SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, in a much-anticipated speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, slammed President Barack Obama for being a “bystander in the Oval Office,” and said the gridlock in Washington is ineffective and embarrassing to the rest of the country.
Christie addressed domestic and international issues important to Americans, but did not do what many supporters had hoped — announce a bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
“We watch a president who once talked about the courage of his convictions, but still has yet found the courage to lead,” Christie said. “We watch a Congress at war with itself because they are unwilling to leave campaign style politics at the Capitol’s door.”
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Christie warned that America's promise is being menaced from within, as a troubled U.S. economy, shaky leadership, and political gridlock diminish the nation's ability to solve its problems.
"At one time in our history, our greatness was a reflection of our country's innovation, our determination, our ingenuity," the Republican governor said in remarks during his speech Tuesday night.
"When there was a crisis at home, we put aside parochialism and put the greater public interest first. And in our system, we did it through strong presidential leadership," he said.
"Unfortunately, through our own domestic political conduct of late, we have failed to live up to our own tradition of exceptionalism. Today, our role and ability to affect change has been diminished because of our own problems and our inability to effectively deal with them," Christie added.
|Gov. Chris Christie with former first lady Nancy Reagan before his speech at the Reagan Library Tuesday night. (Getty Images Photo)
Christie talked at length about the importance of democracy, and of spreading democracy worldwide, of national security, and the nation's troubled economy.
“There is no better way to reinforce the likelihood that others in the world will opt for more open societies and economies than to demonstrate that our own system is working,” he said. “Without strong leadership at home, without our domestic house in order, we are taking ourselves out of the equation.”
On domestic issues, Christie hit recurring GOP themes of controlling rising costs of entitlements and creating jobs, saying Obama “insists we must tax and take and demonize those who have already achieved the American Dream."
“That may turn out to be a good re-election strategy, Mr. President, but is a demoralizing message for America,” Christie said. “There is, of course, a different choice.”
Christie's speech, given at the shrine to America's 40th president, comes on a three-day trip in which the governor is raising money for Republicans and networking with party rainmakers in several states.
It also took place as national figures are encouraging the firebrand governor to run for the 2012 Republican nomination.
Christie has said he's not running for president next year, but his speech marks another sign of his rising status within the national GOP and will keep his name on vice-presidential lists.
In his remarks, the governor warned that the United States will be able to sustain its global leadership place only with resources for defense and homeland security, but he questioned whether those funds will be available
The speech puts the governor on the same stage graced by other prominent conservatives such as former President George W. Bush, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly.
His speech, titled “Real American Exceptionalism,” is part of the library’s Perspectives in Leadership series, and has attracted widespread interest amid speculation that Christie is considering bowing to Republican donors' wishes and enter the GOP presidential contest.
Although some sources, including Christie's brother, Todd, say he won't run, others, including former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, say he is seriously considering changing his mind and running.
At the least, Christie may affect the party’s choice, said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville.
“He’s a major influence in his party and when the Republicans settle on a nominee, that person is going to have to go to Chris Christie and make sure he’s on board,” Dworkin said in an interview. “Every speech the governor gives ends up at some point with him offering his views on what his party should be doing and what the candidates for president should be doing.”
The first Republican elected governor in New Jersey since 1997 began a national round of speeches and fundraising Monday even as aides attempted to quash speculation that he’s reconsidering his decision to sit out the Republican primary.
The address at the Reagan Library gives Christie, who has urged Republican presidential candidates to take a harder line on entitlement spending and debt, an opportunity to expand his influence in national politics and shape the race, according to political observers.
Still, supporters were not letting it go. In a brief question-and-answer session after his speech, it was the number two question from supporter. Christie joked that he had expected the "are you running" question to be the first.
Again, after another audience member pressed Christie, he directed people to go to a website that compiled a video version of all his no answers back-to-back.
"Click on it, those are the answers," Christie said.
A few minutes later, another questioner pleaded with him to run.
"It's extraordinarily flattering but by the same token, that heartfelt message you gave me is not a reason for me to do it," Christie said. "That reason has to reside inside me."
He continued, "I take it in and I'm listening to every word of it and feeling it too. It’s a great great honor and I really appreciate it."
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