New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called for an end to an “era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office,” delivering a rousing keynote speech at the Republican National Convention Tuesday night in which he challenged GOP leaders to tell the American people the “hard truths” he said Democrats weren’t willing to address.
He did not mention President Obama or the Democrats by name. Instead, he portrayed the battle for America’s future as us-versus-them. He balled his hands in fists as he spoke, furrowing his brow and narrowing his eyes and pausing when the delegates repeatedly rose to its feet in applause.
“I know this simple truth and I'm not afraid to say it: our ideas are right for America and their ideas have failed America,” Christie said.
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His remarks ended the convention's first day, in which Mitt Romney was formally nominated to be the GOP's presidential candidate. As keynote speaker, Christie provided the hard sell that Romney needed to fire up the GOP base and attract undecided voters.
The soft sell came earlier, from Romney's wife, Ann, who gave a deeply personal speech aimed at making her husband appear less stiff and more personable. That image is crucial to closing Obama's lead among women and in likeability polls. She delivered, telling the story of how she and Romney fell in love, praising American mothers, and portraying her husband as worthy of voters' trust.
"This man will not fail," she said.
When she finished, Romney emerged from the wings, and in his first appearance at the convention, kissed his wife and escorted her off the Tampa Bay Times Forum stage.
Then the stage belonged to Christie, who took a tougher tack, pounding at red-meat Republican issues: the escalating national debt, expensive entitlement programs, stagnant job growth, and public sector unions who resist reform of their pensions and health benefits, Obama’s health-care reform legislation.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor whose combative personality has made him something of a conservative folk hero, portrayed the Democrats as unwilling to tell the public that it can’t have everything it wants when times are hard.
“They believe that the American people don't want to hear the truth about the extent of our fiscal difficulties and need to be coddled by big government. They believe that the American people are content to live the lie with them. They’re wrong.”
In a not-too-veiled dig at the president, Christie criticized leaders who “have decided it is more important to be popular, to do what is easy and say yes rather than to say no when no is what’s required.”
Christie portrayed the GOP ticket as the men who’ll say no for the good of the country. “I know this simple truth and I’m not afraid to say it: our ideas are right for America, and their ideas have failed America.”
He added: “It is time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House. America needs Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and we need them right now.”
Christie weaved in his personal story: the son of an Irish father and Sicilian mother who grew up poor. He called his mother the family’s “driver,” who advised him “to speak from the heart and fight for your principals.” Her greatest lesson, Christie said, was telling him that is was always better to earn someone’s respect rather than love, because respect could grow into “real, lasting love.”
“Now, of course, she was talking about women,” Christie noted, as the audience laughed. “But I have learned over time that it applies just as much to leadership.”
He described his own difficult decisions after he was elected governor in 2009: cutting taxes, closing a budget deficit and take on the public sector unions by cutting benefits and making it more difficult for teachers to earn tenure.
“Believe me, if we can do this in a blue state with a conservative Republican governor, Washington is out of excuses.”
He accused the president of following polls instead of really leading. And he asked the GOP crowd to rise to its feet.
“It’s now time to stand up,” he said. “There’s no time left to waste.”
Ann Romney began her speech by telling how she fell in love with her husband for his sense of humor. “He still makes me laugh,” she said.
She also portrayed him as a “good, decent man” who helped her weather a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and a cancer scare.
“I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage. Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or breast cancer.
“A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.”
She dedicated a large portion of her remarks extolling the countless American women who held their families together. “You are the best of America. You are the hope of America,” she said.
She finished with a broad defense of her husband, outlining his work as governor to expand educational opportunities. And she referred to Obama’s demands that they release more of their tax returns, suggesting that Mitt Romney didn’t want to publicize his charitable giving.
"Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he has helped others, because he sees it as a privilege,” she said to cheers. “Not as a political talking point.”
She added, “You can trust Mitt.”
Christie and Ann Romney's speeches capped a busy opening day for the Republicans, whose schedule was reworked in response to Hurricane Isaac, which made landfall during the evening lineup of speeches and spun toward New Orleans.
The day began with Republicans approving a party platform that would ban gay marriage and abortions without exception, repeal Obama’s signature health care legislation, change Medicare into a voucher system and cut taxes.
Such sessions are typically highly scripted and staid, but this time it was interrupted by supporters of libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a former Romney challenger for the presidential nomination. They booed at the adoption of new rules that would make it more difficult for insurgent candidates to earn the nomination, the Associated Press reported.
Later, the GOP began its roll call and formally nominated Romney as its presidential candidate.
With 50 votes, New Jersey put Romney over the 1,144-delegate threshold needed to officially become the nominee.