Following a week of ever-escalating speculation that upstaged those in the Republican presidential field, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) nimbly sidestepped directly answering whether he would run for president in 2012 — instead referring to prior statements where he has previously denied any intention to run.
“I’m not going to bore you with it now, those are the answers,” Christie said.
At the Reagan Presidential Library in California, one audience member emotionally pleaded with Christie to reconsider his decision and jump into the race.
“Please, do it for my daughter. Do it for our grandchildren,” the woman said, sending the audience instantly to its feet. “Your country needs you to run for president.”
Christie acknowledged being flattered and grateful for the outpouring of support that has been rapidly building parallel to the campaigns of the candidates who have actually declared, but said it wasn’t an appropriate reason to contradict his own intuition.
“That reason has to reside inside me, so that’s what I’ve said all along, is I know without ever having met President Reagan that he must have felt deeply in his heart that he was called to that moment to lead our country,” Christie said. “So my answer to you is just this: I thank you for what you’re saying, and I take it in and I’m listening to every word of it, and feeling it too.”
Conservatives have been eagerly and aggressively working to persuade Christie that 2012 is his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take the White House, and that the nation's ills can be solved only with the type of pragmatic, frank and at times confrontational style — the hallmark of his first term as governor of New Jersey.
In his prepared address, Christie hit all the points candidates typically make in introducing themselves and their platforms to the country for a national campaign: economics, foreign policy and values.
At Reagan's final resting place, Christie paid homage to the legacy of the former president, but also likened himself to the man conservatives have held up as their standard-bearer for more than two decades.
“Like Ronald Reagan, I believe in what this country and its citizens can accomplish if they understand what is being asked of them and how we all will benefit if they meet the challenge,” Christie said.
Christie offered heavy condemnation of the current president, allowing the notion of an alternative to linger above the audience without hinting whether or not he would be that alternative.
“What happened to state Sen. Obama? When did he decide to become one of the ‘dividers’ he spoke of so eloquently in 2004? There is, of course, a different choice,” he said.
Striking in Christie’s address was the heavy emphasis on foreign policy. He offered a careful, intricate appraisal of the balance between staying prepared militarily for potential threats and staying out of conflicts that do not serve American interests.
“We certainly cannot force others to adopt our principles through coercion," he said. "Local realities count. We cannot have forced makeovers of other societies in our image.”
If Christie were to run, some of the positions he staked out at the Reagan Library would put him out of step with both the conservative base and his would-be GOP opponents.
In detailing what government must do to deal with the growing national debt, Christie subtly left the door open to new revenues, declining to utter the “no tax increases” vow that has become a staple of the conservative approach to deficit reduction. He faulted Obama for failing to push through the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan, which included both new revenues and tax reform.
And Christie cited compromise alongside leadership as the two factors that made him successful in pushing through sweeping bipartisan legislation to help dig New Jersey out of its distressed fiscal situation. Most of the Republican presidential candidates regard willingness to compromise as a weakness, and pledge strict fidelity to the values they’ve embraced in their campaigns.
The hard-hitting governor also offered a rare olive branch to the Democratic leaders in the Legislature, with whom he has often publicly and viciously brawled.
“In New Jersey we have done this with a legislative branch, held by the opposite party, because it is led by two people who have more often put the interests of our state above the partisan politics of their caucuses," Christie said, referring to state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
"And that’s why I call them my friends."
This story was updated at 8:05 a.m.