By Justin Sink - 08/29/12 03:06 AM EDT
A President Mitt Romney would care more about solving the nation’s problems than being loved, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday in a rousing keynote address to the Republican National Convention.
President Obama cares only about reelection, said Christie, but Romney would tell voters the hard truths they need to hear, lending can-do, blue-collar credibility to the blue-blooded nominee.
In perhaps the most cutting line of the speech, Christie suggested Obama and the Democrats were content to “whistle a happy tune while driving us off the fiscal cliff, as long as they are behind the wheel.”
Mitt and Ann Romney joined the crowd for Christie’s speech, sitting together in the front row of the family box. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat to Mitt Romney’s left, and his sons sat behind them.
Christie pledged that the Republican ticket would usher in “a second American century” defined by leaders willing to confront the difficult issues.
“Tonight, we choose the path that has always defined our nation’s history,” he said, as attendees rose to one of a half-dozen standing ovations. “Tonight, we finally and firmly answer the call that so many generations have had the courage to answer before us.”
Christie’s speech boosted Romney, but was also designed to introduce the governor to a national audience, just as Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention, when he was a state senator in Illinois, thrust him into the spotlight.
Christie has become a national figure since his election in 2009, and is now seen as someone who could lead a future GOP ticket.
The governor spoke of his Sicilian mother and Irish father, of listening to Bruce Springsteen albums while growing up and of watching his daughters, Sarah and Bridget, march in Labor Day parades.
Christie, who faces a reelection test in 2013, spoke at length about his humble upbringing and strong-willed family, and used lessons from his mother — who passed away when Christie was eight years old — to launch into his critique of the state of American politics.
“The greatest lesson Mom ever taught me, though, was this one: she told me there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected,” Christie said. “She said to always pick being respected, that love without respect was always fleeting — but that respect could grow into real and lasting love.”
Christie’s address did not once mention Obama by name, but sought to draw sharp contrasts between the national candidates and parties. Christie repeatedly painted Democrats as unwilling and unable to speak honestly about the fundamental issues facing the country.
“They believe that the American people don’t want to hear the truth about the extent of our fiscal difficulties and need to be coddled by big government,” Christie said. “They believe the American people are content to live the lie with them.”
By contrast, Christie said, Republicans would speak truthfully about their solutions, even if they meant sacrifice for some.
“We believe in telling seniors the truth about our overburdened entitlements,” Christie said. “We know seniors not only want these programs to survive, but they just as badly want them secured for their grandchildren.”
Romney aides and top Republicans said the speech was intended to set the tone for a convention targeted at centrist voters who could still swing to Romney. Christie was effusive in his praise for the presumptive Republican nominee, urging supporters to stand up on the floor of the convention hall and pledging to them Romney would make good on his promises for the next four years.
Democrats quickly dismissed Christie’s jobs claims and argued neither he nor Romney had a promising economic record with which to challenge the president.
“Tonight, Chris Christie, the governor with the fourth worst economic record in the nation, will keynote the Republican convention on behalf of Mitt Romney, a former governor whose stewardship made his state rank 47th in job creation,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in a statement circulated by the Obama campaign. “What we know will be lost in the bluster of tonight’s speech are these simple facts: neither Governor Christie nor Mitt Romney has a record of creating jobs or strengthening the middle class.”
But it was just that type of bluster that brought delegates repeatedly to their feet — and had many wondering whether Christie could use the convention as a launching pad for national office.
Christie spoke like a candidate with his eye on a future race, with broad historical strokes.
“We have always been masters of our own,” Christie said. “I won’t be part of the generation that fails that test and neither will you. It’s now time to stand up. There’s no time left to waste.”
— Updated at 11:43 p.m.