Washington got a stern lecture on “tough love” budgeting and leadership from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Wednesday as part of his bid to burnish his national reputation for closing New Jersey’s nearly $11 billion budget hole. But the 48-year-old Christie once again quelled speculation that he is considering the GOP Presidential nomination in 2012. “I won’t run . . . I can’t imagine it,” he said in his most Shermanesque manner during a televised speech at The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank. “What do I have to do outside of threatening to commit suicide to convince people I’m not running?”
Earlier in the day, the Republican Governor’s Association named him as its new policy vice chairman, working alongside Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a GOP stalwart who is contemplating a run for president.
Even if a presidential bid isn’t in the cards, Christie is gaining clout within his party and the media. He is the darling of cable TV and radio shows, and his straight talk and take-no-prisoners style has generated considerable interest within the GOP base. In last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll of the 10,000 attendees, Christie drew six percent of the vote—higher than the votes for either Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee. And Christie is getting attention and words of admiration from other more experienced and more prominent Republicans. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a GOP Presidential hopeful, attended a recent large dinner at the New Jersey governor’s mansion.
“He’s viewed as a very effective legislator, and nationally, Republicans are amazed at his success,” said GOP strategist and former Senate Republican Conference Chief of Staff Ron Bonjean. “He’s an attractive potential candidate down the road, and Republicans who are looking for allies would probably be smart to seek a friend in Chris Christie,” he said.
In less than a year in the governor’s mansion, the brash former prosecutor has cut ten percent, or $820 million, of the state’s education budget, suspended property tax rebates, denied a $3 billion payment to the state’s pension system, and scrapped a more than $9 billion mass transit project to construct a tunnel under the Hudson River into Manhattan. He also took on the teachers’ union, and pushed to cut salaries and roll back benefits,
He did all of that in the name of restoring fiscal order to a state facing record deficits and a 10 percent unemployment rate after ousting former governor Jon Corzine in the fall of 2009. Yesterday, Christie encouraged both Republicans and Democrats to emulate his deficit-reducing tactics. He called on them to immediately begin revamping entitlement and education programs to control long-term costs, and slash spending across the board. He declared that “the public wants shared sacrifice,” and would rather weather the challenges now than pass down more detrimental ones to their children.
“You’re going to have to raise the retirement age,” he said in discussing the politically sensitive Social Security program. “Uh-oh. I said it. And I’m still standing here—I did not vaporize into the carpet.”
Christie chastised Obama for failing to address “the big things” in his budget while directing the nation’s focus and cash into high-speed rail and electric cars. Obama and White House budget director Jack Lew came under withering criticism from congressional Republicans and some Democrats on Monday and Tuesday for not including entitlement reform in the president’s 2012 budget plan.