Gov. Chris Christie today delivered a broadside against the broken politics of Washington and the need for straight talk to solve the country’s problems in a speech that will stoke talk of a 2012 presidential bid by the New Jersey Republican.
“I look at what’s happening in Washington right now and I am worried,” said Christie in an address at the American Enterprise Institute. “What game is being played down here is irresponsible and it’s dangerous.”
Asked whether he would consider running for president in 2012, Christie acknowledged that he “see[s] the opportunity” but quickly added: “That’s not a reason to be president of the United States.”
And yet, Christie’s speech, which spanned roughly 45 minutes, had all the traditional markers of someone eyeing national office.
“Leadership today in America has to be about doing the big things and being courageous,” said Christie. At another point, Christie argued that “we have to bring a new approach and a new discipline to this.”
Christie repeatedly drew on his experiences in New Jersey — tightening the state’s budget, facing down public-sector unions — to draw a harsh contrast with the kick-the-can-down-the-road-ism that he believes has infected politics in Washington.
Dismissing the “old playbook” of putting off hard choices until after the next — and then the next — election, Christie noted that after the 2012 election Medicare will be less than five years away from insolvency. “My childrens’ future is more important than some political strategy,” said Christie. “We need to say these things and we need to say them out loud.”
Christie insisted that “restoring and maintaining fiscal sanity”, reforming health and pension benefits and “reforming an education system that costs too much and produces too little” should be the sole focus of the country’s leaders.
That trio of issues are “not partisan…they are obvious,” said Christie, noting that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) and he have taken very similar approaches to solving what have long been considered intractable problems. (Christie repeatedly referenced Cuomo in the speech, at one point referring to himself and the New York governor as “soulmates”.)
Christie’s speech was couched in the sort of populist, average Joe tone that has rapidly become his trademark.
Recounting threats from Democratic state legislators that they would shut down the state government rather than pass his budget, Christie said he told the pols that he had no plans to sleep in his office — as his predecessor in the job had done –but would rather head to the governor’s mansion, “open a beer, order a pizza and watch the Mets”.
Christie later said that when he went to speak to a group of union workers who were angry with him, he crumpled up his notes, threw them on the ground and told the crowd that he was the only politician willing to tell them the truth.
And, he added to that straight-talking reputation by offering a critique of his own party — most notably on the idea of American exceptionalism, a principle that former Govs. Mitt Romney (Mass.) and Tim Pawlenty (Minn.) have embraced whole-heartedly as they prepare to run for president in 2012.
“American exceptionalism has to include the courage to do the right thing,” said Christie.
The speech, which Politico’s Mike Allen billed as a “D.C. rollout” for the New Jersey governor, is sure to stir speculation — despite Christie’s protestations to the contrary — that a national bid is on the horizon for him.
As we have argued in this space before, there is a slot for an tea party economic conservative in the field. Christie is the most obvious person in the party who could step in and fill that spot.
We take him at his word that he doesn’t believe he is ready to be president just yet. But, speeches like the one he gave today at AEI will do little to diminish the demand for his voice to be heard at the national level.
Politics — as President Obama proved in 2008 — is about seeing opportunity and taking it. Christie, as he himself acknowledged today, has an opportunity. Will he grasp it?