Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ)
Iowa Freedom Summit
Hoyt-Sherman Place
Des Moines, Iowa
January 24, 2015

Thank you very much.  Thank you all for being here today.  I want to thank my friend Steve King, and I want to tell you something about him.  He made me sound like the hero in front of that congressional committee in 2009.  Let me tell you that on that committee that day there was just one Republican who sat there the entire time during that hearing while they were beating me up and beat them up right back.  That was Steve King.  When I, when I left that hearing room that day, he waited for me in the hallway and I said to him, Congressman--I never met him in my life--I said, Congressman with what you just did in there, the way you stood up for me, anything you ever need from me again in my career, if anything comes of my career, you just pick up the phone and call.  And he's a good man and a great friend, and I'm happy to be here with all of you today.

So, now, I have read a lot of stuff before I came out here to the Summit.  I've heard the conventional wisdom.  [ed. -immigration protester(s) shouts out from the balcony] 

Don't they know I am from New Jersey?  Man this doesn't bother me one bit.

And he is wonderful transition for me because I have heard and read the conventional wisdom that somehow a guy from New Jersey would not be welcomed or understood at the Iowa Freedom Summit.  That somehow I'm too loud, that I'm too blunt and I'm too direct. 

But let me say this.  I've been to Iowa 11 times in the last five years.  I've been invited by Terry Branstad, the governor of your state.  I've been invited by Rod Blum, our congressman from the First District.  I've been invited by the Iowa Republican Party.  I've been invited by the Iowa Republicans in the state legislature.  And this is the fifth time I've been invited to this state by our friend Congressman Steve King. 

Now let me ask you this.  If I was too blunt, too direct, too loud and too New Jersey for Iowa, then why do you people keep inviting me back?  And even more importantly, if the values I'm fighting for every day in New Jersey and all across this country are not consistent with your values, then why would I keep coming back?  I wouldn't.  I do because our values are consistent, and we are fighting together to make this a better country. 

We know what this is about.  This is just the conventional wisdom for Washington, DC that thinks we aren't friends.  It's the conventional wisdom from Washington, DC that argues that a conservative Republican governor from New Jersey can't possibly share the same values with conservative Republicans here in Iowa.  They were wrong every time they've said it over the last five years, and from your welcome today, they're wrong again today. 

I'm here today because I have been a friend of Iowa and Iowa has been a friend to me.  I'm here today because our conservative values work not only in Iowa, but I'm living proof that they work in New Jersey too. 

See I have traveled this country now the last year.  I have been in 37 different states, and I have traveled over 106,000 miles to support Republican governors and Republican candidates for governor in every corner of this country.  And I've learned a lot about America in the last year.  And I'd like to share with you just a little bit of what I've learned.

There is one emotion that I have seen more than any other.  It's the same emotion no matter where I've been, whether it was at my  home in New Jersey or in Illinois, in Pennsylvania or here in Iowa.  The media will try to tell you that it's anger.  It's not.  It's anxiety. 

[If] The people of this country are this anxious as they are today, this uncertain and this unhappy about the course of our country for this long, then something has gone seriously wrong in America.

The promise of America, the dream, the dream that brought so many of our forefathers across the oceans, was that in America the people rule.  In America, the government does what we want.  In America, the politicians and bureaucrats are the servants, not the masters.

Now I have to give the voters credit.  They have tried over and over to change this.  In 2006 and 2008 they took power from Republicans; they gave it to Democrats.  In 2010 and 2014 they took power from Democrats and they gave it to Republicans.  Yet no matter how many times the voters try, the anxiety is still there. 

And they have a right to that anxiety.  According to the Census Bureau--think about this--in 2011, 2012 and 2013 the real median household income in this country was less that $52,000.  Three years and a row like that with no increase at all since 1993 to 1995.  In other words the average American is living just about as well as they did before our friend Al Gore invented the internet.  No wonder Americans are anxious.  No wonder they keep looking for change.  There is economic stagnation in this country.  But there's also an overwhelming feeling that it's just not possible in your family to get ahead, to really get ahead for your children and your grandchildren, that no matter how hard you work or no matter what you do, no matter what job you switch to, that a better opportunity is simply out of reach. 

There is uncertainty in our country, and it is a product of the failure of leadership by those we expect not just to set the tone, but to actually follow through and execute, and that failure has happened at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

And this doesn't just affect us here at home.  This affects America around the world as well. 

