In an interesting column, Byron York speaks to former presidential candidate Fred Thompson. York writes:
“I think a candidate under these circumstances has to have skills and equilibrium that are superior to the other candidates,” Thompson explains. “You have to have time to think. You’ve had a lot of experience. You’ve had life experience, you’ve had government experience. What has all that taught you? You can’t just relate statistics and points and employment records and promise to repeal Obamacare on day one. Those are just ornaments that you put on the tree. You need the time to think things through.”
Does candidate Rick Perry give the impression of a man who has had time to think deeply about how he’s running for president, or why he’s doing it in the first place? The short answer is no.
York then questions whether what “applies to Perry applies doubly to any candidate who might join the race in the weeks to come. Does anyone believe New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has had the time and quiet to seriously think through why he would run for president?” I would suggest the answer is yes. More specifically, he’s thought through what a president needs to do to, defined challenges the country faces and is coming around to the realization that he may be the only man to do it.
Christie will speak at the Reagan library later today in a speech called “American exceptionalism.” I suspect it may echo some of what he talked about last February at the American Enterprise Institute. Here’s what he said then:
We are teetering on the edge of disaster. And I love when people talk about American exceptionalism, but American exceptionalism has to include the courage to do the right thing. It cannot just be a belief that, because we are exceptional, everything will work out ok. Part of truly being exceptional is being willing to do the difficult things, is to stop playing the political games, stop looking at the bumper pool of politics and to step up and start doing the right thing. This is the new era that we newly elected officials have inherited. Whether we like it or not, that’s the story and we have two choices: to either stand up and do the right thing, to speak the truth and speak it bluntly and directly, or to join the long parade of leaders who have come before us and failed. And maybe people won’t remember us, maybe they won’t pin the responsibility for failure on us because there’s been so much failure around us, but I did not run for this job for failure. I ran for this job for success. For success, not just for me personally and my children, but success for my state. And hopefully, to provide an example for the rest of the country that you can do the difficult things. See, it seems to me that what America is really all about is about a group of people who came from every corner of this earth because they wanted a chance for greatness. That’s what has made us the greatest country on Earth. Our calling for greatness at this time is to confront these issues, to say them out loud, and to stop playing around and to not waste another minute.
You know, the World War II generation was called ‘the greatest generation’ and they were because they put their lives on the line to protect our way of life. And they’re called the greatest generation because we judged them. We judged them in the aftermath and we found them to be great, by any objective measure. Let me guarantee you one thing: we will be judged too. We will be judged by our children and our grandchildren — that at this moment of crisis, what did we do? Did we bury our heads in the sand? Did we surround ourselves with our creature comforts and believe that just because we’re America everything’s going to be ok? Or will our children and grandchildren be able to say that at this moment of crisis, we stood up and did the hard things that made a future of greatness possible for them. Believe me, we will be judged. I know the way I want that judgment to turn out for me, and I know in the hearts and the minds of most New Jerseyans and Americans, I know how they want that judgment to turn out for them. So it’s time for us to get to work, to find our greatness again. And I believe we will find our greatness through doing the big things, the really big things that will lead America to another century of exceptionalism and not a century of settling for second best. That’s what this fight is about. If you’re willing to join me, I’m willing to join you and that’s what I came down here today to talk to you. Thank you all very much.
That suggests he very much has been thinking about what a president must do and what a presidential candidate must run on. (In that speech he also was blunt in explaining what we need to do on Social Security reform.) Realistically, there are only three conservative politicians in America who think and talk in such terms: Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). All three speak without soundbite invectives and in concrete terms about what they want to do. They also put their policy ideas in a broader context, challenging and uplifting their listeners.
The problem is not merely that Perry entered late in the race. It is that he hasn’t been the sort of pol who thinks and speaks beyond the politics of the moment. He’s about fundraising, Texas swagger and extremist rhetoric (say goodbye to the 16th and 17th amendments, forget about a federal retirement plan, dream of ripping up everything since the New Deal). In short, he’s not intellectually serious.
Christie, should he enter the race, will have huge hurdles to overcome. He will need to put in place a campaign team, raise money, withstand the bright light of media scrutiny and much more. But he won’t need to start thinking big for the first time in his career. He’s been doing that for some time.