“Diplomatic” is not the word you’d use to describe New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The Republican superstar sees himself as a truth teller. That’s gotten him into shouting matches with reporters and even some voters. Personally, I find that less than appealing, although I appreciate his candor.
Still, Christie was unusually diplomatic at Tuesday’s conference in New York held by the George W. Bush Institute. Several other GOP glitterati were there, including Rep. Paul Ryan (more on him in another post), Bush’s Svengali Karl Rove, and the former president himself, as well as some up-and-coming Republican governors you’ve never heard of.
With considerable charm, deference to President Bush (who was sitting in the front row), and the umpteenth retelling of his triumphs in cutting New Jersey’s budget, Christie slyly threw cold water on the whole goal of the conference: getting the US to a sustainable 4% GDP growth rate, a clip we haven’t seen in decades.
The New Jersey experience taught him that “you can’t start pro-growth policies until you get your house in order,” he told the adoring crowd.
“4% growth is not going to be achieved if we don’t deal with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security,” he said later, in case anybody didn’t get the point the first time.
He also warned that turning the country around wasn’t going to be easy.
Having made big changes in a heavily Democratic state (where his approval rating is far lower than it would be at this conference), Christie knows the importance of winning people over, rather than ramming things down people’s throats, as Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is learning the hard way.
That’s why Christie held 30 town meetings throughout the state to sell his budget plan to skeptical or hostile audiences.
But he’s best known for standing up to Democratic leaders on key issues.
“You have to be willing to say no to those things that compromise your principles,” he explained. But, he added, “We developed a relationship with the other side that allowed them to trust us—[to understand] that compromise is not a dirty word.”
So, despite his bluster, Christie is offering cautionary advice to his fellow Republicans. Change won’t happen overnight. You need to build a consensus for the things you want to accomplish. And you need to compromise.
“I’m telling the truth as I see it and I’m not looking to be loved,” he said. “I’m loved enough at home, believe me, on occasion.”
At this conference, Christie was sending a message of tough love to his own party. I wonder how many of them will take it to heart.