All eyes on Christie ahead of Reagan Library speech

Will Rahn Senior Editor
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Amid contrasting reports over his rumored presidential ambitions, all eyes will be on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday as he prepares to speak before a sold-out crowd at the Reagan Library in California.

Aides to Christie say the speech will focus on American exceptionalism and the example of Reagan’s leadership. That said, the library is the ideal setting for Christie to cast himself as the heir to Reagan’s legacy, or finally dispel any speculation that he’s considering a presidential run.

The Daily Caller asked several political observers and Republican heavyweights what they expect from the speech, and what Christie will have to say.

According to veteran GOP strategist Mary Matalin, Christie has deftly handled the speculation surrounding his potential candidacy. “If the blind sources in recent stories are accurate,” she told TheDC, “it sounds like he has been very thorough in his thinking on the prospect of entering and pitch perfect executing on that thinking. His media coverage captured all the dramatic draft attempts without conveying hubris or ‘The Hamlet Syndrome.’”

“He should always just stay on the message in his unique language that is the basis of the hype in the first place,” said Matalin. “Other than possibly something humorous, he shouldn’t — and likely will not — say anything to advance or deflate the frenzy.”

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin agreed that Christie is unlikely to formally enter the race on Tuesday, but said she does “expect him to express alarm that the current crop of GOP contenders is not setting forth concrete proposals for real reform.” (RELATED: NJ gov. shoots down ‘Jersey Shore’ tax credit)

Moreover, Rubin said, “some expression that he is re-evaluating his previous refusal to run is likely.”

Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist called Christie “the guy who made it possible for Republicans to run and govern well” by proving a fiscal conservative could succeed in a blue state. “I think he will discuss how he has governed, taking on very serious interests without flinching,” said Norquist. “The water is good, the ice is thick enough to walk out on.”

“The speech topic is leadership, which is precisely the right topic for Christie to address to stoke (or dampen) the flames for a potential candidacy,” said American Enterprise Institute Vice President Henry Olsen. “Given the location at the Reagan library, I expect him to cite Reagan as an example of what principled leadership can look like, with some reference to examples from his short tenure to place the Reagan mantle squarely on his shoulders — accompanied, of course, by self-deprecating comments on how he’s not in Reagan’s league.”

Olsen argues that, for Christie to hit a home run with his speech, he needs to appeal to the moderate Republican establishment by selling his ability to work across the aisle while staying true to his conservative convictions. “He does this, and does it in his direct, no nonsense style, and he’ll have the establishment begging him to run,” Olsen continued. “We might even see a nascent ‘draft Christie’ movement spring up, and those who know their New Hampshire primary history will note that write in candidates used to do quite well there when voters were dissatisfied with their choices.”

Others take a less sanguine view of Christie’s presidential prospects. Democratic strategist David “Mudcat” Saunders says “there aren’t enough hours in the day” for Christie to put together the national political operation he would need to win the Republican nomination. According to Saunders, there would be little for Christie to gain by entering the nominating process at this point, and he will most likely use the speech to simply “wave the flag of Reagan Republicanism, whatever the hell that is.”

American Enterprise Institute scholar, Fox News contributor and Washington Examiner columnist Michael Barone says that while the non-svelte Christie “will make a big splash” if he jumps into the race, how well he would perform is far from certain.

“He hasn’t had to face significant questioning of foreign policy issues, on federal budgeting issues,” Barone told TheDC’s Ginni Thomas in an interview on Monday. “He’s talked about them, he’s talked about entitlements, but he hasn’t had to face sharp questioning on that. He hasn’t been asked to lay out a macroeconomic policy to accelerate the very sluggish economic growth we have at the present time.”

“If Chris Christie gets into a presidential race, he will have to do some things that he hasn’t had to do before,” said Barone. “And no one can predict with entire certainty how well he’s going to do that.”


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