Chris Christie has been having a difficult time with his memory this week.
On Sunday evening, when he was asked about Donald Trump’s claim that New Jersey Muslims took to the streets of Jersey City on Sept. 11, 2001, to celebrate the terrorist attacks, the New Jersey governor replied that he didn’t “recall that” happening, but he also didn’t seem to recall that law enforcement had long ago debunked the rumor.
Now Christie is having trouble remembering the details of why he decided to run for office for the first time, in 1993, when he sought out a state Senate seat.
On Fox News on Tuesday night, Christie was asked about guns. Specifically, host Bret Baier—a Rumson, N.J., native!—wanted to know, was it really true that the issue that inspired him to get involved in politics was gun control?
“No, that’s not true,” Christie said, shaking his head and giving a nervous-sounding laugh. “No.”
“Well, in 1993 you said you were motivated to run for office by supporting—preserving—New Jersey’s assault weapons ban,” Baier replied.
A look of panic spread across Christie’s face. “Yeah, I don’t remember saying that. So, you know, we’ll see,” he said.
Just then, a quote appeared on the screen—one Christie gave to the Star-Ledger in April 1993—that would seem to contradict his answer.
“The issue which has motivated me to get into this race is the recent attempt by certain Republican legislators to repeal New Jersey’s ban on assault weapons,” Christie said at the time.
The full quote, not shown by Fox News, goes even further: “In today’s society, no one needs a semiautomatic assault weapon,” he said. “We already have too many firearms in our communities.”
Christie, who has been enjoying renewed interest in his candidacy after months of low poll numbers, looked dumbfounded by Baier’s question.
“Listen, I—that’s 22 years ago,” Christie said. “Bret, I don’t remember. I could’ve! It doesn’t sound like me.”
Baier asked if the governor thought the Ledger’s reporting was incorrect.
Christie adopted a sarcastic tone. “I know it’s never been before. No newspaper’s ever been wrong before!”
To believe Christie would require believing that a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper allowed a series of fabricated quotes to remain uncorrected for more two decades. It would also require ignoring the fact that, two years after Christie did or did not tell the Ledger he wanted to maintain Jersey’s ban on assault weapons, he ran a campaign that was in large part about supporting that same assault weapons ban.
After Christie failed to gain enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in 1993, he became a county Freeholder. In 1995, while serving on that post, he decided to run for the legislature again, this time for the slightly less lofty Assembly.
Christie and his running mate, Richard Merkt (who has turned on Christie in recent years), released mailers attacking their opponents, Michael Patrick Carroll and Anthony Bucco, for wanting to repeal the assault weapons ban.
The mailers depict Christie and Merkt in dress shirts and khakis, surrounded by a gaggle of smiling children.
“Chris Christie and Rick Merkt support the ban on assault weapons,” it read. “Tony Bucco and Mike Carroll want to repeal the ban on automatic assault weapons. It’s dangerous. It’s crazy. It’s radical. They must be stopped. Say NO to Bucco and Carroll’s radical plan to legalize assault weapons.”
Asked how in the world it could be possible that Christie doesn’t remember telling the biggest newspaper in New Jersey why he was running for office during his first campaign, his spokeswoman, Samantha Smith, said, “What is the question here?”
Asked if the governor seriously didn’t remember 1993, and if he also didn’t remember 1995, Smith didn’t immediately respond.
Running as a Republican in a blue state is no doubt a different sort of endeavor from running in a Republican presidential primary, where moderate views—like past support for an assault weapons ban, or once having donated to Planned Parenthood (as Christie did)—can prove disqualifying.
Christie is on the cusp of a second chance at the nomination, bolstered by a shift in focus toward national security, an issue he is, as a former U.S. attorney, at ease discussing. But his true colors, more burgundy than fire-engine red, may be too easily revealed with simple questions about his past.