Christie Tells Republicans It’s Time to Be Pragmatic

The November election of now-embattled second-term Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was seemingly a triumph for bipartisanship. Political commentators have described Christie as a proponent of pragmatism over ideology, and the governor himself said that his electoral victory should be lesson for the country’s broken political system.

Despite the fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 700,000 registered voters in New Jersey, Christie prevailed by winning the majority of the votes cast by women and Hispanics, as well as drawing a number of younger voters and blacks, key demographic groups that the GOP has trouble attracting. But amid the backlash over the exercise in political retribution organized by members of his political staff (read: BridgeGate) Christie has gone on the offensive against the Democratic Party.

Speaking before the Economic Club of Chicago on Tuesday, he gave a blistering critique of the Democratic Party platform and of President Barack Obama’s leadership style. But it was clear that Christie’s main goal was to redirect the national debate away from the scandal that has dogged the first weeks of his second term and toward the problems plaguing the leadership of the president of the United States.

Christie appeared to making an effort to reassert himself as the Republican standard-bearer and the best candidate to recapture the presidency. His commentary seemed aimed at showing he has the political prowess to bridge the wide gap separating to the two parties and break the legislative stalemate in Washington.

After weeks of self-depreciating apologies regarding the apparently vindictive lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, the Christie that turned up to speak on Tuesday was the same man who won a second term as governor of a heavily Democratic-leaning state: pragmatic, self-assured, and critical of both Democrats and his own party.

Christie characterized Democrats as a party willing to “drive America toward mediocrity” in its pursuit of income equality, a goal outlined by Obama in his January State of the Union address and in subsequent press releases from the White House. Given that such a platform is widely popular with vast swatches of the American public, the Republican rebuttal must be carefully crafted, and the New Jersey governor said as much.

“The debate that needs to be had between the two parties needs to be: Do we want equality of income, or greatness of opportunity?” he said. “The opportunity for greatness excites the American people much more.” Income equality “is mediocrity,” he said. “Everybody can have an equal, mediocre salary.”

Republicans should not be arguing against Democratic positions for the sake of philosophy, he cautioned, but to win. “Our party’s priority should be on winning,” he said. “Not winning the argument, winning the election.” Christie said he thought “political parties were formed in order to win elections, not to be debating societies, not to be academic institutions to debate the great esoteric issues of the day. When you win, you get to govern. When you get to govern, you get to make change.”

The changes the Republican Party wishes to make are numerous, but the one highlighted by Christie is an issue he has hammered time and time again: bipartisanship. It is true that partisan politics are concerning the public. Gallup’s annual Mood of the Nation poll, conducted in the first week of the new year, gave a snapshot of how American citizens view the government, its efficiency, and its leadership.

The results were staggering. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with how the American governmental system works. From the data, it appears the nation does not feel that its leaders have been hit with insurmountable obstacles that they are trying to solve. Instead, Congress and the president appear to have become sidetracked by partisan battles that have taken on more importance than the issues at hand.

Partisan politics is the fault of the president, according to Christie, who argued Obama had taken the wrong approach when assuming the presidency in January 2009. The Democrats had “supermajorities” in both the House of Representatives and the Senate at the time, and the president entered the White House without “a respect for the other party.” But bipartisanship is a necessary component of political compromise, and political compromise is a key element of passing practical political policy. Bipartisanship is the pragmatic approach, Christie has said numerous times.

His call to pragmatism had other implications, as well. Christie seemed to argue implicitly that his party should analyze his potential presidential run in practical terms, meaning that before the BridgeGate scandal erupted — an incident Christie maintains he was not involved in — the New Jersey governor was the Republican favorite to win the nomination. The governor’s appearance before the Economic Club of Chicago was part of a series of events Christie was scheduled to attend to raise money the Republican Governors Association.

Before it became known that the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge between Manhattan and New Jersey was more than just a traffic study, the tour was seen by Christie’s allies as a means to boost his nation standing.

“With every state he visits, Republicans are running for the hills,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who headlined Tuesday’s Democratic National Committee news conference, told Bloomberg. “It’s time for Governor Christie to stop the condescension, the attacks and the bluster and to answer the questions.”

But Republican Illinois State Sen. Bill Brady, who is running for governor there, maintained that while Christie has “had some stumbles,” the New Jersey governor has “handled them appropriately.” He told Bloomberg that Christie is “a delight to campaign with and I wouldn’t have any concerns at all.”

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