Speaking before the Freedom Summit in Iowa this weekend, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had a message for the conservatives gathered there: He was plenty conservative enough to deserve an invitation to speak before a group of conservative activists.
To prove his mettle, he employed as a theme an attack against the “conventional wisdom” that has doubted his ability to succeed every step of his career.
Deploying his usual guise as a straight talking, no nonsense, New Jersey tough guy, Christie insisted that he has a sufficiently conservative record to make him eligible for consideration by even the most conservative voter but that he can also appeal to moderates and Democrats.
While the crowd may not have been completely sold, Christie did receive polite and occasionally enthusiastic applause as reward for a sold job addressing what was a tough crowd for the twice-elected New Jersey governor. He even earned kudos for facing down some pro-illegal immigration protesters who tried to disrupt his address.
It was plain that the crowd was not going to be overly receptive to Christie when, during Congressman Steve King’s laudatory introduction, applause was muted even as the host of the Summit touted the governor’s conservative bona fides. And true to that expectation of a guarded reception, as Christie came out on stage the applause was polite but not entirely enthusiastic.
After he praised Congressman King, Christie started to get to his first point but didn’t quite get it out of his mouth before pro-illegal immigrant activists once again burst back into the hall in an attempt to grab the spotlight and disrupt the proceedings. The amnesty activists, who had only some ten or fifteen minutes before being ushered out of the hall after disrupting former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s speech, tried to harass the speaker, but Christie just laughed them off.
“Don’t they know I’m from New Jersey?” he quipped. “This doesn’t bother me one bit,” he added.
The crowd erupted in applause and cheers for Christie, giving him a great boost as he began the tough chore of explaining just why he was conservative enough to be counted as one of them.
“I have heard the conventional wisdom,” Christie began, “that somehow a guy from New Jersey would not be welcomed or understood at the Iowa Freedom Summit. That somehow I’m too loud, that I’m too blunt and I’m too direct.” Here Christie was trying his hand at a bit of misdirection, because no one is complaining about his persona. They are complaining he is too liberal, not “too blunt.”
But Christie went on to point out that he has been invited to speak in Iowa nearly a dozen times by the state’s various Republican groups. And banking on his host’s conservative reputation, Christie also pointedly noted, “this is the fifth time that I’ve been invited to this state by our friend Congressman Steve King.”
“Now, let me ask you this,” he continued to tepid applause, “If I was too blunt, too direct, too loud, and too New Jersey for Iowa, then why do you people keep inviting me back?”
This laugh line did elicit some stronger applause and a few whooping calls of approval.
Christie went on to say that the principles he is fighting for in New Jersey are the same as those espoused by conservative activists in Iowa. He noted that he continues to come to Iowa to speak because, “our values are consistent and we’re fighting together to make this a better country.”
Christie next tried to massage the gulf between him and conservatives as merely “the conventional wisdom from Washington D.C. that thinks we aren’t friends.
“It’s the conventional wisdom from Washington D.C. that argues that a conservative Republican governor from New Jersey can’t possibly share the same values with conservative Republican here in Iowa,” he told the crowd.
“They were wrong every time they’ve said it over the last five years and from your welcome today, they’re wrong again today.”
Christie then went on to note that he has traveled to 37 states to support Republican governors and candidates for governor. In those travels he said that in every state he visited he saw that Americans were anxious. They were anxious because it seemed like the country was losing its birthright. And here Christie hinted that Democrats aren’t the only ones at fault.
“I have to give the voters credit, they have tried over and over to change this. In 2006 and 2008 they took power from Republicans they gave it to Democrats. In 2010 and in 2014 they took power away from Democrats and they gave it to Republicans. Yet, no matter how many times the voters try the anxiety is still there. And they have a right to that anxiety,” he said.
Christie added that the uncertainty in the country is causing Americans to feel that they “just can’t get ahead in America,” a feeling he laid at the door of the Oval Office and Congress both.
“We want a government that works the way the civics books tell us it’s supposed to work,” Christie insisted, “a government that works for the people, that helps make their lives easier instead of making it harder every day.”
But Christie said that he remains optimistic because he thinks that the United States is based on a recipe for success.
“Remember this about out country: We are the only country in modern times who has as one of its three founding principles the pursuit of happiness. Think about what an extraordinary country this is when its founding fathers not only put life and liberty as one of our founding principles, but that every American has a right to pursue happiness. Happiness as they see it, as they define it, not as some emperor, some king, or some imperial president tries to determine it at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Christie then said that we can’t return the nation to those principles by pandering or telling the people “what they want to hear.” He says he knows how to do this because he has done it in New Jersey.
The governor then laid out the successes he has achieved governing a state as liberal as New Jersey, a state that had major deficits, destructively entrenched union interests, and was mired in fiscal disaster, all things that he was able to alleviate as governor.
Christie also noted that he did all this as a pro-life candidate, then as a pro-life governor looking for re-election. He maintained that he turned the “conventional wisdom” on its head by opposing abortion but still getting elected in a blue state.
Next Christie revealed his likely platform as a candidate for president. He essentially claimed that he is the man for all parties when he used his successes in blue New Jersey as a launching pad to criticize the GOP for ceding too many votes in more liberal parts of the country.
“If our conservatism is really going to succeed it must be able to defend itself in every part of this country,” he said. “There are Americans, I know this, in every state who share our goals, who want to work with us, and we should be appealing to all of them. You see, if we’re to really truly restore and renew this country and its promise we need a coalition that covers all parts of the country, all ethnicities, a coalition that is comprised at its core of a proud yet underserved and under represented working class in this country.”
Christie insisted that Republicans don’t demonize the wealthy like the Democrats do, but that they have to focus on the working class “who are the back bone of every American community.”
Every domestic policy we advance, every decision we make, should be focused on making their lives better, renewing their future, renewing their faith, their belief in this country. Because when we talk about our values and our ideas people respond. I’ve seen it all over the country. It’s a belief that it’s our job and the job of the government to give the people an opportunity to succeed, not stand in their way. An opportunity. A belief that what works best is a government that understands the value of that opportunity, that people’s desire for it over the crippling diminishment of the entitlement state, a belief that celebrates the greatness of American ideals and principles, not one that constrains American’s aspirations. That you have the will and you have the drive to seek a better life we’ll help you, not get in your way. We need to renew our country by once again encouraging our citizens to believe that true success is within their power not by the power of the hand of government in Washington D.C.
This, Christie said, was they type of conservatism he believed in as well as the type that America believed and it is that brand of conservatism that he thinks will bring renewal to the country.
Christie went on to spend several minutes assuring his audience that he is who he says he is and that people fully understand him, that there are no lies or artificial ploys about him, and that he has an obvious authenticity about him. This, he said, was something that the current inhabitant of the White House lacks.
Coming close to the end of his allotted time, the governor issued a final appeal to renewal.
“The next century does not have to be a Chinese century. It can be an American century,” Christie averred. “We do not need to have a country that stands idly by in the face of Russian aggression. We do not need to have a country that stands and watches as middle class wages go down and our country’s quality of life goes down. We do not need to have to have a country that looks at an entire class of children and says you can’t learn and we can’t teach you and it’s not our problem. The pursuit of happiness is a goal that we need to work every day to attain. The world can’t do without a second American century and neither can my children or yours do without America being a strong resolute leader in this world.”
Christie ended by reasserting that he will stand with his audience if they will stand with him to renew the country and leave it as strong for our children as it was when we inherited it from our grandparents.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org