Gov. Christie sounds like a candidate in a speech at the Reagan library

Gov. Christie used a speech at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., to talk up the "leadership and compromise" he said he had overseen in Trenton.
Gov. Christie used a speech at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., to talk up the "leadership and compromise" he said he had overseen in Trenton. (JAE C. HONG / Associated Press)
Posted: September 28, 2011

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - Sounding every bit like the Republican presidential candidate that conservatives are pining for him to be, Gov. Christie hammered President Obama, flirted with foreign policy, and criticized Congress during an hour-long address Tuesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

But he did not, as the Fox News and C-Span cameras rolled, announce his candidacy for president.

Escorted by Nancy Reagan, who had invited him to speak, Christie paid homage to her late husband's "strength, perseverance, and faith," citing the Republican president's conviction in taking on the unionized air traffic controllers in 1981.

Christie has built his national reputation on his own showdowns with public-sector unions, and he drew a connection between the "leadership and compromise" he has overseen in Trenton and a need for the same in Washington to improve America's global reputation.

"In New Jersey we have done this and more, because the executive branch has not sat by and waited for others to go first to suggest solutions to our state's most difficult problems," he said. "Being a mayor, being a governor - being a president - means leading by taking risks on the most important issues of the day. That has happened in Trenton."

As Christie framed himself in bipartisan terms, praising New Jersey's Democratic Senate president and Assembly speaker as his "friends," Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) released a statement blasting Christie for politicking in California instead of addressing unemployment in New Jersey.

The speech, which followed five days of pleas and pressure from conservative fund-raisers and talking heads, was sure to increase speculation that Christie is planning to - or rethinking his refusal to - run for president.

That is especially true since Christie's speech was essentially a playbook for whoever opposes President Obama as the Republican nominee. He called the president a "bystander in the Oval Office" and quoted Obama's famous 2004 speech, in which he declared that there is no "liberal America" or "conservative America," there is "the United States of America."

He said Obama had failed in his mission to fulfill the promise of that speech.

"Insisting that we must tax and take and demonize those who have already achieved the American dream - that may turn out to be a good reelection strategy, Mr. President, but is a demoralizing message for America," Christie said in his biggest applause line of the night.

"What happened, what happened to State Sen. Obama? When did he decide to become one of the 'dividers' he spoke of so eloquently in 2004? There is, of course, a different choice."

That different choice, he said, is to follow Reagan, who led with a vision of "American exceptionalism."

But is that choice also Christie as a presidential candidate?

Those aligned with Christie have served up both "yes" and "no" answers to that question to hungry reporters in recent days.

Most prominently, former Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean, a mentor of Christie's and an elder statesman of New Jersey Republicans, told the National Review this week that Christie was "very seriously" considering a run.

But several others close to the governor, including his brother, Todd, have told reporters that was not so.

The result Tuesday was a rash of contradictory news reports. One declared in the headline that Christie was not running, only to cite an unnamed source in the final line saying that he was.

Christie's closest confidant in the state Senate, Joseph Kyrillos (R., Monmouth), said in an interview Tuesday that, yes, Christie had been getting a lot of phone calls, "and it's true that they are from significant players."

But, he said: "The governor's been really clear about it. He says the same thing privately that he says publicly. He says it the same way."

Publicly, Christie has used variations on this line several times in the last year: "You have to believe it in your heart and in your soul and in your mind that you're ready, and I don't believe that about myself right now."

He has joked about committing suicide "to convince people I'm not running."

And he declared at a Statehouse news conference: "I'm not going to be the Republican candidate for president or vice president in 2012."

On Tuesday, when an audience member asked if he was running, he referred the person to a video on the Politico website with a montage of his denials. When another audience member told him, "We need you, our country needs you," a standing ovation ensued.

"I hear exactly what you're saying, and I feel the passion with which you say it, and it touches me," he said. "Because I can tell you I'm just a kid from Jersey who feels like the luckiest guy in the world to have the opportunity to be the governor of my state."

He never explicitly said "no."

Desperation among conservatives for a candidate to beat Obama peaked Thursday night, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered a performance at a GOP debate that was roundly criticized.

And Christie's travel schedule this week - which had been planned for weeks - raised further suspicions.

Christie held fund-raisers for Missouri and New Jersey Republicans this week, and in California he is hosting three closed-door fund-raisers for New Jersey Republicans.

On Thursday, Christie is scheduled to be in Baton Rouge, La., rallying with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is up for reelection.

It's possible, therefore, that Christie is just playing the speculation for cash. At one fund-raiser in California, donors spent between $1,500 and $5,000 apiece for an hour-long lunch with Christie.

The Republican State Committee has raised far more money than it did in the pre-Christie years, and Christie could use that newfound largesse to try to win some seats from the Democratic-controlled Legislature in November's election.

Christie looked far beyond New Jersey Tuesday night, though, touching on many elements of American policy, such as congressional stalemates over the debt, but avoiding divisive social issues.

One clue that Christie could be preparing for a run came when he entered the realm of foreign policy, citing the protection of Israel, the importance of safeguarding against terrorism, and "the need to limit ourselves to what is in our national interests."

He said economic strength at home could inspire democracy and free markets in the Arab world.

But he delivered his most presidential line at the close, invoking a line presidents traditionally use at big speeches: "God bless you, and God bless the United States of America."


Contact staff writer Matt Katz at 609-217-8355, mkatz@phillynews.com, or @mattkatz00 on Twitter. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at philly.com/christiechronicles.

 

|
|
|
|
|