As he toured the United Kingdom on Monday, Chris Christie seemed to leave his tough guy persona back in the United States. The potential Republican 2016 presidential contender punted on questions about whether Americans should vaccinate their kids amid a 14-state outbreak of a disease which is staging a comeback after being largely eradicated by science.
“All I can say is we vaccinated ours,” Christie said, while touring a biomedical research facility in Cambridge, England, which makes vaccines.
The New Jersey governor added that “parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
The meandering response trampled his message on a trip apparently meant to polish foreign policy credentials. And it was uncharacteristic for Christie, a political bruiser who regularly shouts down critics and, just a few months ago, defied the White House by forcibly quarantining a nurse who treated Ebola patients.
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The flap is a reminder that as a politician who made his name by telling it like it is, Christie will be carefully watched for any sign he is toning down his act or hedging on difficult issues as he tries to navigate the early skirmishes of a likely presidential campaign.
With Democrats pouncing on a new chance to brand Christie as “anti-science” and reporters jumping on a story that livened up a routine trade mission, the Christie camp rushed out an unusual clarification.
The result is a debate in which legitimate concerns can be drowned out by politics.
Christie “is very moderate in what he is saying, but he is going to get pummeled as anti-vaccine,” Largent said.
Christie’s comments may also be conditioned by his time in New Jersey where there has been a spirited debate over the issue, with activists complaining about what they say are the nation’s most expansive mandates for child vaccines.
The Daily Beast reported on Monday that as far back as his first gubernatorial campaign in 2009, Christie expressed sympathy for parents of autistic children who wanted more input over which vaccines were administered to kids.
The speed with which Christie’s camp rushed to put out Monday’s storm appeared to signal that the governor was not making some sort of clever play for government-hating activists on the conservative right — a sector of the Republican Party where he must make inroads.
But Democrats wouldn’t give him a break, giving him a dose of his own tough talk.
“Chris Christie isn’t a scientist. He isn’t a doctor. And he sure as heck isn’t a leader,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee.