New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s speech tonight was not your standard convention keynote address. He did not use his time to attack President Obama directly. Even more curiously, he did not mention the man he’s supporting for president — Mitt Romney — until the end of the speech. But he did put forward a vision of governance that could serve his party and the country well.
Christie is known for his YouTube clips where he takes down his liberal critics and earns kudos for his take no guff style. But his convention speech was not that of the angry guy who we saw on those videos. Rather, he was a thoughtful exponent of ideas about how the seemingly intractable problems facing the country can be solved given sufficient will on the part of its leaders. Christie said the difference between the two parties was that the Democrats believe Americans don’t want to hear the truth about out of control entitlements but that Republicans are willing to confront problems head on. In doing so, he threw down a challenge that showed his party is not going to evade Democrat class warfare tactics but is prepared to hazard the election on their being willing to listen to reformist arguments such as the ones he’s used in New Jersey.
This probably disappointed some of the speech’s viewers who were hoping to see the loud-mouthed guy who tells impertinent questioners to shut up on YouTube. He also suffered the misfortune of having to follow Ann Romney’s eloquent and touching speech in praise of her husband that immediately preceded Christie’s address.
But Christie’s discussion about taking on teacher’s unions but still supporting teachers and of being willing to touch the “third rail” of politics with entitlements showed that this no longer the big government Republican Party that spent the public’s money like drunken sailors before being tossed out in 2006 and 2008. Christie’s Republican Party is the same one that produced GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and his reform agenda.
Christie’s Republican Party is one that actually believes they can talk about changing Medicare and still not be successfully demagogued by their opponents because senior citizens are not as “selfish” Democrats think them to be. That’s a political gamble but one that governors like Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker — perhaps the most popular officeholder at the convention — have met successfully.
In making such a speech, Christie was perhaps aiming more at the future of the party — and perhaps his own — than its present. As such it cannot be judged as completely successful since he spent so little time extolling Romney’s virtues, as one would expect a keynoter to do. But there’s little doubt that Christie’s ideas — like those of Ryan — are the ones that will animate Republicans in the years to come. Whether or not Romney wins in November, Christie set the tone for the future of his party.