Christie: GOP doesn't need to avoid social issues to win elections

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shakes hands with Kiki Fornito, during a visit by Christie to Sam's No. 3, a diner in Denver, as Christopher Mouflard, center, joins Fornito for lunch, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Christie, who made to stop to support GOP gubernatorial contender Bob Beauprez, praised Beauprez and said the Republican Governor's Association, which Christie chairs, will help Beauprez in the lead-up to the November election. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Gov. Christie presented himself as both “pro-life” and a tolerant listener during a panel discussion with other Republican governors Thursday night, arguing that Republicans don’t need to avoid social issues to appeal to a broader range of voters.

The party hasn’t lost elections because of a focus on social issues, but because of its “tone and tenor,” Christie said at the Aspen Institute in Colorado. “I think we’re getting pounded because of the way we present ourselves.”

Voters want people “who are authentic and believe what they say is true, but also are willing to be tolerant and listen to others’ points of view,” Christie said.

He pointed to his election wins in New Jersey: “I have plenty of folks in my state who vote for me who have significantly different opinions than mine on some of those issues,” Christie said. “The reason for that is because they think I’m listening to them," and "they know that what I say I believe."

The discussion, which was broadcast online, also featured Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Describing a stance he’s advocated in recent speeches, Christie said being “pro-life” extends beyond the abortion debate, highlighting New Jersey’s mandatory treatment program for nonviolent drug offenders as an example.

A broader “pro-life” philosophy “gets messy,” Christie said. “They don’t create any trouble in the womb. When they get out of the womb … lots of bad things can happen.”

In responding to a question about the state’s oversight of Newark schools, Christie attacked teachers unions for driving a belief that if “you throw more money at it, it will get better.”

Christie returned to the same line of attack later in the discussion, saying the country’s public education system “cares more about the comfort of adults than they do about the potential of children.”

On immigration, Christie accused Obama of “unwillingness to lead” in addressing the recent influx of unaccompanied children trying to cross the border into the U.S.

He said federal officials had told him that for children placed with guardians willing to take them, the guardians would be responsible for making sure they attended immigration hearings – a situation Christie called “completely illogical,” if the guardians were also undocumented.

Christie did not discuss New Jersey’s economy, which has been seen by some as a possible impediment to a 2016 presidential campaign. The state’s bond rating has been downgraded by ratings agencies to one of the lowest in the nation during Christie’s tenure, while job growth has trailed neighboring states.

Christie, who is chairman of the Republican Governors Association, traveled to Denver Wednesday to attend an RGA fundraiser and campaign with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez before heading to Aspen.

Christie will head Friday to Chicago, where he is scheduled to attend fundraisers for Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, as well as Scott, the Florida governor.