Club for Growth president blasts Chris Christie over Sandy aid

Club for Growth President Chris Chocola on Thursday sharply criticized New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) handling of the fight for Hurricane Sandy aid, saying the potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate sowed doubts among conservatives about whether he is a "real reformer" on government spending. 

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"I think he lost an opportunity, really, to cement his position there," Chocola said in an interview with The Hill. 

"If he had gone on TV and ranted and raved and pounded his fist about, 'Get me my money for New Jersey, for Sandy relief, and don't screw it up by putting all this pork in there and making everybody else pay for stuff that we don't need right now,' ... If he had done that, he could've fought for his state, and he could've been a hero amongst Republicans," Chocola told The Hill.

Instead, Christie has "created a question in peoples' minds of whether he is the real reformer he describes himself as, or whether he's just like all the rest of them. You know, it's just, 'I'm willing to spend a whole bunch of money we don't need to get mine,' " Chocola said.

Christie famously slammed Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Republicans earlier this month for a decision to delay a vote on Hurricane Sandy relief, following late-night passage of a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff." 

"Last night, politics was placed before our oath to serve our citizens," Christie said. "For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch."

"There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their Speaker, John Boehner,” he added.

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The Hurricane Sandy bill was eventually passed, but it included what many Republicans considered billions in unnecessary spending for lawmakers' pet projects. 

The Club for Growth backed an amendment to the initial funding bill that would have offset the $17 billion sum by cutting 1.63 percent from all federal agencies, which did not make it through the House.

Christie initially drew criticism after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey because he toured the state with President Obama just prior to the Nov. 6 election — and praised Obama's response to the natural disaster. Many Republicans saw Christie's actions and comments as a tacit endorsement of the president from one of the party's standard-bearers.

Chocola said, however, that the problem wasn't Christie's tour with Obama. Rather, he said Christie should've taken a harder line on extraneous spending in the Sandy aid bill, and his failure to do so may have undermined his attempts to frame himself as a true reformer.

The Club for Growth spent nearly $18 million this last election towards electing conservative candidates to Senate and House races nationwide, but did not play as large a role in the presidential race as some other outside groups. 

However, in 2008, the Club worked against Republican primary candidate Mike Huckabee, launching ads that attacked him as "liberal."

Chocola didn't indicate whether the same fate would be in store for Christie if he runs for president in 2016, but he did say the governor may not have a strong record to run on four years from now. 

"I think the fact that you have a bombastic guy that is perceived as a straight-talker trying to solve problems is a good thing," Chocola said. "But when it comes time to run, people will really examine what problems he actually solved, and whether he solved them, or he made noise about them. And I don't know the answer to that yet."

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