Updated at 7:41 a.m. on January 28.
Chris Christie is already joking about the blizzard that a month ago looked like it might be Kryptonite to the GOP's new Superman.
New Jersey's governor, who just weeks ago came under fire for staying with his family in Disney World while his state was being pummeled by a massive snowstorm, showed up in Washington on Thursday night to speak at an annual D.C. dinner sponsored by his state's Chamber of Commerce -- only a day after another snowstorm paralyzed the nation’s capital.
He told the large crowd gathered in a hotel ballroom that the day before, with the storm at its apex, he worried people wouldn't be able to make the trip to Washington.
“My first instinct was to head to Florida -- immediately,” said Christie, drawing big laughs.
It’s easy for the governor to chuckle now. At least one poll showed his approval rating increased from last November to mid-January, and he remains a rock star nationally within the Republican Party.
His tumultuous first 12 months in office saw him slash New Jersey’s budget, oppose any tax hikes, and take direct aim at the teachers unions -- confronting one of their members face-to-face in a now-famous YouTube video. And he’s done it with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that has delighted conservatives.
The governor has repeatedly said he won’t run for president, but that doesn’t mean he won’t wield heavy influence over the party’s primary. Reports earlier this week that he secretly met with presumed GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney caused considerable buzz. Christie said he hasn’t endorsed any candidate yet.
His speech here Thursday seemed crafted as much for a national audience as it was for one from the Garden State. The problems facing the state, Christie noted more than once, are the same facing the country. Without mentioning him by name, he seemed to take a swipe at President Obama.
“We’re done with soaring rhetoric,” Christie said. “Soaring rhetoric feels good for a little while, but if there’s no follow-through, all that’s left is the same problems except bigger because we put them off.”
Christie believes he has come into office at a unique time. “Both parties have within them members who are afraid to step out and afraid to tell the truth because they’ve seen the demagoguery of the past and what happened to people who got in way of that demagoguery,” Christie said. “It usually was not positive for political future.
“I would tell you we live in a much different time now,” he continued. “People are not only ready to hear truths, they’re anxious to hear these truths. They want us to tell them what needs to be done and want us to lead them there.”
The “truth,” as the governor sees it, is that oversize entitlement systems are bankrupting governments. He specifically mentioned pensions for public employees, but the message could easily apply to Social Security or Medicare.
Christie exhorted his audience to help him maintain his political momentum. The hard part, he said, was only beginning.
“We must continue to focus our elected officials and our constituents on the idea that the party is over,” he said. “When you’re in this deep a hole, of course you stop digging, but the other part is you need to climb out. And it’s always hard, and often not pleasant.”