New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke Tuesday night before an audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., in a speech unlikely to end speculation about his potential presidential candidacy.
While critical of President Obama’s leadership, Christie touted bipartisanship and compromise as the key ingredients of his success in New Jersey, contrasting his success in Trenton with the gridlock in Washington.
The scourge of his state’s public sector unions, Christie recalled President Reagan’s standoff with the air traffic controllers’ union PATCO and argued that strength abroad requires leadership at home.
“Most Americans at the time and since no doubt viewed Reagan’s firm handling of the PATCO strike as a domestic matter, a confrontation between the president and a public sector union,” said Christie. “But this misses a critical point. To quote a phrase from another American moment, the whole world was watching. Thanks to newspapers and television then — and increasingly the Internet and social media — what happens here doesn’t stay here.”
“This is not Vegas,” he joked.
Christie went on to bemoan the Capitol’s “partisan divide” and called for a style of leadership that puts the national interest above political squabbles. “We pay a price when our political system cannot come together and agree on the difficult but necessary steps to rein in entitlement spending or reform our tax system,” he said.
Republicans deserve some blame for the dysfunction as well, Christie implied. “We watch a Congress at war with itself because they are unwilling to leave campaign style politics at the Capitol’s door. The result is a debt ceiling limitation debate that made our democracy appear as if we could no longer effectively govern ourselves.” (RELATED: Full text of Christie’s Reagan Library speech)
By contrast, Christie said the key to his success has been his willingness to work across the aisle without betraying his convictions. “Leadership and compromise is the only way you can balance two budgets with over $13 billion in deficits without raising taxes while protecting core services,” he said. “Leadership and compromise is the only way you reform New Jersey’s pension and health benefits system that was collectively $121 billion underfunded.”
Later, Christie laid out a vision for a foreign policy that draws upon America’s ability to inspire other nations while becoming “more discriminating in what we try to accomplish abroad.”
“A lot is being said in this election season about American exceptionalism,” he said. “Implicit in such statements is that we are different and, yes, better, in the sense that our democracy, our economy and our people have delivered. But for American exceptionalism to truly deliver hope and a sterling example to the rest of the world, it must be demonstrated, not just asserted. If it is demonstrated, it will be seen and appreciated and ultimately emulated by others. They will then be more likely to follow our example and our lead.”
Toward the end of the speech, Christie quoted then-Illinois State Senator Obama’s call for national unity in 2004, but said the president now plans “to divide our nation to achieve re-election.”
“What happened to State Senator Obama? When did he decide to become one of the ‘dividers’ he spoke of so eloquently in 2004?” Christie asked.
“There is, of course, a different choice,” he continued. “That choice is the way Ronald Reagan led America in the 1980s.”
After the speech Christie answered questions from the audience, several of which concerned his rumored presidential ambitions, which he again denied. “Please sir, your country needs you to run for president,” one woman pleaded.
“I hear exactly what you’re saying and I feel the passion with which you say it and it touches me,” he answered. “But by the same token, that heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. That reason also has to reside within me.”