In an introduction to the American people on politics’ biggest stage, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) argued that only Republicans are willing to take the political heat necessary to fix the deficit.
He framed the election as a choice between tough decisions and empty pandering, using a recurring theme he says he learned from his mother to make the case.
“The greatest lesson Mom ever taught me, though, was this one: She told me there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected,” he said. “She said to always pick being respected, that love without respect was always fleeting — but that respect could grow into real, lasting love.”
He added: “Now, of course, she was talking about women.”
But applied to government, Christie said that Americans “have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved.”
“Tonight, we’re going to choose respect over love,” he said, in stark contrast to Ann Romney’s speech that immediately preceded his, which was focused on love.
Christie defined the “love” instinct as an inclination to forgo things like tough budget cuts and — carefully wading into the Romney/Ryan ticket’s most sensitive topic — a transformation of Medicare.
“Our problems are big and the solutions will not be painless,” he said. “We all must share in the sacrifice. Any leader that tells us differently is simply not telling the truth.”
The keynote speech has been a star turn for politicians in the past, none more dramatic than President Obama’s 2004 performance. Christie jumped at the opportunity to introduce himself to the American people on the national stage, holding up his own biography as the ideal of “respect”-based governance.
“When I came into office, I could continue on the same path that led to wealth, jobs and people leaving the state or I could do the job the people elected me to do — to do the big things,” Christie said. “There were those who said it couldn’t be done. The problems were too big, too politically charged, too broken to fix. But we were on a path we could no longer afford to follow.”
Compared with how often Christie talked about himself, Romney barely came up. Christie mentioned the nominee’s name just seven times in his prepared remarks.
As for his own record, Christie cited his education battles and balancing the New Jersey state budget without raising taxes as two of his major success.
“They believe in teachers unions,” he said. “We believe in teachers.”
And he let voters in on his biography as “the son of an Irish father and a Sicilian mother” who came from humble beginnings.
Bruce Springsteen inevitably came up. Christie recalled how “I listened to ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ with my high school friends on the Jersey Shore.”
His “love versus respect” message was somewhat undercut by Romney’s extreme unwillingness to offer any details on the tough decisions he plans to make on tax reforms, spending cuts or Medicare spending levels. The Romney campaign has instead outlined ambitious, if mathematically improbable, goals of significant tax cuts, a reversal of $716 billion in Medicare savings and a balanced budget before 2021.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.