New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s inaugural address yesterday left many listening waiting for an acknowledgment of the scandals that have engulfed his administration. Instead, Christie took a few surprising swipes at his neighbor to the north and took a strong stand against the War on Drugs.
Christie’s speech was not the speech many expected of an embattled governor. It was a speech insistent in highlighting Christie’s overwhelming reelection win to a greater audience–potentially a Republican presidential primary audience–and how Christie had bridged the ethnic gaps that often make it so difficult for Republicans to win in New Jersey. His state, Christie insisted without irony, was “setting the tone for an entire nation.” Christie did not seem concerned when he described New Jerseyans as a people “proud” of their elected officials at a time when his entire administration has been subpoenaed by an investigative committee.
He did not, however, stop at calling for this change in national tone to reflect the will of the people of New Jersey. He went on to define it, and it sounded little like what any political expert would align with the will of New Jersey voters. Christie mentioned in some capacity the value and importance of preserving life three times–without openly discussing the matter of abortion. Instead, Christie tied the issue to the War on Drugs. “Every life is valuable and no life is disposable,” he told his audience, insisting that the state must develop more sophisticated methods of rehabilitating drug addicts. Perhaps someone had shown Christie the precipitous drop in support from independents he has suffered in the past year.
What someone definitely showed Christie before his inaugural address were comments made by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suggesting that conservatives should leave his state. “If that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives,” Cuomo told a radio program last week, “they have no place in the state of New York.” Cuomo’s comments have caused at least one prominent conservative, Sean Hannity, to plan a move out of his home state. Christie did not address Cuomo or his comments directly but made explicitly clear that his state was a more tolerant one. “Let’s be different than our neighbors,” he told the audience, insisting that he did not believe that the solution to problems was a “bigger, more expansive government.” He also explicitly told those of conservative-leaning ideologies to “come to New Jersey, you will be welcome here,” making him the third governor–after Texas’ Rick Perry and Florida’s Rick Scott–to make pitches to conservatives for their states.
Outside of the context of Christie’s scandals, the speech would have been accepted as successful and aggressive, the tone of someone who has reason to be confident in his presidential aspirations. But more and more it is looking like Christie does not have reason to be so confident because he cannot exist outside of the context of these scandals. If allegations surrounding him are true, the scandals will not only be impossible to ignore: they will define him as a politician. Attacking an ideologue like Cuomo may win him some points in the short-term, but only escaping his scandals unscathed can guarantee a clean break.