Chris Christie criticized his fellow Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley on Thursday over her failure to say slavery was the cause of the American Civil War, claiming she did so because “she’s unwilling to offend anyone by telling the truth.”
“She’s smart and she knows better. And she didn’t say it because she’s a racist, because she’s not. I know her well, and I don’t believe Nikki has a racist bone in her body,” the former New Jersey governor said at a town hall event in Epping, New Hampshire.
“The reason she did it is just as bad, if not worse, and should make everybody concerned about her candidacy,” he continued. “She did it because she’s unwilling to offend anyone by telling the truth.”
Christie suggested the incident demonstrates that Haley lacks backbone to lead the country and stand up against tough foreign leaders, Democrats, and certain divisive Republicans, accusing her of being “afraid to say that Donald Trump is unfit because she’s afraid of offending people who support Donald Trump.”
Unlike most of his rivals, Christie has been vocally critical of the former president, who faces 91 felony counts across four indictments.
At a Wednesday night campaign stop in Berlin, New Hampshire, a voter asked Haley to state the cause of the Civil War. Haley cited the role of government, and “freedoms,” but declined to mention slavery.
When the voter called out her omission, she abruptly moved onto the next question.
Facing fierce backlash, Haley walked it back on Thursday morning, telling a New Hampshire radio station, “of course the Civil War was about slavery. We know that.”
She also declined, when asked by a voter on Thursday, to explicitly rule out being Trump’s vice president, and said she would pardon the former president if she wins the election and if he’s convicted of a crime.
“Since she won’t deny it, we have to believe that she’s willing to do it,” Christie said of Haley’s aspirations for a potential second Trump administration.
Some of Haley’s other rivals have also criticized her viral Civil War remarks.
“Not that difficult to identify and acknowledge the role slavery played in the Civil War, and yet that seemed to be something that was really difficult,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters, according to the Des Moines Register.
Vivek Ramaswamy, with whom Haley has clashed repeatedly on foreign policy, tweeted: “Turns out Nikki knows as little about the Civil War as she does about the Ukraine War.”
Haley has seen a polling bump recently, including a surge in New Hampshire, but she still lags Trump, who leads the pack by a wide margin nationally.