Opinion writer

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at Elly’s Tea and Coffee House in Muscatine, Iowa. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be giving his State of the State speech tonight, a bit of counterprogramming on the night President Obama gives his last State of the Union address. Christie spoke to Right Turn about the speech, the presidential campaign and his opponents.

In a preview of his speech, Christie reiterates that one of the things he is proudest of is his initiative against drug addiction. “I’m going to be able to announce closing of a state prison,” he said. This is the result of reducing nonviolent incarceration in favor of drug treatment. “It is now going to be redesigned as a drug rehabilitation facility. It will have room for over 700 people at a time.”

He pushes back against the idea that his state’s economic record is poor. “I’m going to talk about the fact that New Jersey has had the greatest year of private-sector job growth in 15 years,” he said in response to critics who point, for example, to credit downgrades. “All this criticism is dated. It takes us a little longer because we have a Democratic legislature.” Going forward, he says, “We want to eliminate the estate tax. We want to keep people here for their retirement years.” He continues, “And we’ve met our clean air goals without the RGGI [the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative], without cap-and-trade.” He is also going to tell the legislature the idea of a state constitutional amendment to mandate state pension payments is not going to fly, saying it’s going to cost $3 billion. In addition to a millionaire’s tax (taking the top rate from 9 percent to 11 percent), he warns, “They would have to raise the sales tax from 7 to 10 percent or increase the income tax for everyone by 23 percent.”

Turning to the attacks coming his way in the presidential race, Christie says: “I think it’s great. People never shoot behind them. They shoot ahead of them or next to them. It’s a great sign our campaign is gaining traction.” He continues, “These guys don’t understand I’ve been involved in very tough, ugly campaigns.” I asked him about the tiff over whether he donated to Planned Parenthood. “I never donated to Planned Parenthood,” he says flatly. “I’ve been strongly pro-life for 20 years. I had a change of heart. Not everyone is born pro-life.” He argues that converting people to the cause is “what we should be shooting for.” What about a report in 1994 that quoted him as saying he personally gave to Planned Parenthood? “Listen, this is a quote from 21 years ago. I’m convinced it was a misquote. Understand what was going on. In 1994-95, I was fighting against county funding of Planned Parenthood even though I was pro-choice.” He said he was making the case then that people could spend their own money on a cause they believed in, just as he did. He is emphatic he was not referencing Planned Parenthood specifically as the kind of cause he gave money to.

On guns, Christie says simply, “I’ve evolved.” He argues that voters should look at his record as governor: “I vetoed the .50- caliber rifle ban. I vetoed the limit on magazines from 50 to 10. . . . I pardoned six out-of-staters who purchased their guns legally in their own state and then got pulled over in New Jersey.” He says that his time as a prosecutor and governor changed his mind.

Turning to Obama, I asked Christie whether the president is out of touch on national security. “I think he is. I’ve said that the president sees the world as he wishes it would be, not as it is.” He continues: “Under this president there are fewer democracies. There is more violence.” He is equally harsh on congressional Democrats who say they are now “concerned” about and want sanctions in place against Iran and/or North Korea. “They should have been concerned when, like lemmings, they followed the president over the nuclear cliff,” he scoffs. “Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell should bring sanctions to the floor, and we should impose much more harsh sanctions for North Korea and Iran. If the president vetoes it, so what? It forces Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to take a stand on it.”

Christie is predictably critical of Clinton’s legal troubles. Recently, voters learned she directed a staffer to take off a header and send a document non-secure if need be. “If David Petraeus is prosecuted, if Sandy Berger is prosecuted, Hillary Clinton needs to be prosecuted,” he insists. “I think she has big problems.”

On policy matters, he — like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — is critical of the kind of value-added tax (VAT) that Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have proposed. ‘It’s a hidden tax that raises the price of everything. And then they’ll add taxes on top of this.” On entitlement reform, which he has addressed in a rather detailed plan, he says: “I am concerned [opponents who have not done their own] are not serious. When 70 percent of our budget goes to entitlements and the debt, you can’t be a serious presidential candidate and ignore this.” He also rejected Hillary Clinton’s call for a 4 percent surcharge tax on the rich. “When they say they are only going to tax the rich, you better go for your wallet,” he cracks. He argues that his tax, which reduces the top rate and eliminates all but the mortgage and charitable deductions, will require the rich to pay plenty and will be a “fairer way to do it.”

As for the first two presidential contests, he is playing down expectations in Iowa. “What I’ve always said is I want to be the governor that does the best,” meaning he’ll take credit for beating out Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (both in single digits there). He says,” We have a lot of work to do.” As for New Hampshire, he says he just needs to beat Bush and Kasich, predicting the race will soon get down to four (Cruz, Trump, Rubio and him).

Christie can rightfully point to strong reviews at town halls and a substantial turnaround in his favorable ratings. And plainly, this is a candidate who thinks his own retail skills are as good as anyone’s. (“At the RGA [Republican Governors Association], I used to tell people the indispensable element is the candidate,” he recalls.) But the debates loom large. Christie says to wait to see how things shake out after the next debate. “Then I’ll give you a prediction,” he jokes. And we will make sure to follow up.