Chris Christie kicked off the election year on Monday with a speech at Saint Anselm College designed to set the stakes of the 2016 race -- both in New Hampshire and nationally. While Christie takes veiled shots at a number of his rivals, his speech is rightly read as a broad-scale rebuttal of the front-running candidacy of Donald Trump. It's a compelling case -- worth reading and annotating. I am doing the latter using Genius. You can join me; sign up here!
I am here today to talk to you about why we as a party must win this November because the stakes for our nation have never been higher. The Democrats, behind Hillary Clinton, are seeking four more years for a collection of policies that have already failed. The Republican Party cannot let that happen. We cannot let this happen. America deserves much better than what the president has given us and what Hillary Clinton proposes for our future. We must unite to win this election. Over the next few months, Republicans have the opportunity to show strong leadership to the voters, and set this country on a new and better path. And please remember this – my career is proof that with strong leadership our party can win anywhere and everywhere. New Jersey is the bluest of blue states. I have won twice in a state tougher for our party than anyone else in this race for president. We need that kind of victory under fire against Hillary Clinton.
In 2014 I was campaigning in Florida for Governor Rick Scott. I met an 82-year-old woman who grabbed my hand on a rope line and said, “What has happened to our country? We used to control events; now events control us.” This is a result of the weak leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. This is where our anxiety comes from in America. This is where our anger comes from in America. Their vacillation, their timidity, their failure is why so many Americans today are afraid. Living in fear of their lives; living in fear of their future. We can reverse this slide and we must eradicate this anxiety.
So, how do we get there? First, lets talk about three big issues facing American families:
The first point concerns the economy. In 2014, the real median household income in the United States fell to $53,657. This figure represents a decline of $3,700 since 2007. In other words, we are now almost at the end of President Obama’s second term, and the median U.S. household is still significantly worse off than before the economic crisis that he was originally elected to fix. In fact, last year the median household had 7.2 percent less income than it did in 1999. Barack Obama promised to be a friend to the middle class; instead under his policies their lives are getting only harder. And Hillary Clinton promises more of the same. No wonder many Americans have lost faith in U.S. economic policy.
The second point concerns homeland and national security. On November 13th, President Obama told ABC News that the terrorist group ISIS has been “contained.” That same day, 130 people were killed in Paris by terrorists, and ISIS claimed credit for the attack. On December 2nd, another 14 people were killed by terrorists in San Bernardino, California, and ISIS claimed credit for the attack. On December 9, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged to Congress that, in fact, ISIS is not fully contained. On December 19th, Hillary Clinton told the American people in the ABC News debate that as to ISIS, we are exactly where we want to be. Who are these people? Why are they so blind when real Americans can see so clearly America’s decline around the world and the danger at home? We are seven years into the Obama Administration – and the secretary of defense had to publicly contradict the president on a vital question of our fight against terrorism. And Secretary Clinton sounds just as clueless. And no one seems surprised. No one seems shocked. Just another day with Barack Obama as the leader of the free world.
The third point concerns the national mood. Earlier this month, CBS News and the New York Times polled Americans on the following question: “Do you feel things in this country are generally going in the right direction or do you feel things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?” In fact, CBS and the Times have asked this question repeatedly for years, and at no point since President Obama was elected have the optimists outnumbered the pessimists. I love this country. I’ve loved this country my whole life. It is the only country in the world where a guy like me, the grandson of a Sicilian immigrant born on the boat on the way to America, could run for president. Why isn’t every American an optimist when you live in a country like that? Why? Because weak, failed leadership has drained our optimism from us. This candidacy will restore our faith in each other and our trust in American optimism.
With strength in the Oval Office, China will no longer bully its neighbors near the South China Sea. Russia will not be permitted to throw its weight around in the Middle East. With a real negotiator in the Oval Office who will put American interests first, we will not have to tolerate a U.S. trade deficit with China of more than $300 billion. With a real budget cutter in the Oval Office, we will not permit our total public debt, which was equal to just over half our GDP in 2000, to continue to grow to where it now exceeds our entire GDP.
These facts are merely symptoms of a country where success is no longer expected and because weakness and tentativeness are the norm in the Oval Office. This cannot and will not continue. I will restore backbone and courage to an Oval Office that has seen none of it for seven years. Then we will see American optimism soar once again.
Let me speak even more plainly: a failure by our party this year, failure due to division in our party or inexperience in our nominee, would signal a deeper political crisis, as millions of Americans would conclude that the system no longer works. History is not kind to the incompetent, and it is unrealistic to expect that this dismal record of failure can go on, year after year, without severe consequences for all of us. As voters become more frustrated, angry voices sound more reasonable. It’s not enough to express anger – we must elect someone who knows how we get things done.