And there is persistent divisiveness in Washington which has not only led to paralysis and failure to get anything done, but a culture of distrust that has begun to seep into our neighborhoods and our communities, to not trust that this government can work any longer.

I met lots of people over the last year, but the one I remember the most, who said something to me that really capsulized it the best, was an 82-year old woman in Florida.  And she said it to me in Vero Beach.  She said this, said, Governor, I have to ask you a question.  What has happened to our country?  We used to control events; now events control us. 

Now I don't want this type of country, and I don't think most Americans want that type of country either.  We want a government that works the way the civics books tell us it's supposed to work, a government that works for the people, that helps make their lives easier instead of making it harder every day.

At my core, I remain optimistic about this country, and the reason I do is, remember this about our country.  We are the only country in modern times who has as one of its three founding principles the pursuit of happiness.  Think about what an extraordinary country this is.  When its founding fathers not only put life and liberty as one of our founding principles, but that every American has a right to pursue happiness, happiness as they see it, as they define it, not as some emperor, some king or some imperial president tries to determine it at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So we're are not here just to diagnose the problems; we all know what the problems are.  The question is how do we create that America again?  How do we renew our country so that each and every person and their children believe in the America that our founders envisioned.

Well let me say this.  You don't do it by pandering, and you don't do it by telling people what they want to hear.  You do it by telling people the truth.  I know this because we did it in New Jersey. 

When I first became governor the establishment in Trenton said it was impossible to stand up to the teachers union to demand they pay their fair share.  Those same people said that it was impossible for a Republican governor to bring a Democratic legislature to the table to really reform pensions and benefits across the public sector.  The conventional wisdom said after decades of raising spending 7, 8, 9-percent a year in my state, that it would be impossible not to raise taxes and to actually  reduce spending.  And those same believers of the conventional wisdom, the talking head that says this is the way it's always been done, said we would never pass tenure reform, where bad teachers could be fired and great teachers could get merit pay.  But we surprised them all.

And when the same political consultants told me there was no way I could be elected governor of New Jersey as a pro-life Republican because it had never been done before, they were wrong, because the people of New Jersey could see the sincerity of my beliefs on that issue.

And despite what those conventional wisdom hawks may say to you, I can assure you that being pro-life is not a political liability anywhere in America.  Being honest with the people you   hope to represent about the feelings you hold deeply is never, ever a political liability, whether it's politically popular at the moment or not, and I will never change doing it exactly that way. 

Now I ran in New Jersey as a pro-life candidate in 2009 and I won.  And I ran for re--election as a pro-life governor in 2013 and won by 22 points.  The notion that our party must abandon our belief in the sanctity of life to be competitive in blue states is simply not true, and I am living proof of that fact. 

You see I do believe that every life is an individual gift from God, that no life is disposable. 

And I want to suggest all of you that truly being pro-life is not just being pro-life when that life is in the womb.  You see truly being pro-life is being pro-life for the entire period that God gives that life.  And so that's why in New Jersey we have said that those who fall victim to the scourge of drug addiction, that those lives are valuable too, and whether or not you are a teenager or a young adult, drug addicted, lying on the floor of a prison cell, your life is no less precious and you do not deserve any less a second chance at reclaiming your life.  We need to make sure every life is treated with the love that God created it with.  We need as a pro-life movement to not just be talking about those first nine months, but about every month that that life exists on the earth that God's given us.  And we'll continue to fight that way.

For all these people who say the voters don't respond to that, they're wrong.  I got 61% of the vote for re-election, won 51% of Hispanic voters, and 22% of African-American voters, 67% of independent voters and 54% of women.  If you read the conventional wisdom, they'd say there's no way that somebody who holds those principles would get those votes.  They're wrong when they say it, and we are going to prove them wrong again and again and again by standing up for what we believe in. 

You see for too long Republicans have tried to squeeze out victories by running strong in red states and trying to pick up a few extra votes in places like Ohio and Florida.  If our conservatism is really going to succeed, it must be able to defend itself in every part of this country. 

There are Americans, I know this, in every state, who share our goals, who want to work with us, and we should be appealing to all of them.  You see if we're going to really, truly restore and renew this country and its promise, we need a coalition that covers all parts of the country, all ethnicities, a coalition comprised at its core of our proud yet underserved and underrepresented working class in this country.  See the rich are doing fine.  That's great.  We don't demonize the wealthy, as so many folks in the Democratic Party do, but nor should we cater to the wealthy at the expense of our middle income workers and the working poor who are the backbone of every American community.  Every domestic policy we advance, every decision we make, should be focused on making their lives better, renewing their future, renewing their faith, their belief in this country.  Because when we talk about our values and ideas people respond. 

