Has Christie’s moment passed? ‘I don’t know,’ he says

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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire  — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he’s comfortable with where he stands as a potential presidential contender and added that Hillary Clinton would have to earn her Democratic nomination, in an NBC interview taped on Wednesday.

Asked by NBC “Today Show” host Matt Lauer if his 2016 moment had passed, Christie said, “I don’t know. And neither do you. But we’ll see.”

Christie said he’s not worried about the large decline over the past year in his once sky-high poll numbers, saying there’s plenty of time to come back.

“I’ve been the frontrunner before. It’s a place where the bullseye’s on your back and everybody’s shooting at you. So it’s OK,” he said. “I’m fine with exactly where I am right now ’cause I haven’t changed. All that other stuff is artificial until the game really begins. And the game hasn’t even come close to beginning.”

Later he told Lauer, “Mrs. Clinton’s going to have to perform so she’s going to have to earn the nomination. Nobody is handed these things.”

The interview is scheduled to air on Thursday.

Also on Wednesday, speaking at an event in New Hampshire, Christie said a nuclear Iran would pose the biggest foreign policy threat to the United States, adding that he supports actions by Congress to get involved in the White House’s deal-making with the longtime U.S. foe.

“That’s the biggest one: A nuclear Iran is bad for the world and bad for the United States,” said the Republican, who is in New Hampshire ahead of his likely presidential campaign.

Christie was visiting Chez Vachon, a diner in Manchester, shaking hands with voters eating breakfast when one person asked the governor what he considered the biggest national security threat to America. Christie criticized the proposed agreement reached last month to limit Iran’s nuclear program, and warned that a nuclear Iran could inspire other countries in the Middle East to push for nuclear weapons of their own.

In the face of pushback from the White House, Congress has been lobbying for months to have a greater say in the deal with Iran. The two entities reached a compromise earlier this week, and the White House indicated Tuesday it would support legislation that would let Congress have some input into the deal.

“I’m glad Congress is going to get involved in reviewing any deal the president makes. We need to have some more sober heads other than the president’s looking at this,” Christie said. “And I don’t think it’s a good deal for America the way it’s framed right now.”

Christie has largely been quiet on specific foreign policy issues, saying instead that he’s focused on governing his state and that he’ll start weighing in once he becomes an official candidate. He said Wednesday that he’s been studying up for the past eight or nine months to become better familiar with the issues at stake.

“I’m not one of these guys who’s going to give, on something as serious and important as foreign policy, a seat-of-the-pants answer,” he told reporters Wednesday. “When I have an informed opinion, I’ll give it, and when I don’t … I say ‘I don’t know.’ I think ‘I don’t know’ is a pretty powerful answer in politics.”

In New Hampshire on Tuesday, Christie warned of doom for entitlement programs and laid out his policy push for reform, which would include ending Social Security payments to the very wealthy among other proposals.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Christie was asked if he’d consider tax increases to help address fiscal issues on the federal level.

“Everything’s on the table for conversation, but I don’t think that the problem right now in America is that we’re undertaxed,” he said. “So that would not be my inclination.”

Raising taxes, he said, would not be enough to fix entitlement programs, saying they must first be reformed. But he didn’t take tax hikes off the table.

“When you’re a leader you have to be willing to listen to everybody’s ideas,” he said. “But my ideas I’ve laid out very specifically yesterday how to fix these problems — it doesn’t include increasing taxes. That’s not the way to fix this problem.”

In an editorial board meeting with the New Hampshire Union Leader, Christie was asked about the George Washington Bridge scandal that led to the firing or resignation of multiple people in his administration, though Christie has been found of no wrongdoing so far. The U.S. attorney in New Jersey is still investigating the issue, in which access lanes to the nation’s busiest bridge were closed out of an apparent act of political retribution against a Democratic mayor.

Christie, as he has said before, said he’s learned to be less trusting of people. “At my core, I’m a trusting person. I believe in the honesty of other people. And I think, for me, I’m also someone who likes to delegate responsibility to people and let them perform.”

He told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. attorney’s investigation does not factor into his timeline for announcing his 2016 decision, which he reiterated will come in the late spring or early summer.

Since the controversy, Christie has struggled to regain his once sky-high favorability ratings at home, and he’s worked to rehabilitate his national image.

At the diner Wednesday, a voter joked to Christie that when he heard the governor was coming to New Hampshire, he “made sure personally that the bridges were going to stay open.”

Laughing it off, Christie asked, “which direction is the bridge? I’ll go and make sure.”

Another voter sitting at the same table said he was caught in the traffic jam on the bridge caused by the closures in September 2013. “It was my anniversary,” he said.

“Really? How did it go? Not well, huh?” Christie asked.

“Not well,” he said, as the table laughed.

The man, Richard Moquin, later told Politico that he misremembered the incident, and it was in December, not September, of 2013 that he and his wife were stuck in traffic on their anniversary.

The governor is scheduled to hold a town hall in Londonderry later on Wednesday, followed by a second town hall in the state on Friday.

By Ashley Killough