President Donald Trump’s remarks assigning blame to both sides for violence connected with a white nationalist rally in Virginia were wrong, said Gov. Chris Christie, a friend and ally of the president.

Christie’s first comments on the strife in Charlottesville, other than a statement on Twitter, were delayed because he had been in Italy on a family vacation. He addressed the topic Monday at a news conference in East Rutherford about progress on the American Dream Meadowlands project.

“All leaders must speak out clearly on this – against white nationalists, against white supremacists, against neo-Nazis. This is unacceptable,” Christie said.

“And I think in my view that the president’s comments about both sides were a mistake and they shouldn’t have been said. And I certainly wouldn’t have said them. I don’t say them today, I don’t agree with them, and I don’t adopt them,” Christie said.

“People in public life say things all the time that are mistakes, but they have to pay for that,” he said.

Christie said the white nationalists who staged the rally at the University of Virginia, objected to the removal of Confederate statues, wanted to cause violence based upon bias and prejudice.

In his first comments about the issue, Trump said “many sides” were responsible for the rally. He amended those remarks in a prepared speech two days later in which he said people who cause violence in the name of racism are “criminals and thugs.”

But Trump then reversed course again the next day, saying at a news conference that the counter-protesters share blame for the violence and that there are “very fine people” on both sides of the conflict.

“The statement’s just wrong,” Christie said. “There aren’t good people on the neo-Nazi side. There is not a moral equivalence between those who oppose neo-Nazism, those who oppose white supremacy, those who oppose fascism, and those who engage it and support it. There’s not a moral equivalency there.”

Christie said he’s still confident Trump is “up to the job” of being president but ought to show he can learn from mistakes. And he said Trump is not a racist.

“I know the president. I’ve known him for 15 years. And I know that the president is not a racist, and I absolutely believe that,” Christie said. “But it does not excuse the statement.”

Christie said New Jersey is the most diverse state in this country – a debatable point, though it’s certainly among them. Around 22 percent of New Jersey residents are immigrants, behind only California and New York.

“Our state is a model for the rest of the country in terms of diversity and living peacefully, harmoniously with all that diversity. It happens in New Jersey every day,” Christie said.

“No matter where you’re from in the world, if you immigrate to the United States, you should come to New Jersey because you’ll be able to find a neighborhood, a community where your cultural values, your religious values are reflected,” he said. “And no matter where you live in this state, those values will be respected.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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