New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has once against been sworn in to his state’s highest office. After taking his oath of office, Christie delivered an inaugural address with an emphasis on “pride” and “boldness,” as promised in previews of the speech.
In a speech in which Christie repeatedly described New Jersey as a “tough,” “resilient,” and “proud” state, the governor emphasized the overwhelming percentages with which he won reelection and used that as a launching point to call for the state to be “willing to share in the sacrifice” to make New Jersey a better place. Unlike his first win, which he described as a mere “plurality,” he noted his re-election “was the largest and loudest voice of affirmation that the people of our state have given to any direction in three decades.”
Christie did not explicitly mention the scandals surrounding his office–neither the George Washington Bridge incident in which residents of Fort Lee, New Jersey suffered four-hour traffic delays nor the claims from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that Christie’s office withheld Hurricane Sandy relief funds. But he did put an emphasis on the “faith and trust” required for a voter to place a ballot in his name and thanked the state effusively for that.
The speech had three major objectives: to remind the rest of the country that he had won by an overwhelming majority, to convince national Republican voters that he was a conservative, and to outline policy initiatives he would work on for the rest of his tenure.
To the first issue, he minced no words. Calling New Jersey a state “setting the tone for an entire nation,” a state that “has brought pride to our people and leadership to our nation” despite the current news cycle, he noted that the voters had “affirmed the decision to take on the big problems, that our answers to our problems must be bold.”
Those answers sounded far more conservative than most of what Christie achieved during his first tenure or the language he used while running for office. Decrying a “bigger, more expensive government,” Christie mentioned the role of God in self-fulfillment twice, insisting that the government must promote the idea that all people “have inside them the God-given ability to be happy.” “[The people] must first believe that self-worth comes from inside each of God’s beings,” he insisted.
He also took two veiled jabs at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, also a potential 2016 candidate. “Let’s be different than our neighbors,” he insisted, and give residents “the unfettered opportunity to succeed in the way that they define success.” To conservatives, he offered directly: “come to New Jersey, you will be welcome here.” Cuomo had said last week on a radio show that conservatives “have no place in the state” of New York.
As expected, Christie touted his bipartisan credentials, rejecting the “red and blue boxes that the media and pundits put us in.” To that end, he discussed what appears to be the biggest policy initiative of the new term: rehabilitating drug addicts. “We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse,” he declared, couching his policies in a pro-life philosophy: “Every life has value and no life is disposable.”
Christie culminated a wide-ranging speech with a joke about how his administration had been besieged by “every kind of disaster of the natural kind,” calling it “fitting” that a snowstorm would hinder his inaugural. Due to inclement weather, Christie’s gala on Ellis Island in New York has been canceled.
For national pundits looking for a subtext to Christie’s speech or at least a sign that he is aware of how badly his image has suffered, the takeaway is that Christie is, perhaps for the first time, boldly dedicated to running for President in 2016. His state is “setting the tone” nationally, he says, and the solutions he seeks for problems are “bold.” And he might be willing to work with the other side, but he is no Andrew Cuomo.
Christie has plenty of ground to make up with Tea Party conservatives ideologically and with the establishment politically. Unlike this time last year, he was not in trouble with conservatives because they doubted his ideological purity–he is under the national spotlight because his office was full of corrupt and vengeful political operatives. The next two years in Christie’s speech might be about education reform and ending the War on Drugs, but if he wants to stand a chance in 2016, he has two years of non-stop damage control to plan.