Gov. Chris Christie, you’ve disappointed me. I was so wowed by your presentation at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s 2016 Presidential Candidates Forum in December, I urged my fellow Republican primary voters to give you a second look. Ever since then, I’ve been rooting for you to do well in the primaries, but now, you have given me serious pause.
As a voter—the always-right customer—I know I don’t owe you an explanation. However, as someone who’s been a fan, I’d like to offer one anyway.
The bone I have to pick is related to a press release your campaign sent out Thursday, entitled “Christie: I Am Passionate About Equal Pay Because Of All The Strong Women In My Life.” It offers a transcript of an exchange you had at a recent New Hampshire town hall meeting with a local woman. Now, given that she’s off-screen, it’s hard to say with complete certainty, but based on the sound of her voice, her giggling, her question, and the paternal tone of your answer, I assume that Paige is a young voter, perhaps even a first-time voter.
Paige asked you: “I’m really passionate about the topic of equal pay for women, so as the next president of the United States how do you feel you’re going to address this problem and help deal with it?”
Some Credit for the Good Bits
Now, I’ll grant some credit, because you started your response by noting, “We need to enforce the laws that are on the books. We have plenty of laws on the books now to make sure that women get equal pay for work that we do.” Unlike other elected officials—ahem, Barack Obama—you did not recommend passing new laws. Good on you. While some women may experience discrimination at work, whether in financial or other matters, such discrimination is neither legal nor universal in 2016 America.
You then pivoted to a passionate ode to your mother and wife. You waxed eloquent about being raised by, and married to, strong women, who have always insisted they be treated well and refused to tolerate any implication that they might somehow be less capable than men.
Your mother and your wife sound like my kind of people. I loved, and can totally relate to, your descriptions of them. Like your wife, I began my career in a male-dominated field — politics, in my case.
Like you, I was raised by a strong woman who took no guff from anyone. She and my father taught my sister and me that if we dreamed big and worked hard, we could achieve anything. They encouraged us to excel academically and to speak up for ourselves. I believe my parents’ life lessons about our intrinsic worth and the importance of cultivating our G-d-given talents were so on point, that I’m now teaching them to my own daughters.
Pay Women the Respect of Telling the Truth
Beyond that though, this was a missed opportunity. I disliked the embedded assumption in Paige’s question, namely that there must be systemic sexism holding women back professionally. That’s a talking point Democrats use as a cudgel as part of their War on Women narrative. It has repeatedly been debunked, yet refuses to die.
I understand you not wanting to insult a supporter, but I would have respected you more if you had politely challenged the premise of Paige’s question. Your campaign’s tagline on your own website is “Telling it like it is.” You are famous for being blunt and direct. It’s part of what I have historically liked about you. So why shy away from the truth now?
Republican elected officials have spent the last few election cycles playing defense with female voters because Democrats have painted them as anti-woman. I consider these charges ridiculous, but many women who are less committed to voting Republican don’t; they worry the charges might hold a kernel of truth. Hillary Clinton knows this and will inevitably exploit that anxiety, in an attempt to rally (mostly single) women to her side this fall.
The only way to slay the slander is to fight back with facts. As a blue state conservative who understands how independents and liberals think, and as a former prosecutor and gifted retail campaigner who’s quick on his feet, you were perfectly positioned to address these charges. You could have laid the ground work for completely reframing this this issue during the general election. But when Paige teed up the ideal opportunity, you chose not to swing. It’s a shame, because Paige—who had already chosen to attend your Republican primary event—likely would have been receptive to new information.
You could have been the bearer of good news and cheered along with her, because data shows that Paige can now be paid like her male peers. While there may still be periodic discrimination against women, women have made unbelievable strides professionally over the last 50 years, and we keep making more. That’s something we should be celebrating—and I suspect your wife and mother would agree.