Oklahoma City, Okla. — At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference here today, Governor Chris Christie (R., N.J.) built the case for his presidential candidacy around the argument that he has the policy expertise and the experience needed to correct President Obama’s mistakes, a claim he bookended with implicit assurances that voters should not worry about the accusations of corruption levied against him by some opponents.
“New Jersey was the canary in the coal mine, everybody, for what would happen to America if we went to a liberal Democratic leader,” Christie said.
Known for his brusque demeanor with reporters and state government-employee unions alike, Christie drew applause and laughter with stories of his family. He remembered the time his Sicilian-American mother told him “there will be no deathbed confessions in this family” when she scolded him as a child, before recounting the last time he saw her in the hospital, on a Friday morning eleven years ago.
“She took my hand, she said, ‘Go to work, it’s where you belong, there’s nothing left unsaid between us,’” Christie recalled at the Cox Convention Center, drawing audible “awws” from the crowd. “She was right because of the way she had taught me to be, that in a trusting relationship you should leave nothing unsaid. . . . I never spoke to her again, but I didn’t have to, because she said there would be no deathbed confessions, right? She was right. There didn’t need to be.”
It was a poignant, if implicit, answer to anyone who suggests that the George Washington Bridge-lane closures allegedly orchestrated by some of his aides should cause voters to distrust him.
“The presidential election is not the Miss America pageant. We’re not going to beat Hillary Clinton because we nominated the most charming or attractive nominee.”
Christie referred to the office of the presidency as “the most trusting relationship outside the family you can possibly have,” in explaining his trademark bluntness. “That’s why I act the way I act, everybody,” he said. “And some days it may make you feel great and other days it might make you wince and say ‘I can’t believe he said that,’ but one thing you’ll never have to say is ‘I wonder what he thinks?’”
He left no ambiguity about his thoughts on the National Surveillance Agency’s mass collection of phone records, which his fellow GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul denounced in a 10-hour filibuster on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
“This debate that we’re having right now about the Patriot Act and whether we should have strong intelligence around the world is a very dangerous debate,” he said. “These same folks who are criticizing this now will be the same people who will stand on Capitol Hill if there is another attack on America and interrogate the CIA director and the FBI director and ask them why they didn’t connect the dots and not realize the hypocrisy of their actions.”
#related#It was the final policy item that he addressed, after offering the crowd fairly specific positions on entitlement reform and an overhaul of the nation’s tax code, and arguing that his experience as a U.S. Attorney in the days following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and his work as a Republican governor in a liberal state have prepared him to implement such an agenda.
“Let’s remember something: The presidential election is not the Miss America pageant,” Christie said at the Cox Convention Center. “We’re not going to beat Hillary Clinton because we nominated the most charming or attractive nominee. We’re going to beat Hillary Clinton because our ideas are better and because we can connect with the American people and their concerns and their fears and also their hopes and their aspirations.”
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.