There was nothing civil about Chris Christie’s take on Nikki Haley and the Civil War.
Haley’s campaign has been engulfed in controversy since Wednesday night when, during a town hall in Berlin, N.H., she was asked to name the cause of the U.S. Civil War and failed to mention slavery.
Twenty-four hours later, at his own town hall in Epping, N.H., Christie unloaded on his GOP presidential competitor, arguing that Haley’s equivocal comments are yet another sign Republicans need an unapologetic truth-teller as their nominee.
“The biggest reason I got in [the presidential race] was to tell the truth and to tell it in a completely unfiltered and unabashed way. Because I think that more than anything else, what our country needs right now is the truth — not someone’s interpretation of it, somebody’s spin on it, but we need the truth,” Christie said.
And, Christie argued, Haley’s failure isn’t a lack of understanding about the Civil War and slavery but rather a lack of courage.
“She’s smart. So don’t get confused about what she’s been saying and what she and her new political husband, Chris Sununu, are trying to mop up all around New Hampshire,” Christie told the crowd in Epping. “She didn’t say what she said about this because she’s dumb. She’s not; she’s smart, and she knows better. And she didn’t say it because she’s a racist. Because she’s not. I know her well, and I don’t believe Nikki has a racist bone in her body.
“She did it because she’s unwilling to offend anyone by telling the truth,” Christie said.
According to Christie, Haley’s unwillingness to tell unpleasant truths means she gives different answers on abortion in Iowa than in New Hampshire, and it keeps her from being honest about Donald Trump.
“If she is unwilling to stand up and say that slavery is what caused the Civil War because she’s afraid of offending constituents in some other part of the country; if she’s afraid to say that Donald Trump is unfit because she’s afraid of offending people who support Donald Trump — and because maybe she harbors in the back of her mind being vice president or being secretary of state and since she won’t deny it, we have to believe that she’s willing to do it.
“If she’s unwilling to stand up to that, what’s going to happen when she’s got to stand up to Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries in Congress?” Christie asked.
His comments are essentially an expansion of the message in the new TV ad his campaign launched this week, which begins with Christie looking into the camera and saying:
“Some people say I should drop out of this race. Really? I’m the only one saying Donald Trump is a liar.”
On Thursday, Haley acknowledged during a podcast interview with NHJournal that she needed to clarify her views.
“Of course, the Civil War was about slavery. That goes without saying. But clearly, if we need to clarify that, I will clarify that,” Haley said. She also repeated her claim that President Joe Biden’s campaign and his Democratic allies were behind the Civil War question being planted in the audience.
“This was the first time Biden and the libs wanted to go and make a thing of this, and they did. And I answered it, and we’ve addressed it. And we’ll go on, and we’re going to do more town halls in New Hampshire,” Haley said. “We’re going to keep on doing them, and we’re going to keep on answering questions.”
As for whether her handling of the Civil War question and its aftermath raises questions about whether she is tough enough to be the GOP’s nominee in 2024, Haley pointed to her history in the Palmetto State.
“If you can survive politics in South Carolina — it’s a blood sport,” Haley said. “I can survive Trump on a debate stage. I’m ready to take on any issue that comes our way, and [voters] can see it for themselves. No one’s ever said I wasn’t tough.”
As for New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu, he echoed what several Granite State Republicans told NHJournal on Thursday.
After Haley told reporters in North Conway that “of course the Civil War was about slavery,” Sununu added: “Spot on. That’s it. The Civil War was about slavery, she acknowledged it — moving on.”