A commentator on Fox News has apologized to Gov. Chris Christie for saying he hugged President Obama days before the 2012 presidential election. But the falsehood, perpetuated by commentators on Fox News and right-wing talk radio for nearly three years, may have already done lasting damage to Christie’s nascent presidential campaign.
Republican voters often say it’s neither Bridgegate nor the state of the New Jersey economy that bothers them most about Christie, who is performing poorly in presidential polls. The primary complaint is that Christie hugged Obama when the president visited New Jersey after Sandy in 2012. Less than a week later, Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney in the presidential race. Many conservatives blame Christie for handing the election to Obama, and GOP candidate Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky even brought up “the hug” at the presidential debate last week.
Except the hug didn’t happen. The men warmly shook hands when Obama arrived at the Atlantic City Airport to survey damage with Christie. There was a presidential hand on the gubernatorial shoulder. And Christie did say nice words on TV about the president’s quick response to the disaster.
The truth was finally sorted out on Fox News Thursday night, as a slow motion video of the Obama-Christie encounter was played on the air and host Greta Van Susteren apologized to Christie.
“That hug, that picture – I looked at it last night and I probably said ‘hug’ a million times on the air, I thought it a million times,” Van Susteren said. “I look at the picture – that’s no hug. I’ve got to say: ‘I’m sorry about the hug.”
Christie looked a bit surprised. “Well thank you Greta, I appreciate that, and you know what – it’s a handshake, as you can see, and I think that’s what civilized people do when someone comes to your state to offer help,” he said. “You shake their hand and you welcome them, which is what I did. And as I told you before when we discussed this, I wouldn’t do anything differently that I did that day. I acted as a principled leader for the people of my state who had suffered the worst natural disaster in our state’s history and the second worst in American history.”
Pollsters don’t believe that Christie, who was perhaps the most active Romney surrogate on the campaign trail, changed the outcome of the election. Neither does Romney. But Christie has been repeatedly asked about the hug by Fox commentators, and Republican voters bring it up as a concern more often than any other issue involving Christie.
Perhaps voters and commentators are conflating other images from different times. More than a year before Sandy, Obama visited New Jersey following Hurricane Irene and each man briefly put a single arm around the other’s shoulder.
And months after Sandy, Christie won Obama a teddy bear during a visit to the Jersey Shore boardwalk. The men high-fived.