UPDATED 6:54 PM—New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s keynote address is the substantive center-piece of this first night of the Republican Convention. But contrary to expectations that he will play the traditional role of attack dog, the former U.S. Attorney will instead lay out a positive Republican vision of change for the nation – rooted in policy, biography and his surprisingly bipartisan accomplishments in the Garden State.
In fact, Chris Christie is so intent on not playing the attack dog at tonight’s campaign, that his speech will not mention President Obama by name.
It is a surprising and savvy move from a political figure who opponents sometimes accuse of bullying his critics.
There will be none of the expected fire and brimstone – instead Christie will offer a positive vision of Republican philosophy focused on governing and treating American citizens as adults who understand hard truths, such as the need to reform entitlements to ensure the long-term fiscal stability of the nation.
Christie will spend much of the address on his own New Jersey-born and bred biography – advice he extends to the Republican Party in a bid to encourage them to tackle the hard issues and earn the respect of the electorate accordingly.
Among the areas he will advocate for such ‘tough love’ solutions is dealing with the deficit and debt, entitlement reform and education reform – building common ground on the idea that Republicans have faith in people to reason together rather than to react to fear or narrow self-interest at the expense of the national interest. As in his speech at the Reagan Library, Christie will use his experience negotiating with Democrats in Trenton as an example of ‘principled compromise’ that is at the heart of democracy – gently pushing back on those in his party who would demonize cooperation across the aisle as collaboration with the enemy.
Christie is no stranger to controversy and he clearly relishes conflict – a characteristic he shares with many former prosecutors turned politicians, including my former boss Rudy Giuliani. But as a Northeast Republican, elected in a state where registered Independents outnumber Democrats or Republicans – and where Democrats control the State Senate – he’s been forced to find a way to work across the aisle to get things done, even on controversial measures like education reform and reducing the budget deficit without raising taxes.
These policy successes – as well as his brash style – are what quickly made him a national Republican rock-star and why many were begging to run for president this time around. But Christie is also a pragmatic politician, and decided to back the conventional wisdom front-runner Mitt Romney instead of throwing his own hat in the ring after just two years in office.
Christie’s surprising tack in this speech offers insight into not only his own vision of successful Republican governance, but also Team Romney’s approach to this convention.
Top Romney aide and convention director Russ Schriefer served as a consultant to Christie’s successful gubernatorial campaign and while re reviewed the speech - which was written by Christie with input from his communications director Maria Comella and advisor Bill Palatucci - he made no substantive changes. Schriefer and his business partner Stuart Stevens have an arguably better feel for general election audience that a hard-core conservative primary base – this is the national audience they’ve been waiting for.
That’s why, if you take a look at the prime-time speakers lined up, you’ll see a decidedly substantive center-right tone. Sarah Palin, to use the most obvious polarizing example, is nowhere to be found, and social conservative primary rivals like Rick Santorum are not getting the top-line speaking slots.
Instead, you’ll see rising stars who appeal to both the Tea Party and the Establishment wings of the party – most notably Christie tonight, Paul Ryan tomorrow and Marco Rubio on the final night. And while each of these men can deliver slabs of red-meat rhetoric, they are also policy wonks, capable of making a substantive case for Republican change.
This profile – heightened by Christie’s “no-excuses” executive style offers insight into the Romney prescription for the Republican Party that we’ll be seeing during these three days of the Republican convention.