Christie Makes the National Case for His NJ Politics

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer ShowMike Kelly, columnist at The Record of New Jersey, talks about NJ Gov. Chris Christie's speech last night at the Reagan Library. 

Is he or isn’t he?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave a speech last night at the Ronald Reagan library in California, whipping up the hopes of those Republicans and Independents who consider Christie to be their dream candidate.

Christie began with his favorite Reagan moment: the air traffic controllers strike. Christie linked Reagan’s intolerance of dissent domestically to a toughness in international policy to having some global credibility. Kelly said while that seemed a strange way to start, Christie may have been sending a message to New Jersey.

To compare the Reagan decision over the air traffic controllers to the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain is just flat-out naïve. But I think what Christie was really doing there was he was sending a message back to New Jersey, which was “hey look, I’m going to fight the unions” because that’s where his battles have really been.

From there Christie used his speech to make the case that New Jersey politics should serve as a model for America, calling the state a place where divided politics is still functional politics. For a potential Republican candidate—one who would have to run in the primaries if he were to enter—it seems remarkable for Christie to have spoken so much about compromise, but Kelly thinks that message was focusing on a general election strategy.

 This is the great mystery with Christie, he seems to be the reluctant suitor. He keeps saying, you know, “I want to have a relationship with you, I want to have a relationship with you” and he saying all the right things, but really when it comes down to commitment he keeps backing off.

A recent comment in the New York Times quotes a close associate of the Governor as noting that Christie keeps saying no, but the window for deciding to enter the primaries is still open. Kelly said it’s the first time the Christie camp has indicated that they are weighing their options. Christie’s remark seemed to give notice to the New Jersey Democratic-dominated Congressional delegation that he may be looking to mount a Republican takeover. Yet the even bigger picture, Kelly said, was Christie’s accusation that President Obama was failing to lead.

Those are loaded statements. I think one needs to take them very, very seriously because Christie is essentially saying, “Listen, I want to be part of the national conversation.” The question is, where is that conversation going to take him?