New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Monday that he does not support finding a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, making a complete shift from his previous position ahead of his likely presidential campaign announcement. The governor’s comments come less than two years after he won re-election in his immigrant-filled state by reaching out to minorities and promising benefits for undocumented immigrants.
New Jersey, where almost half of the population is a minority, is substantially more diverse than most U.S. states. Christie has previously supported a path to citizenship and has even signed legislation creating tuition equality for undocumented students to be able to pay in-state tuition. But in an interview with Fox News on Monday, Christie attempted to connect with the conservative base strongly opposed to President Obama’s executive action granting amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants.
“I think that’s an extreme way to go,” Christie said in the interview. “And I think that, quite frankly, what Hillary Clinton’s doing right now is pandering. That’s pandering. We need to have an intelligent conversation about this and bring the American people along to where we can find consensus.”
Christie himself admitted his opinion is in opposition to what he once believed and the policies he pushed in his home state. In 2010, he said in an interview that “the president and the Congress have to step up to the plate, they have to secure our borders and they have to put forward a commonsense path to citizenship for people.”
After his re-election victory in 2013 — an election in which he won about half of Latino voters, more than his Democratic opponent — Christie began shifting course and refused to say whether or not he supported a pathway to citizenship.
“I think I’ve learned over time about this issue and done a lot more work on it,” Christie said in Monday’s interview. “And I think everyone has to do what you need to be able to get educated on these issues and learn, and back in 2010 I was in my first couple of months as governor, I’ve now learned some of the ramifications of some of these things and what I am saying now is we’ve got to come up with a solution for it.”
Even if Christie’s pandering to the Republican party base works in the primary, he would be unable to win a general election without appealing to Latinos and other minority groups — the same populations he is alienating with his anti-immigration remarks. If racial and ethnic groups turn out to vote at the same rate they did in 2012, any Republican candidate will have a tough time winning the presidency. To win the White House in 2016, candidates will need to secure substantial support from voters of color because of the country’s quickly changing demographics.
Christie will not officially announce his presidential campaign until later this month or in June, but New Jersey residents are already expressing their hesitation with him taking over the White House. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 65 percent of New Jersey voters said he would not make a good president, the lowest approval rating of any governor this year.
But Christie has his own way of reading the polls. “They want me to stay,” he said in the same Fox News interview on Monday. “A lot of those people in that 65 percent want me to stay. And I’ve heard that from lots of people at town hall meetings. ‘Don’t leave to run for president because we want you to stay.'”