Still trailing far behind the rest of the Republican slate but seeing possible gains in New Hampshire as he stresses his 9/11 record in the wake of the Paris attacks by ISIS, Governor Chris Christie has seen divided reactions to his official statement opposing the entry of new Syrian refugees into New Jersey.
Though Christie’s hard line on refugees has drawn considerable attention from fellow state politicians and the press, Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said that this year’s contest will likely see gains in popularity across the board for right-of-center candidates that stress the issue.
Murray described the boost from anti-refugee sentiment as historically run of the mill, saying that the issue’s usefulness for candidates stretches back at least eighty years to Gallup polls on Americans’ willingness to accept Jewish refugees during World War II.
“The majority of Americans were opposed to having them come over to the US,” he said. “And the same thing with Koreans in the fifties, with the Vietnamese boat people and on and on and on, so this is not a new phenomenon in public opinion.”
Murray noted that the only time when there has been majority support for incoming refugees was during the crisis in the Balkans in the nineties.
“That’s why he’s doing it,” he added of Christie. “And it’s stronger on the Republican side than on the Democratic side, from his point of view.”
Yet among Democrats, the center-right faction has its reservations about coming out against Christie’s recommendations. Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1) said that he would prefer that the state err on the side of caution in light of the attacks.
“We understand that this is a terrible situation,” said Van Drew. “At the same time, I think there are two issues. One of them being that we have many of our own people, we have veterans that are homeless, that are not being taken care of to this day.
“The second being, if even one out 100 of those or less happens to be somebody who is not vetted properly, and I hear from some that the vetting process is virtually foolproof, yet you hear from non-partisan experts on both sides of the aisle concerning the vetting process, and some say there could be some problems and some vulnerabilities.”
Christie’s decision to come down with the 26 other governors who announced that they would not accept new refugees has also drawn Republican detractors.
Former New Jersey governor and co-chair of the national commission on the September 11th attacks Tom Kean Sr. said that he was disappointed with the move, describing Muslims as “our best friends” in preventing attacks.
“That would be a tremendous victory for ISIS,” Kean said of anti-refugee sentiment in an interview with NJ Spotlight. “That is what they want. They want a war of civilizations. They want this to be us against everyone else.
“There are 1.7 billion Muslims in this world, and this is one small little group,” Kean added. “We would not have stopped a number of attacks over the last five years were it not for being alerted by Muslims in mosques who would tell us to be careful of this guy or listen to this guy.”
The governors’ tack drew harsh criticism from Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), who doubted Christie’s ability to come out from under consistently poor approval ratings at home before New Hampshire.
“I didn’t expect anything more from Governor Christie,” she said of Christie’s statement. “This is the Governor Christie pandering to the right wing, ultra-conservative populations, playing on people’s fear. Not the Governor Christie who took great pride in getting elected from a blue state. And I think his approval figures in New Jersey well represent how we feel about him, and what he stands for. I’m sure that the more right-wing and the more boisterous, the more outrageous that Christie gets, the better his numbers will be. And good riddance.”