Chris Christie Passes His First Big Media Test

Sean Hannity interviewed New Jersey's two-term governor on Tuesday after his presidential announcement.

Sean Hannity isn't known to be a big fan of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He was annoyed when Christie, in Hannity's words, "refused" an interview with him earlier this year at CPAC. And just after the governor's 2012 reelection, he said, "I don't know what the big appeal of Christie is."

But speaking with the governor on Tuesday, hours after his long-awaited presidential announcement, Hannity betrayed little, if any, of that disillusionment. In fact, the Fox News host, who has parlayed his influence among conservatives into long interviews with several major GOP candidates following their announcements, gave Christie no better setting to make his case to conservative viewers: a wide-ranging, policy-focused interview that amounted to a two-man town-hall.

Hannity's show attracts a large, mostly conservative audience of about 1.5 million viewers a night. In the interview Tuesday, Christie's defense of his continual post-Bridgegate slipping in the polls zeroed in on those viewers' favorite punching bag: the liberal media.

"They can't live with the fact that I'm innocent, that I didn't do anything wrong," Christie said. "It's a powerful thing to be under the scrutiny of the media. And especially, remember, when this all happened, ... I was the prohibitive front-runner for the Republican nomination for president. So they wanted to take me down."

But as Christie launches his campaign as one of the more moderate candidates in the 2016 GOP field, there's another significant bit of baggage that's dogged him in recent months—New Jersey's economic woes. Christie has tried to make his pitch on the national stage as a fiscal reformer—touting a revamp of national entitlements—but at home, a public-employee pension crisis continues.

Though Hannity's approach to Christie seemed largely favorable in Tuesday's in-the-weeds interview (he called him, in what may or may not have been a slip, "the great governor of the state of New Jersey"), the host focused several pointed questions on New Jersey's economy. After Christie touted a reform record he said has saved his state billions, Hannity asked how New Jersey's credit rating has been downgraded nine times since Christie took office. It was a question Hannity had wanted to ask Christie in that never-scheduled CPAC interview.

The governor blamed the pension crisis—"I inherited a basket case"—and said a second round of reform is coming.

Many suspect Christie missed his chance by running in 2016 instead of 2012. But the governor waved off questions about how a "landslide" reelection turned into waning popularity.

"I collect political capital to spend it," Christie said. "I'm fighting with the unions again to try to get greater pension reform. I'm fighting to continue to cut spending in my state."

Christie's more moderate side came out when he was asked about his support for New Jersey's version of the DREAM Act, which would give the children of illegal immigrants access to in-state tuition at state colleges.

In contrast to the slash-and-burn rhetoric Christie used regarding taxes and spending, he supported continued investment in those students, whom he said New Jersey spends about $18,000 on per year through senior year of high school.

"Once we invest that much in those young men and women, why do I want to make it harder for them to be able to get a college education?" Christie said. "We made that decision to invest in them. So let's make it easier for them to get a public education at one of our colleges or universities."

Christie's ability to plainly defend his policies sets him apart from an often question-dodging presidential field. He maintained on Tuesday that he's not going to go back on his record as governor or change himself to appeal to voters.

"If people in this country want someone who is going to play politics 24 hours a day, seven days a week, don't vote for me," he said. "What I'm going to do is do the job the people elected me to do. That's what I'll always do and I'll do it unapologetically."