Few Americans know what it’s like to stand onstage for a nationally televised presidential debate. And the few who do have strong partisan biases. With both of those things in mind, I listened Monday as Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor and a Republican candidate in 2016, discussed the upcoming Democratic debates during an interview with the Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
When the large Democratic field gathers tonight and Thursday for televised debates, many candidates will be appearing on the national stage for the first time.
Under those lights, “there’s only two options,” Christie said. “You either shine or you melt. That’s it.” His gut tells him that Mayor Pete Buttigieg will melt and that Senator Cory Booker may shine. But in his estimation, it’s hard to tell who is likely to do what, and whatever happens is likely to significantly affect the race going forward.
Hence the high drama of the moment.
“[Governor] Scott Walker at one time was, like, the front-runner in Iowa,” he recalled. “He literally sweated himself out of the campaign at the Reagan Library debate. Couldn’t answer, was sweating profusely, wasn’t ready. This was a guy who’s faced up to unions in Wisconsin and put up with a lot of very difficult issues … No one could have predicted that Scott wouldn’t perform.”