Democratic Party feels the only way to address people’s needs and wants is by the government doing that,” he said.
The potential 2016 presidential candidate said the federal government had helped communities and states routinely after disasters and it was only right they do so now for the storm recovery efforts. Stewart rejoined that the private sector could not fulfill many other needs.
“What I’m saying is that healthcare in this country is a natural disaster and we all need to stand up and work together,” he said, to a roar of approval from the studio audience.
Christie denied he had been inconsistent by requesting massive federal government support after the storm, but refusing to have his state form an insurance "exchange" to help implement the federal healthcare reform law. He said he had not been given enough information about the costs to responsibly commit New Jersey to the program. The governor depicted that as prudence, not intransigence against the federal government.
Though he smiled and bantered throughout the interview, the governor of heavily Democratic New Jersey made it clear near the end of the session he felt very uncomfortable with Stewart lumping him in with other Republicans.
”When we try to categorize people very narrowly — and you’ve been trying to do that a little bit with me here — when we do that, that’s divisive and destructive and not helpful.”
Bookending the interview, the men dropped politics. Christie feigned outrage over segments in which "The Daily Show" has made sport of his huge weight gain. The half-hour began with talk about Christie’s love of an entertainment-world liberal — New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen.
The governor described meeting the music superstar at a telethon for hurricane relief.
“So I shook his hand, tried to be cool. I wasn’t,” Christie recalled. “And then he said, [at this point Christie invoked gravelly Bruce-speak] ‘C’mon, gimmie a hug.' "
Unsure when to “stop the man hug,” Christie said he got his reward from the Boss. “He said the most amazing thing to me, he said ‘It’s official, we’re friends.' "
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