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Christie’s Missed Opportunity And What He Might Have Said

Governor Christie’s free ride had to end sometime.  The expectations were simply too high.  He maximized his public persona with waves of town hall meetings where he waged a deft social media campaign to mold himself into the tough-talking, ass-kicking Governor from the rough and tumble State of New Jersey.  I never saw a “Jersey Strong” bumper sticker before he came to Trenton.  His badass brand appealed to voters nationwide who hunger for leadership.  Many wondered whether he might be the savior who could bark some sense into a populous in need of a dose of reality when it comes to the sacrifices looming down the Turnpike.   But I think he overestimated the nation’s affection.  As this year progressed, he looked interesting, even promising, but the jury was still out.  Unfortunately, his performance this week missed the mark, and the jury will remain out. But he should take heart, others have suffered similarly and lived to campaign another day.

To be fair, Governor Christie was overhyped.  He has a strong personality, but I never viewed him as a gifted speaker, and the New Jersey Comeback is another example of his marketing genius.  And yet, here he was, with an audience ready to anoint him as the heir apparent in 2016.  I’m sure he’s thinking backstage that if he brings his blunt, fist-pumping “A” game, he can’t miss.  I’ve seen him deftly handle the powerful unions, strong-willed Democratic opponents and other traditional power brokers in New Jersey.  His manipulation of town hall meetings demonstrated a media/marketing savvy that catapulted him to national renown.  He stole headlines stoking his New Jersey chutzpah in clashes with loudmouths in town meetings and on the Jersey boardwalk.  This guy thumbed his nose at millions of federal dollars for a new tunnel to New York City.  So, when his moment finally arrived, I was not surprised when he stepped from behind the curtain and pumped that meaty arm into the air clapping like he’s about to lead that sea of milk toast onto the gridiron.

And then he gives his speech.  No real surprises I guess.  I had a few flashbacks to my high school football locker room, and I wanted to tell him to stop yelling at me.  I don’t want an offensive line coach as my President, but I figured he’d be burlier than usual.  But as the speech dragged on, you could feel the Convention audience begin to sag, like football “dummies” softened by years of blocking practice.  His yelling seemed contrived and his ego inflated.  I sat for awhile, like so many others, and realized that this speech was by him, about him and all for him.   Big mistake.

When you are the Governor, especially in New Jersey, you can make it about you.  You hold tremendous authority and as a Republican you are in pitched battle with a Legislature that will always be Democratically controlled.  When he came to Tampa, we already knew he talked tough and followed through on his promises.  We had followed his many visits outside New Jersey where he threw his weight around and bolstered the campaigns of his more testosterone challenged fellow Republicans.  We didn’t need more of that.  We needed to see another side of our Governor, something more than the brusque football coach.  Republicans hoped that he would add some heft to their Presidential candidate, whose personality is so unlike our Governor’s.

Maybe Governor Christie was swept up in what must be an intoxicating swirl of accolades.  Perhaps he felt that 2012 should have been his year.  For whatever reason, he put himself before the team and everyone could see it.  All of these Convention speakers should understand one thing.  We don’t want to hear you tell us how great you are (or how tough your grandfather had it).  We want to reach that conclusion on our own, discerning greatness and promise as we listen to your vision for our country.  We yearn for the reluctant, charismatic leader who demands and inspires us to be better. Governor Christie seemed intent on bullying us into believing he should be President.  Instead of touting his record, as distorted as it was, he needed only to build the case for Governor Romney.  Had he done so, he would have set the table for his 2016 campaign.  As it is, he did serious damage to his chances.

