Christie Speech at Council on Foreign Relations Calls For New Leadership

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

“We face a fundamental and crippling lack of leadership,” Christie said.

Governor Christie pulled no punches in his 30 minute speech. He said the current moment reminds him of the late 1970s when America had a weak president. That president was succeeded by a Republican whom the liberal establishment derided as a cowboy, but whose eight years in office, Christie said, were shining.

“What happened because of his leadership was the longest sustained period of economic growth in our recent history, and peace sustainability in the world and the end of the Cold War. That’s what strong, principled leadership can do. That’s what it did under Ronald Reagan, and that’s what it can do now,” Christie said.

He said a president needs to listen the way Ronald Reagan listened, and the way Barack Obama doesn’t. Often wrong, never in doubt, Christie said of Obama, and then waded into the Syrian refugee issue and defended his call to shut the borders for now.

“Any policy if it’s meant to be successful in the United States must have the broad support of the American people. If that policy is not seen as being in the American interest, it is unlikely to have the broad support of the American people. The president’s huge blunder, in my view, is going overseas and criticizing folks here at home who have raised genuine concerns about the safety and security of America under this policy. For me I’ll be quite clear. When the FBI director stands up and say that he cannot assure the American people that Syrian refugees can be effectively vetted that ends the conversation for the moment. We cannot allow ourselves at a time of great peril to put ourselves voluntarily at even greater risk just because there are some folks who believe that it will make our country look better here around the world. I have a large Muslim-American population in my state. I think it’s the second largest Muslim-American population of any state behind Michigan. What I’ll tell you is that Muslim-Americans aren’t nearly that sensitive,” he said.

Obama doesn’t listen to his own FBI Director, Christie said, and belittles people who disagree with him. A real leader persuades, Christie said, continuing his defense of his position on the refugee question.

“I don’t care any less about the widows and orphans of the Syrian War than the president does. Not one bit less. But my focus is different than his is. My focus is on the widows and orphans in the United States. My focus is on the widows and orphans of September 11. See, they live with me everyday. They live around me everyday in my state. It’s 14 years later for everyone in this country, but for me it is a daily occurrence to look into the eyes of the people who lost their husbands and wives, their fathers and mothers, their sisters and brothers, their sons and daughters on September 11,” he said.

Amid news reports that the terrorism issue has breathed new life into his candidacy, Christie used this forum to showcase his strengths. He was nuanced, articulate, informed and opinionated. On the subject of ISIS, he professed a muscular approach.

“This is a cult of evil everyone, and we can never allow this cult of evil, ever, to take hold in our country. And we can never be willing to allow it to live among us. It’s the antithesis of what it means to be an American, to willingly participate in this. It’s visited too many places in addition to Paris. We can all go through the list of cities where ISIS has already struck,” Christie said.

In a question and answer session, he was asked about all the experts who argue in favor of admitting Syrian refugees.

“Well what happens if one of these folks comes in and winds up participating in an attack that kills Americans? What kinds of signals are we sending then? Because I can guarantee you that there will be all kinds of people in this town who have the opinion to let folks in who will run for the hills. Or all of a sudden have these qualifiers, ‘Oh, what a second. I said if this and that and this and that.’ When you’re in charge and you have to be responsible you don’t get to run and you don’t get to hide,” he said.

America is a dispirited country right now, he said, looking for strong leadership. He tried his best today to sound like that leader.

“they don’t think anyone here is listening anymore. And they’re two ways to react when you think people aren’t listening to you. To keep quiet and go away, or to yell even louder. Unfortunately, we have both going on right now. Both at the same time. We have scores of people who are detaching themselves from the political process in this country because they feel their voice will never be heard, no matter how loud they yell. And then we have a group of people who believe to hell with that. I’m going to yell louder, and louder and louder. If we don’t respond to this dynamic our way of life will be buried by it. We need to listen and lead and not be polling every question that confronts us,” Christie said.

We’ll see if the public thinks the audition went well.