New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered a peculiar keynote address Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention (see video below). There was no red meat for the partisan troops. No Jersey-style verbal body slams for the party in the White House. None of his signature statements that say candidly what we're all thinking but that no one else has the courage or the indelicacy to say. Christie talked mostly about himself.
In the film introduction to his speech, Gov. Christie described himself as someone who knows how to make decisions and make things happen, and that was the theme of his speech. Growing up, he had a "go along" father, but a plainspoken mother utterly devoted to those in her care-her children. "She was tough as nails and didn't suffer fools at all," Christie said. "The truth was she couldn't afford to. She spoke the truth-bluntly, directly, and without much varnish." The takeaway from this? "I am her son."
One of the widely observed oddities of the speech was how Christie-centered it was for the keynote speech at a coronation convention. What gives?
Later in the speech (remarkably later), Christie pointed to the nominee and praised him to the crowd for his leadership and his ability to make decisions and make them stick. "We have this leader for America," he said. "We have a nominee who will tell us the truth and who will lead with conviction. " A that point, the camera switched to Mitt Romney to capture his grateful acknowledgement of the praise. Christie then repeated three times, "Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear …" and gave examples of matters on which the candidate will speak bravely.
But the sight of Gov. Romney reminded us that he has not been a decisive and plainspoken man. He has tacked to the left and to the right depending on his political situation at the time, be it challenging Ted Kennedy for his Senate seat, running for Massachusetts governor, or, most recently, navigating his way through the GOP presidential primaries.
Christie's praise for Romney struck me as more of an exhortation than adulation. It seemed to be addressed more to the candidate as a warning than to the country as an endorsement. He seemed to be saying, "You don't have Chris Christie as your running mate, but you should take Chris Christie as your model. And if you can't be the in-your-face New Jersey prosecutor, that's OK. But be a man. Try less to be the politician we will love and more to be the leader we will, in the end, respect."
But Romney is notoriously not like the New Jersey governor. He tries to speak without saying anything in particular. For political safety, he tries to play both sides of many issues.
It wasn't a subtly hostile speech. It was a political gift of good advice. If the candidate takes it, he could carry it all the way to the White House.