I don’t blame the voters for being angry. You have every right to be angry. You have every right to demand more. This president, the career politicians in Congress, the media, the D.C. insiders all want to dismiss your anger as irrational. They label you crazy because their livelihoods depend upon calling you names and dismissing your worries. They want to desperately protect the status quo in Washington. I know you are not what they label you.
Anger alone is not a solution. Today, as at many other times in our history, America needs leaders who not only identify our problems, but who have the ability to repair our broken system. That’s what this election is all about.
The Democrats have already given us their answer – more of the same. Eight years ago, the debate halls of America rang with Democratic speeches confidently promising hope and change. Things sure have changed. Let’s see what the American people have said with their votes about the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Since 2008, the American people have taken the House away from the Democrats, and given the GOP its largest majority since 1928. Last year, the American people took the Senate away from the Democrats, as the GOP picked up eight seats. Republican governors now serve in 31 of our states; in 2008 we had 21 governorships. The American people have given their verdict on the policies of Barack Obama – they have rejected them. Now, we need a candidate who can unite our party and finish the job they want us to do in the White House. A leader who has been tested, who is decisive, and who has lead before under difficult and challenging circumstances.
Now, in a time of great crisis, a weakened Democratic Party cannot put forward a realistic challenger to Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination – the same Hillary Clinton that the Democrats themselves rejected seven years ago. The same Hillary Clinton whose health-care plans were rejected in the early 1990s. The same Hillary Clinton whose tenure as secretary of state was marked by a decline in U.S. power and influence all over the globe and fewer democracies in the world today then when she entered office. The fact that the Democratic Party has so quickly united behind Hillary Clinton – the most vivid possible symbol of D.C. insiders and the failed status quo – is the clearest possible sign that they are simply out of ideas. Their slogan for 2016 seems to be, “If you like this government, we’ll let you keep it.”
Hillary Clinton will run on the same basic platform as Barack Obama – more government power at home, more U.S. weakness and appeasement abroad. For millions of Americans, that is not enough. Throughout this campaign, I have seen a nation full of people yearning for a return to the greatness of America’s past. These voters want a better life for themselves and their children, and they are not ready to give up. For the sake of those voters – for the sake of our country – the Republican Party must offer a winning alternative.
These are the most dangerous, perilous times in our country’s recent history. These times and these challenges demand a grownup. They demand someone who has been fighting today’s battles in the arena, not sidelined for years; not running away from the battles when they get too hot or when they get too discouraged. Showtime is over. We are not electing an entertainer in chief. Showmanship is fun, but it is not the kind of leadership that will change America. If we are going to turn our frustration and anger with the D.C. insiders, the politicians of yesterday and the carnival barkers of today into something that actually changes American lives, we must elect someone who has been tested. Someone with proven experience. Someone who knows how to make decisions because he has been making them for years, in the middle of the firefight between big government liberalism and our brand of freedom-loving conservatism. Someone who has been held responsible and accountable for decisions, not someone who just changes the next vote if the last one just didn’t work out.
Bluster is not the leadership we crave. Talking a big game and either not showing up or not knowing how, isn’t what we desperately need today. We need someone who knows how to make decisions, how to make them work for our government and for our citizens. We need an experienced, tested decision maker in the Oval Office.
When I was younger, Ronald Reagan drew to our party the Reagan Democrats and millions of middle-class voters who believed in a strong national defense, freedom from government intrusion and more economic opportunity. The growth of Reagan’s GOP has led to a robust debate over what alternative the Republicans should offer. Some pundits see this debate as a weakness – a sign of turmoil and chaos. I disagree. These are serious times, and we face serious problems, and it is hardly surprising that in a free country, people of good spirit could disagree over the best way forward.
The Republican Party has faced similar debates.
The election of 1980 took place in another atmosphere of crisis, as the Carter administration had presided over economic hardships at home and embarrassments abroad. No less than seven major candidates entered the race for the 1980 GOP nomination, and George Bush famously attacked the front-runner (Ronald Reagan), for offering what Bush called “voodoo economics.” Another GOP candidate – Congressman John Anderson – broke with Reagan completely, running on a third-party ticket. One can only imagine how the Internet would react to such developments today. But the Reagan and Bush camps came together, defeating Carter and beginning a new era of American greatness.
Strong disagreements within a party can be a sign of strength – if the party can then present a united front in the general election. On the other hand, American history has warnings for those who would split our party. In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected with only 43 percent of the vote – a lower percentage than Michael Dukakis had captured in 1988 – due in large part to an independent run by Ross Perot that captured almost 20 percent of the vote. Clinton and a Democratic Congress then implemented the type of trade deals that Perot himself vehemently opposed.