As I thought about it, I got to thinking what he might have said.  So, for whatever it’s worth, this is what I think he should have said:

I stand before you tonight as the humble servant of the people of the State of New Jersey.  Humble because this son of New Jersey, who grew up in the most modest of circumstances, believed in a system that rewards hard work and perseverance.  My mother taught me that fervent study in a strong public education system would prepare me for the work ahead.  She encouraged me to give back to my fellow citizens.  She made me believe that my time in politics would afford me the privilege of service to my fellow citizens.  She taught me that plain-speaking candor and honesty resonate with a public hungry to improve this great country of ours.  Some say I may have taking that advice too far, but if I have, I did so with the goal of overcoming a mode of governing that doomed future generations to a lifetime of excess debt and financial failure.   I have dedicated myself to calling things as I see them and pulling no punches.  I have been very fortunate thus far in my career in that my New Jersey brothers and sisters have entrusted me to abandon the traditional approach to governing and take bold steps to undo decades of short sightedness by elected official from both sides of the aisle.  And if I never do more than serve out my term and make this speech tonight, I will live my life content that I lived the beliefs my mother instilled in me.  I think that’s all each of us can expect to do, live out our beliefs in a world that challenges them so steadily.

Tonight will be no different.  I will speak plainly and honestly, because I believe in what I am telling you, and I am confident in the man of whom I speak.  Our country finds itself at a crossroads.  My generation has stood on the shoulders of those who came before us, and we have enjoyed the fruits of their sacrifices.  As we grew, so did the wealth of this country.   The Cold War ended, the Wall came down, totalitarianism failed, and we saw ourselves striding confidently into a 21st Century where our values and our leadership might change the world forever.  But as we enjoyed this prosperity, the seeds of the great challenges we now face had already been sown.  In our contentment, we let our guard down.   Those of us in this conventional hall tonight, elected representatives with a duty to our fellow citizens, collectively failed to guard the corridors of freedom.  Following a pattern well worn in civilizations past, our wealth and our success dimmed our vision and loosened our grip on the levers of government.  Our country prospers when our citizens participate in its governance.  In recent times, we lost our way.

And now we must pay the price. Prosperity is not pre-ordained, and borrowing our way to prosperity is a prescription for permanent pain.  The shock of the last few years has disoriented many and disillusioned more.  Correcting the damage will require a plan.  Not just any plan will do.  We need a plan for our future that will day by day, month by month and year by year guide us back to prosperity.  I have waited patiently for almost 4 years to hear that plan.  But my patience is at its end.  Some call me a moderate.  But I think that simply means that when I deal with someone, if you speak the truth, regardless of your party stripes, I will work with you, even support you.  Had I heard a plan, had I been convinced that the collective train encompassing each of the states of this great nation was embarking on a new journey with a clear vision for our country, I would gladly climb aboard.  But ladies and gentlemen, this train has no locomotive.  We have no engineer, and we desperately need one.

Our dire financial circumstances demand extraordinary leadership.  We need the best engineer.  We need the strongest locomotive. Governor Romney arrives at this moment in history with an unmatched resume for taking charge of this train.  Our greatest problems are financial in nature.  This country, this business of ours, needs fixing, and Mitt Romney has spent his life fixing broken businesses.  They called him to Salt Lake City to fix the Olympics and he did. He understands like no one else how our economy impacts our businesses.  Most of us would find tedium in the business of balance sheets, income statements, chains of distribution, ROI’s, mergers, and countless other financial minutia consumed, analyzed and organized with an eye toward increasing value and improving efficiency.  But in this present moment, where our nation’s balance sheet has never been worse, we need the wisdom of someone who can discern a path from this dark place, fire up the engines of this economy and get this train moving once again.

We can’t waste more time.  We can’t hope for a new vision from our current President.  He means well, but cannot bring to bear the toolchest carried by our nominee.  Providence has delivered Mitt Romney to this moment in history.  He seeks this office not to sing us songs or tell jokes.  He’s not promising a smooth golf swing.  He’s not checking opinion polls in Europe.  No, Mitt Romney asks for your vote so he can get to work.  That’s what he does best.  And he’s ready to get to work saving our country.  As I stand before you tonight, I beg you and my fellow citizens with all my heart, to get aboard the train, and come November, make damn sure Mitt Romney is driving.

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