Chris Christie finally spoke up about the so-called religious freedom law in Indiana and used his political acumen to both side with Gov. Mike Pence and against him.
Christie is among the last GOP 2016 presidential contenders to comment, with only Rand Paul keeping silent and Jeb Bush now softening his originally unequivocal support for Pence.
But the normally straight-talking Christie isn't exactly definitive about his position.
“To the extent that something needs to be fixed to clarify that nobody will be denied service for discriminatory reasons, I’m sure that’s exactly what Mike will do,” Christie told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
Christie seemed to imply the law has a perception problem, but not necessarily anything else, saying he's against “a situation where people perceive that anybody would be denied service.” He added, “My guess is that he’ll fix the problem and move on because that’s the kind of guy he is.”
Although activists say Indiana's law is so different in its language from the federal version that it allows a laundry list of possible discrimination, the "fix" that Christie talks about appears limited to a PR issue, and he spends the rest of the WSJ interview praising Pence as a guy with "nothing but love in his heart for people” who is simply misunderstood.
This "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" isn't Pence's first antigay position on an issue. For starters, he opposes marriage equality though it's legal in his own state. While in Congress, Pence voted against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, against hate-crimes legislation, against a ban on letting employers fire people for being LGBT, and in favor of amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Pence has also ducked opportunities to say whether same-sex couples should raise children. Even when it comes to HIV services, Pence has said money should only go to organizations that don't support LGBT people.
Meanwhile, the other candidate making a play for moderate Republican votes — Jeb Bush — is backing away from what he first told Hugh Hewitt while on his conservative talk radio program. On Monday, he said, "Governor Pence has done the right thing," and on Wednesday he said Pence ought to have used a “consensus-oriented” approach to drafting the law, according to a New York Times report on a private meeting with potential supporters in Silicon Valley. “We shouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation,” he reportedly told the crowd.
This is the second time this year that Bush has come out with a harsh judgment of LGBT people and then walked it back. When a court ruled that his home state of Florida must recognize marriage, Bush originally told the Miami Herald that judges had overreached and "it ought to be a local decision. I mean, a state decision."
Just days later, he revised that hard line by telling the New York Times that people ought to respect the judge's decision. "I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue," he said, "including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty."
But where is Rand Paul these days? Apparently he's on vacation, according to reports, and can't be reached for comment. The New Republic has called him out for side-stepping the issue while every other candidate speaks up. (Check here for a complete list of comments.)
"Maybe he’s just waiting until the spotlight on Indiana dies down a bit, so that his libertarian supporters are less aware when he adopts the party line," writes Danny Vinik. "But if that's his plan, it's not very presidential."