So let us be realistic here. There’s been a lot of wild talk lately about third-party runs, or a brokered convention, or big GOP donors switching to the Democrats if they don’t like our nominee. I understand that a certain amount of bluffs and threats are thrown around in any hotly contested election, but do not be fooled: any significant division within the Republican Party leads to the same awful result – Hillary Clinton taking the oath of office in January 2017. This country cannot afford that outcome, and thus we Republicans have a duty – a profound, moral duty – to work together.
Furthermore, when I look at our party, I do not believe that the GOP is destined to split up, or that we cannot agree on a platform to be proud of. For all the talk about the division in our party, I see a strong consensus among Republicans on many if not most major issues.
For example, we Republicans agree that federal spending should be reined in. In fact, from 2010 to 2014, a GOP House lowered federal spending by 3.1 percent of GDP, and the U.S. budget deficit went from 8.7 percent of GDP to only 2.8 percent. We can do even better with a Republican president.
We agree that the Constitution is superior to the judiciary, not the other way around. A Republican presidency is essential to prevent the type of radicalism that would be unleashed by a permanent liberal majority on the Supreme Court.
We agree that traditional values are not something to just be trotted out for a greeting card – but are vital to a free people. Under a Republican president, those of us who care about traditional values will not be treated like the villains in a Hollywood movie.
Most important, we agree with President Reagan that the United States is a shining city on a hill, and we are proud to defend its interests. With a Republican in the White House, Americans will have a president who spends more time looking out for them, and less time apologizing for them.
These are big issues – major areas of agreement – and they are worth fighting for. Given these issues, and given the crisis we face as a country, it would be absurd and irresponsible to split the party, and give Hillary Clinton at least four years in the White House. Yes, there are many Republican voters who are supporting what the media calls "protest" candidates like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. But most if not all of these same voters are loyal Republicans who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, John McCain in 2008 and President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. These same voters – these voters so demonized in the press – played a critical role in putting Republicans in charge of the House and Senate and put 31 governors in our state capitals. Do I agree with all of them on every issue? Of course not – just as I don't agree with many of the party's biggest donors on every issue. But I don't believe that they are merely blinded by a cult of personality, or that they have embraced values and beliefs outside the mainstream of American life. These voters are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, men and women of good faith who are trying to make this country better, and who deserve to have their voices heard. Indeed, many of their criticisms of recent U.S. policy are legitimate, and should be taken more seriously.
For example, consider the immigration issue, which has become a bone of contention in the GOP.
I am very proud of my own family's immigrant heritage, and I have no tolerance for nativism. I govern the most diverse state in the nation and have had to personally deal with the failure of Barack Obama’s government to secure our border. I have fought off liberal ideas which would threaten national security like drivers licenses for those who are here illegally. I know this fight personally.
It is ludicrous to pretend that anyone who disagrees with our current president on immigration is somehow a nativist. As I see it, conservative voters have raised three serious questions with respect to immigration. The first, and most important, relates to what it means to be a country – do we have the moral and legal authority to police our borders, and to decide for ourselves who gets to be an American? Of course we do, and of course millions of Americans are made furious by the suggestion – increasingly common in elite discourse – that any enforcement of our immigration laws amounts to unlawful discrimination. That is simply not true; we must secure our borders as priority number one.
The second question relates to the rule of law. Who gets to decide our immigration policy? Is it the people, acting through their elected representatives in Congress? Or can the president, acting alone, choose to waive whatever laws are on the books and effectively declare the United States borders open to all? President Obama seems to feel that his duty to “faithfully execute” his office allows him to alter immigration policy at his own whim, regardless of what Congress has said or not said or what the people want. Many voters view this attitude as undermining the traditional checks and balances within our system – and who can blame them for being troubled by such a cavalier approach to the rule of law?
So it is simply not true to say that Republican voters have no legitimate reason to be concerned about our immigration policy. At the same time, of course, the more you worry about this issue, the more you should vehemently oppose the election of Hillary Clinton – who will, at a minimum, continue the lawless policies implemented by President Obama, and who will certainly seek to vilify anyone who disagrees with her on this issue. We need to work together, and we need to find a compromise. In my opinion, we can and should agree not to move forward on efforts to reform the immigration laws unless and until the voters have confidence that our government is both able and willing to enforce current law. The Republican platform should denounce any effort to attack any American because of their racial, ethnic or religious heritage. The Republican platform may look forward to potential reforms in the future. But it should make clear that for now, we must focus on enforcement to rebuild trust on this vital question.
I've spent a fair amount of time on the immigration issue because it has received so much attention, and because it is so controversial. As I have shown, a serious assessment of this issue – an assessment where we talk to each other and not yell at each other – indicates that even on this hot-button question, cooperation and compromise is the best way forward for Republicans. It is the only way to prevent a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Other controversial issues should be viewed in the same light. For many voters, U.S. trade policy is a matter of grave concern. As the governor of New Jersey, a state that has always depended on trade, I am certainly a supporter of free trade, and I would oppose any effort to institute what I would consider a true protectionist policy. But can anyone truly say that U.S. trade policy is working as advertised?
