Drama on a lower scale…..
Clashes between Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal dominated the Republican undercard debate in Milwaukee, Wis., on Tuesday night.
The New Jersey governor and his Louisiana counterpart repeatedly tangled over Christie’s claims to be a conservative, and the broader question of whether the GOP would be wiser to nominate a candidate from its right flank or closer to the center.
At one point, Jindal heatedly told Christie he would give him “a ribbon for participation. And a juice box.” The line drew an audible response from the crowd.
The tensions grew out of an earlier clash between Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, when the Louisianan assailed Huckabee, alleging he had increased taxes and failed to cut government expenditures during his decade in office in the state.
“What if Republicans actually embraced our own principles?” Jindal asked rhetorically.
But Christie interjected soon afterward, suggesting that Hillary Clinton, the runaway favorite to win the Democratic nomination, was “the real adversary” and that divisive rhetoric between Republican candidates was a distraction from that more important fight.
The tensions pointed to a broader split between Christie and the other three candidates on the stage before the main debate. Jindal, Huckabee and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) are all competing for votes among committed conservatives. Christie, the governor of a Democratic-leaning state, contends he is better placed to win over independent voters.
Jindal also has high hopes of placing well in the Iowa caucuses, a stronghold of social conservatives. Christie is making a play for the New Hampshire primary, where he is seen as a stronger candidate. Both men have been rising in polls in those respective states, though they are well behind the leaders.
Christie’s performance on Tuesday seemed likely to win praise from pundits, just as his earlier debate showings have done. But his appeal has not so far found much traction with Republican voters. The memories of his embrace of President Obama in the days before the 2012 election, after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, continues to rankle with many conservatives. He currently sits 10th in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls.
Still, Christie clearly saw a potential to position himself on Tuesday not just as an electable centrist but also as a would-be uniter of the GOP.
When Jindal asserted that he was more faithful to conservative principles than was Christie, the New Jerseyan noted that the candidates had their differences but added dismissively, “Obviously Bobby wants to spend a lot of time tonight talking about that.”
The back-and-forth between Christie and Jindal was the most memorable element of the debate, which touched at times on foreign policy but was dominated, as expected, by economics.