NBC: ‘Is Trump Doing Long-Term Damage to the Republican Brand?’

In an interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Friday’s NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie pressed the Republican presidential candidate on whether Donald Trump was hurting the GOP: “Is Trump doing long-term damage to the Republican brand if he's insulting Muslims, Latinos, women, veterans, prisoners of war? I mean, do you worry about the effect this is having for the long-term prospects of the Republican Party?”

Christie dismissed the notion: “I don't, Savannah, because in the end what's going to matter is who’s the nominee of the party. The party standard bearer is the person who winds up holding in his or her hands the burden and the opportunity of defining the Republican Party, and so we're a long way from that.”

Much of the segment focused on Trump, with fellow co-host Matt Lauer starting off by citing a Trump supporter falsely claiming President Obama was a Muslim at a campaign event for the businessman: “Does a candidate for president, in this case the Republican front-runner, have a responsibility to shut down a supporter when the supporter erroneously says that the President's not an American, that he's Muslim, and then goes on to say, ‘We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims.’ Does Mr. Trump need to apologize to the President and to Muslims?”

Christie responded: “He's got to decide what he wants to do for himself but I would just tell you that if somebody at one of my town hall meetings said something like that I would correct them and say, ‘No, the President’s a Christian and he was born in this country.’ I mean, I think those two things are self-evident.”

All three network morning shows led with the controversy.

After devoting so much time to Trump, Lauer later observed: “It seems so hard for anyone to get attention these days....How do you get from the podium on the end to a podium closer to the center? How do you break out?”

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At the end of the interview, Guthrie and Lauer hit Christie with a lightning round of questions:

GUTHRIE: Do you think the government’s going to shut down over de-funding Planned Parenthood?

CHRISTIE: Probably not.

LAUER: Joe Biden, is he going to run for president?

CHRISTIE: I hope he does.

GUTHRIE: What about Pope Francis, would you consider him a transformative pope?

CHRISTIE: We'll see. Certainly his attitude, the way he has dealt with the Church in the beginning and with the faithful has the potential to be transformative. John Paul II was transformative, but we learned that over a period of time. I think we're going to learn it about the Pope and look forward to seeing him next week.

LAUER: Last one, Ahmed Mohammed, that young man who brought the homemade clock to school. Did the school overreact?

CHRISTIE: It’s such a tough thing. It’s obvious that they did. I mean, when you look at facts it’s obvious that they did. But we also know that we live in extraordinarily dangerous times and people are really concerned, and that's part of what I've been talking about on the campaign trail. The President hasn't met the burden of making people feel safe and so you're going to have instances like this that are a problem.

Here is a full transcript of the September 18 segment:

7:05 AM ET

MATT LAUER: We’ve got New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, is here right now. He's running for Republican presidential nomination. Governor, good to see you. Good morning.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Good to be back, guys.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Trump Under Fire Over Muslim Q & A; Christie on Trump’s Refusal to Correct Man’s Claims]

LAUER: Does a candidate for president, in this case the Republican front-runner, have a responsibility to shut down a supporter when the supporter erroneously says that the President's not an American, that he's Muslim, and then goes on to say, “We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims.” Does Mr. Trump need to apologize to the President and to Muslims?

CHRISTIE: He's got to decide what he wants to do for himself but I would just tell you that if somebody at one of my town hall meetings said something like that I would correct them and say, “No, the President’s a Christian and he was born in this country.” I mean, I think those two things are self-evident.

LAUER: Do you think it would be right for Mr. Trump to apologize to Muslims this morning?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I think it's – Donald Trump's got to decide, as we've seen – and I’ve said this all along – he's got to decide how serious a candidate he wants to be and how he handles different problems like this are going to determine that in the eyes of the American people. I'm not going to lecture him about what to do, I'll just tell you what I would do. And I wouldn’t have permitted that. If someone brought that up at a town hall meeting of mine, I would said, “No, listen, before we answer, let's clear some things up for the rest of the audience.” And I think you have an obligation as a leader to do that.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Governor, you want to be the general election nominee. Is Trump doing long-term damage to the Republican brand if he's insulting Muslims, Latinos, women, veterans, prisoners of war? I mean, do you worry about the effect this is having for the long-term prospects of the Republican Party?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: The “Trump Effect” on the GOP; Christie on Candidates’ Struggles to Break Out]

CHRISTIE: I don't, Savannah, because in the end what's going to matter is who’s the nominee of the party. The party standard bearer is the person who winds up holding in his or her hands the burden and the opportunity of defining the Republican Party, and so we're a long way from that. Being ahead in the polls, as I've said many times, in September, doesn't mean you're going to be standing on the stage in Cleveland in July. So let's see what happens between now and July and then we can probably answer that question a lot better.

LAUER: It seems so hard for anyone to get attention these days. I looked at that stage the other night, Governor, all those podiums. How do you get from the podium on the end to a podium closer to the center? How do you break out?

CHRISTIE: Well, I – listen, I just think you keep being yourself, Matt. I think if you try to be somebody else, the voters get that, and they detect a lack of authenticity. They detect if you're trying too hard. Be yourself, and that’s what I tried to do, you know, at the debate on Wednesday night. And I don't know, had about nine or ten minutes of time in the three hours, but the fact is that I think people got to see a bit of who I am on a broader national stage and I think you'll see things start to happen from there.

But it's a long slog. I mean, love folks who say to you all the time, you know this, people say, you know, that running for the presidency is a marathon and then they say what are your poll numbers today? Well, come on. It's a marathon. It means that we’re not going to have any kind of even inkling of what's going to happen for four or five months.

GUTHRIE: Alright, we're going to do a little lightning round, if we could.

CHRISTIE: Alright.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Today’s Candidate Lightning Round; Questions From Politics to Pop Culture]

GUTHRIE: Do you think the government’s going to shut down over de-funding Planned Parenthood?

CHRISTIE: Probably not.

LAUER: Joe Biden, is he going to run for president?

CHRISTIE: I hope he does.

GUTHRIE: What about Pope Francis, would you consider him a transformative pope?

CHRISTIE: We'll see. Certainly his attitude, the way he has dealt with the Church in the beginning and with the faithful has the potential to be transformative. John Paul II was transformative, but we learned that over a period of time. I think we're going to learn it about the Pope and look forward to seeing him next week.

LAUER: Last one, Ahmed Mohammed, that young man who brought the homemade clock to school. Did the school overreact?

CHRISTIE: It’s such a tough thing. It’s obvious that they did. I mean, when you look at facts it’s obvious that they did. But we also know that we live in extraordinarily dangerous times and people are really concerned, and that's part of what I've been talking about on the campaign trail. The President hasn't met the burden of making people feel safe and so you're going to have instances like this that are a problem.

LAUER: Governor Chris Christie. Governor, always good to have you here.

CHRISTIE: Happy to be back and this is really quite something...

LAUER: Theater in the round.

CHRISTIE: ...to be sitting up here. Amazing. I feel like big-time now. This is great.

GUTHRIE: You feel like Matt Lauer.

CHRISTIE: No, no, no, no. Please, no, please, stop, stop. I'm not nearly that famous.

GUTHRIE: Governor, good to see you.

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