The Romney campaign vetted Gov. Christie’s speech beforehand, so one must assume Mitt Romney knew it would be halfway through the remarks on Tuesday night before Christie would mention his name.
What looked like a strained grin on Romney’s face seemed to suggest he was wondering when Christie would stop talking about himself and all he’s done for New Jersey. Or maybe the Republican candidate for president was thinking about his own speech. His challenge will mirror Christie’s.
Both have served as Republican governors of liberal Democratic states, which means they have had to work across the political divide to get things done. But their party, in particular at this convention, doesn’t seem to want to hear about bipartisanship.
Christie did say the forbidden word at least twice, noting it took bipartisan efforts to change state workers’ pension and health-benefits systems, and to pass teacher-tenure reform. But as if he were embarassed to admit working with Democrats, he quickly shifted gears into a sermon about what “they” and “we” believe. It was disappointing, but expected.
Christie has never let reality stand in the way of the image he is trying to project. His reputation as the feisty governor who considers compromise to be the refuge of wimps gained him serious consideration to become Romney’s running mate. He believes that image will win him reelection next year, if not a higher office in 2016.
Christie’s speech came from the opposite direction of Ann Romney’s, who had earlier told the GOP delegates that this presidential election is all about love — the type of love she has for her husband, and the type of love they both have for their country. Christie said his mother had taught him, in conversations about women, that respect is more important than love.
He talked about being an “enforcer,” like his mother, who “spoke the truth — bluntly, directly, and without much varnish.” But his truth Wednesday night in Tampa lacked some details that his sometime Democratic allies back home in New Jersey were happy to talk about, even as the governor was tooting his horn.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, who really did work with Christie on health-benefits and teacher-tenure reform, chided the governor for painting a rosier picture of the Garden State than the reality. He and other Democrats noted that New Jersey’s 1.2 percent growth in jobs since 2010 ranks 41st nationally, and that net property taxes have increased 20 percent.
The rest of the country probably doesn’t know that. Having heard about the gregarious, portly governor who doesn’t mince words, TV viewers were likely impressed with Christie’s performance as the keynote speaker. New Jerseyans, though, have seen him do better making off-the-cuff remarks instead of staring into a teleprompter.
Only the importance of the convention speech made it memorable. That and the fact that Christie got everyone to stand up for Romney in the end, not with flaming oratory that ignited their fervor, but simply by asking them to rise.