I reject the notion that we have to choose between supporting every single trade deal, or lining up for Smoot-Hawley style tariffs. Take, for example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was negotiated by President Obama. This deal is almost 5,600 pages long, it was negotiated by a president who, in my opinion, deserves our deep skepticism, and it could have huge ramifications for our economy for years to come. Senator McConnell has already suggested that Congress may not take up this deal until we have a new president. I would go further and say that Congress should not consider the deal until the new president has been inaugurated – and that the next president, whoever it is, should carefully review the deal in all of its detail to make sure that it is truly favorable for the American people. This is not protectionism; it is simply common sense, and I believe it represents a compromise that all Republicans can support.
Once again, however, I would warn our voters that if we split our party, and put Hillary Clinton in power, there will be practically no chance to stop the TPP – or any other trade deals she may negotiate. Bill Clinton – who signed NAFTA, who put us in the WTO, and who fought for China's entry to that body – practically invented our current trade policy. If you don't like it, and you want to try something different, you should be looking to work with your fellow conservatives, not giving the Clintons the keys to the White House.
Finally, let me address the issue of national security. We hear complaints from some Republicans that the last Bush administration wasted too much on fruitless efforts for nation-building in the Middle East – and once again, those complaints have a point. Can anyone honestly say that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were as successful as President Bush hoped? In retrospect, it seems obvious that our disappointments in those efforts contributed directly to the rise of President Obama – and the new set of problems that we face today. Once again, raising concerns of this type are no endorsements of "isolationism" – an idea that I have never supported and will never support. Instead, they are a recognition that conservative critics of recent GOP policy have a point – and that we should listen to them instead of calling them names. At a minimum, it seems to me, those critics should be assured that the Republican Party has learned its lesson from the events of the last decade, and that going forward our foreign policy will focus aggressively on protecting the homeland and the American people first. I know how to do this better than any other Republican candidate. I am the only one who battled terrorism as a post-9/11 federal prosecutor. The only one who has had to make decisions that made the difference in keeping America safe. Preserving American lives must be the first task of our new president, especially in a world where the Obama/Clinton foreign policy has left us with Iran and a resurgent Russia, ISIS and a rebuilding al-Qaeda.
But I would also note that splitting this party, and handing the election to Hillary Clinton, will not make America stronger, will not restore sound thinking to our foreign policy, and will not protect American lives. Only by working together, within the Republican Party, can we avoid the type of weak and dangerous foreign policy we experienced with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. We cannot permit her to get within 10 miles of the Oval Office.
Immigration, trade, and national security are big issues, and they deserve a great deal of attention. I have not sought to set out a definitive collection of policies here. Instead, I have sought to show that there is no reason for a split among Republicans over these topics. There is plenty of room for agreement. Indeed, we must work together, for in the absence of such agreement, Hillary Clinton will be president – with results that will be disastrous. So I come here today to say let’s have our battles in this primary but let’s select a candidate who has the toughness and experience to bring us together and begin the process of saving this great nation.
I have said that we face grave difficulties, and that is true. But no generation of Americans can escape history, and each generation is called upon to build a better foundation for the next. The challenges we face – our stagnant economy, the decline of our national power, the lack of confidence in our national government – have given rise to the anger and frustration that has dominated so much of our discourse in 2015. But as we now turn to 2016, let us take this righteous anger and frustration and make it productive for our party and our nation. I am not afraid of these emotions. We are a free people, and this country – and its government – belongs to us. Here, in America, the people are the ultimate rulers – and if they are not happy, then policies should change. Democracy is the best of all governmental systems – not because it always makes the right decision, but because it offers the best opportunities to correct wrong decisions. We have the chance to correct a lot of wrong decisions, and to lay the groundwork for a new era of peace and prosperity. I am ready to start 2016 by not only presenting a vision for our nation but a strategy for victory. We have lost two presidential elections in a row – we know how painful defeat is and how destructive it’s been for our country. We cannot afford to lose again as a party and our country is crying out for leadership and strength once again. I know our country does not want this chance to pass us by.
I am ready to unite our party. I am ready to fight for our principles. I am more ready than anyone to protect the lives of and security of the American people. I’ve won in one of the toughest places in America, and I know how to bring the case against Hillary Clinton.
Bringing our party together is the first task of the next Republican leader. Without that unity we cannot win. And that unity is not possible without respect for the views, the emotions, the principles and the anger and disappointment of all the members of our party. It is with that respect for all and unity aimed towards victory where our greatest chance lies. Let us work together to seize that chance and to seize it starting today.