Going into his keynote speech Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention, the conventional wisdom was that Chris Christie’s job was to help introduce Mitt Romney to a nation that’s just now starting to pay attention to the presidential campaign. It didn’t work out quite that way.
Instead, Christie introduced himself to America. He used the word “I”—talking about himself, his personal history, and his beliefs—37 times. He mentioned Mitt Romney seven times, and then not until the speech was more than half over. If you only tuned into the first half of the speech, you’d think that Christie was the GOP’s candidate for president, not Romney.
Which means a couple of things:
* That story going around that Christie refused Romney’s veep nomination because he thinks Romney will lose? Maybe at least a little bit true.
* And that, in turn, probably means that Christie saw Tuesday night as his platform for launching his own presidential run in 2016.
Truth is, the Chris Christie we saw on Tuesday night wasn’t quite the guy we’ve gotten to know over the last couple of years in the New Jersey and Philadelphia media. He was introduced with a video in which a little girl asked him his favorite thing about being governor—and he didn’t respond by yelling at her, insulting her, and posting the video to YouTube.
Instead, he played up the jokey, humble-Jersey Shore-guy routine—complete with a Bruce Springsteen reference—offering an optimism-to-anger ratio that tilted more positive than the vitriol that’s made him beloved and famous among the Tea Party set. He talked a lot about his mom.
“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.”
It was positively Reaganesque. But it probably helped his own prospects more than Romney’s. In fact, the whole respect-love comparison was probably a frank admission to America: “Tonight, we choose respect over love,” he told the RNC crowd. He might as well have said, “You won’t like Mitt Romney as much as you love Barack Obama. Could you give him a chance anyway?” The whole vibe felt less political, and more like Christie trying to set Romney up with a skeptical date at last call.
But every wingman knows you’ve got to sell your bro’s good qualities. So what did Christie say about Romney? Not much, except that Romney will tell “hard truths.” Mostly, though, Christie talked about his own vision—and in the climax of the speech, when you thought he’d be selling his party’s candidate, sold himself.
“It’s now time to stand up. There’s no time left to waste,” Christie told the crowd. “If you’re willing to stand up with me for America’s future, I will stand up with you. If you’re willing to fight with me for Mitt Romney, I will fight with you.”
The effect, of course, was to suggest that Christie is leading the charge—and that Romney is the beneficiary. Did Romney feel so blessed? We’ll probably not know until this election’s sniping tell-all memoirs are published two years hence. For now, though, it sure looks like Christie was hoping that Tuesday was his Obama-in-2004 moment. Book it: If Romney loses in November, Christie is running for president in 2016.