TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie addressed the latest challenges facing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Trump’s campaign received a blow on Monday when The New York Times published a story outlining his campaign chief’s financial ties to Ukraine’s pro-Russian ruling party. That news came as Trump’s polling numbers in crucial swing-states like Florida and Virginia had already taken a hit.
But Christie, who came out ahead of fellow establishment Republicans with an early and enthusiastic endorsement for Trump and now serves as the leader of his transition team, told reporters at a State House press conference on Tuesday that he is not shaken by the story or the late-summer polling numbers.
Saying that there is plenty of time before November, Christie recalled his own time on the front page during the Bridgegate scandal and its continuing fallout. Trump’s campaign chief Paul Manafort, the Times reported, received $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from the ruling party during former President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s tenure.
“Having been the subject of a number of front-page New York Times stories, I look at it with at least a healthy skepticism,” Christie said. “So I don’t think this reflects on Donald at all.”
The news about Manafort could compound polling losses following Trump’s poorly received call for Russia to hack the DNC, his refusal to release his tax returns and his controversial feud with the parents of a fallen U.S. soldier.
Christie said he believes that Trump’s platform is still strong enough on its own to see him to victory against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump’s pledge to aggressively screen immigrants and to have supporters in official regalia watch for instances of voter fraud on election day have courted controversy.
But Christie is unmoved by Trump’s critics. He expects national security will be an issue where Trump can play to his strengths.
“I don’t think most Americans think that people who come into this country to either work here or live here shouldn’t have to be vetted to make sure that they’re not coming here instead not to work or live but to kill,” he said.
Asked whether he believes Trump’s predictions of widespread voter fraud could lead to dangerous public unrest, the governor was blunt.
“ISIS is dangerous,” he said, going on to call measures like a New Jersey bill to guarantee automatic voter registration with driver’s license renewals a “cocktail for fraud.”
“In both of our elections, we assumed a certain amount of fraud,” he said of his own gubernatorial campaigns. “There are people, not only in this state but all over the United States, who are voting when they’re not supposed to be voting.”
On the question of Trump’s stamina and whether he is prepared to serve in the White House, Christie was equally terse. Trump told CNBC last week that he would look forward to a “very nice long vacation” if his presidential bid is unsuccessful.
“We’ll find out,” Christie said.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of PolitickerNJ and Observer Media.