New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie flashed the charisma and no-nonsense approach to issues that he is famous for in Aspen during a “conversation” Thursday night with four high-profile Republicans.
Christie clearly impressed a packed crowd in the Greenwald Pavilion at the Aspen Meadows with his wit, humor and candor on the state of his party and what it will require to win the presidency. Observers often mention Christie, who is a heavy favorite to win re-election as governor in 2014, as presidential material. He wasn’t asked and didn’t comment on whether he has presidential aspirations in 2016.
Jonathan Martin, national political correspondent for The New York Times and moderator of the conversation with the GOP governors, asked Christie if there is a “bravery deficit” when it comes to partisan politics. Christie put partisan politics aside and worked with President Obama when his state was recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Christie was criticized by some Republicans for giving Obama too much credit for his aid to New Jersey last year.
Christie was unapologetic. When your state is trying to recover from an epic disaster, “You’re not worried who’s going to be happy or sad with you in your party,” he said.
However, Christie showed that Obama doesn’t have his rubber stamp of approval. The only person in Washington, D.C. capable of bringing the parties together is the president — something he said Obama has failed to do. The president took office thinking he had all the answers to problems and with little desire to work with Republicans when he had majorities in both chambers of Congress. He shouldn’t be surprised now that House Speaker John Boehner “isn’t looking to be your friend.”
Christie also criticized Obama for forging ahead with his health care plan even though its complexity allegedly threatens to freeze hiring by businesses and harm the economy.
The conversation, titled “Governors in Aspen: What’s Working at the State Level?” also featured Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana, Mike Pence, of Indiana and Scott Walker, of Wisconsin. This is the fourth year the Aspen Institute hosted GOP governors. The presentation was part of the McCloskey Speaker Series.
While all four governors are high-profile, Christie grabbed the most attention of the 1,000 or so people in the packed tent.
When Martin asked Christie what qualities he has that allows him to get elected in a state that is heavily Democratic, Christie didn’t miss a beat: “Charm and good looks,” he said to the delight of the crowd. “Don’t discount it. Don’t ever discount it.”
Then he turned serious. He said voters always know where he stands. They won’t like all his positions, but they know how he will vote on issues and the majority of voters know they will agree with him on some major issues.
The Republican party is facing problems with minorities and with constituents usually aligned with Democrats because it doesn’t work with them often enough.
“Part of what you need to do is be there every day, not on Election Day,” he said.
Martin pressed the governors on how the Republican party can win the White House after two defeats by Obama. He said the GOP has become labeled the party of the rich and privileged. Pence said Republican candidates must do a better job of explaining how they aim to increase prosperity for all people and how they will accomplish it. With a few exceptions, “Our party has been guilty in the last 20 years of not showing up,” Pence said.
Americans want leadership regardless of which party it comes from, he insisted. Republicans must do a better job of showing they support prosperity for all. That will be good for the party and good for the country, he said.
Walker challenged Martin’s assertion that the GOP is perceived as the party of the rich and privileged. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney erred by allowing that label last year, according to Walker.
“I still contend in my state, if Mitt Romney had made the ‘R’ next to his name, like I did, stand for ‘reformer’ rather than ‘rich guy’ — nobody cares about rich guys — he would have carried Wisconsin and every one of those battleground states,” Walker said.
Republican governors are establishing themselves as reformers in several states and now control 30 of the 50 statehouses, he noted.
When commenting on his party’s future, Jindal repeated a line he made famous last year when addressing comments a congressman made during the immigration debate.
“We’ve got to stop being the stupid party,” he said.
Jindal said he would have voted against the immigration bill the Senate passed this summer, though he supports policies more accommodating to people who want to come to the U.S. Immigration policy first must concentrate on securing the borders, he said. Then people in the country must be allowed to become legal while criminals are deported. Those who stay must be allowed to enter the process for citizenship.
The current U.S. policy is broken, Jindal said, because it doesn’t welcome the people who can help expand the economy.
“We’ve got to be the party that says we welcome the entrepreneurs,” he said.
Martin peppered the four governors with direct, tough questions for more than an hour — probing on issues ranging from how to “fix” Congress to the libertarian leanings of some Republicans in the current debate of preserving civil liberties while providing national security.
Christie provided the comic relief at times. When the conversation strayed into what the governors are learning from their kids — Pence, Walker and Christie have children in college — Christie quipped, “There’s no sense in having kids if you can’t brainwash them.”
While he didn’t brainwash the audience, Christie seemed to earn its respect.