SACRAMENTO — Speaking to the fervent believers of the California Republican Party on Saturday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered a muted paean to Ronald Reagan and presented himself as a humble but “passionate guy” who doesn’t fight just for the sake of fighting.
Faced with a choice of offering hot rhetoric to the crowd inside the hall or appealing to a broader, national audience, he chose the latter, presenting himself as a reasonable conservative (despite his well-earned reputation as a loudmouth bully) who would fight for principle and tell the people hard truths.
Specifics about those truths were absent in the address to the state Republican convention at the Hyatt Regency. Instead of policy, he offered personality, portraying himself as a sensitive son of a Sicilian mother and Italian father which made him “an expert at dispute resolution all of my life.”
He also told the story – oft-repeated throughout his career — of being told by his dying mother to go back to work because “there’s nothing left unsaid between us,” which brought tears and sighs from some in the audience. And his pledge to “fight for the fights that are worth fighting for” drew cheers.
It was an interesting bit of political ju-jitsu, trying to exchange his boorish persona for a softer image more befitting the avuncular, chuckling image of a sepia-toned Reagan.
At a time when he has declined dramatically, both in national and New Jersey polling, Christie was in California to revive his relevance, among activists and donors.
The most important message he had for California Republicans was not to line up behind a flavor-of-the-week candidate yet, noting that Reagan did not vanquish George H.W. Bush in the Republican presidential primary until May 1980.
“Take a deep breath everybody,” he said. “It’s 21 months until the election of our next president.”