It took New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie more than 1,700 words to finally get around to mentioning Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president he was supposed to be discussing. For the better part of his prime-time speech, Christie talked about himself and his record as governor.
If it was Ann Romney’s job Tuesday evening to sell Americans on the idea that her husband is someone they could grow to love, it was Christie’s more limited task to convince those who still find him lacking that Romney is a politician they can respect.
The contrast was sharp. Ann Romney described for the crowd in highly personal terms her courtship by her future mate, the trials and happiness of a good marriage that produced five grown sons and 18 grandchildren, and her bottomless faith in his leadership abilities. He’s a man “you should really get to know,” she said. Christie’s keynote address came right after Ann Romney’s remarks. He called out an American political culture in which he said “we have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved.”
The famously blunt-speaking governor said that in 2012, “We’re gonna choose respect over love.” The message was: Love Romney or not, he is worth a vote.
And yet at times, Christie’s prime time address seemed as much about positioning himself for 2016 and polishing his still developing national image. Christie, who took a pass on this year’s presidential sweepstakes despite the urging of some in the GOP establishment, is widely viewed as a future presidential contender. Christie was an early and key endorser of Romney – way back in October 2011 – but he has been an uneven surrogate. In January, he advised Romney to release his tax returns faster, even as the candidate resisted. Later in the year, Christie suggested in an interview with television personality Oprah Winfrey that he would be ready to run for president in four years. Such a timeline, of course, presumes a Romney loss this November.
In his speech, Christie portrayed himself as a tough-talking truth-teller that had bucked the odds as a Republican governor of a deep-blue state – echoing Romney’s term as a Massachusetts Republican. But much of the speech was devoted to buffing up Christie’s credentials: his state’s balanced budgets, pension accords and teacher-tenure pacts.
His string of “We did it” refrains, which came in the middle of the speech, applied to his tenure in New Jersey, not the nominee’s record in Massachusetts. In the end, when he finally got to Romney, he portrayed Romney as a truth-teller in Christie’s mold, not the other way around.
“Tonight,” Christie concluded, “we stand up for Mitt Romney as the next president of the United States.” If the speech wasn’t as effusive or heartfelt as Ann Romney’s, it at least accomplished one thing: setting up Christie for 2016.