I've seen it all over the country.  It's a belief that it's our job, and the job of the government to give the people an opportunity to succeed, not stand in their way--an opportunity.  A belief that what works best is a government that understands the value of that opportunity, and people's desire for it over the crippling diminishment of the entitlement state, a belief that celebrates the greatness of American ideals and principles, not one that constrains Americans' aspirations, that if you have the will and drive to seek a better life, we'll help you, not get in your way. 

We need to renew our country by once again encouraging our citizens to believe that true success is within their power, not by the power of the hand of government in Washington, DC.  See this is what conservatism offers the people of our country today, and the hope it has always offered the people of our country.

These are some of conservatism's most important principles to me, that placing the opportunity, the optimism, and the hope that is in the minds and the hearts of our fellow citizens must be ahead of the idea that government is both the deviser of all good ideas and the provider of all assistance.  It is the type of conservative I am and will always be.  That's the type of conservative I believe can again inspire our party and our country. 

Now I'm sure you will not agree with me or any other candidate on every single issue.  In fact, le me give you some advice.  If you want a candidate who agrees with you 100-percent of the time, I'll give you one suggestion.  Go home and look in the mirror.  You are the only person you agree with 100-percent of the time.  And any of us who are married know for sure that is true.  And more importantly if that's the standard we hold each other to as a party, we will never win another national election, ever. 

I can tell you that you will always know who I am.  You'll always know what I believe, and you'll always know where I stand. 

As much as anything else what we lack in America today is a national leader who we feel we truly know, a national leader who will tell you who he or she is, where they're from, and how they have come to believe the things that they believe in; and so you need to let people know who you are.  And so we'll go back to where we started, the direct, blunt New Jersey stuff, right?  Where did that come from? 

I have an Irish father and I had a Sicillian mother, which means at a very young age, I got very good at conflict resolution.  Now my father, who is I know sitting at home today watching doesn't like this part of when I talk, but I have to say it's the truth.  I the automobile of life my mother was the driver; my father was the passenger.  She was a strong, tough woman from a single mom, who from 11 years old helped to raise her two younger siblings, and who would tell us all the time, Chris, be yourself, because then tomorrow you don't have to try to remember who you pretended to be yesterday.  She used to say to me when she would be giving me her litany of complaints about what I had done or my siblings.  Like Mom, why do I hear about all this now? She said, I need to get it off my chest.  There will be no deathbed confessions.  You're hearing now. 

I talk about her in the past tense because I lost my mom little over ten years ago.  She was diagnosed with lung cancer on Valentine's Day of 2004 and by the first few days of May of  that same year, she was near death.  And I was away on business in California.  My younger brother called me and asked me, said, you need to get home.  Mom's not going to last much longer.  So I took the red-eye flight home from California and I went directly to the hospital that morning.  I sat next to her, and she was in and out of things.  And she finally woke up  and as my mother would--she hadn't seen me for five days, and she didn't say hello or how are you--she said, what day is it?  I said, it's Friday.  What time is it?  I said, it's 9:30.  She said, go to work.  I was the  U.S. Attorney at the time.  I said, Mom I'm taking the day off today; I'm going to spend it with you.  She said, Christopher it is a work day.  Go to work.  I said are you afraid your not getting your taxpayers' money's worth?  I'll make up the time.  Don't worry.  I want to be with you.  And she reached over and she grabbed my hand and said, Christopher, go to work.  It's where you belong.  And then she looked at me and said, there's nothing left unsaid between us. 

My mother had raised us our whole lives to understand that in a trusting relationship, you need to tell people what you're really feeling and what you really believe, and that sometimes it might be uncomfortable, but it's better than not saying it.  And so at that moment--and I lost her 48 house later.  And it was the last conversation we ever had, but so powerful to me that ten years later it still defines that way I act in public life.  Now I'm sure that there are moments that she's looking down at me from Heaven and saying, oh gosh don't say that.  I didn't mean that.  But on balance I'm sure that she's pretty happy that her son is following her lessons.  I know that she'd believe this, and I know I do.

It's not only within our power to make this country great again, but it is our responsibility as Americans to do so, given the gifts we have been given by our predecessors.  Everybody in this room would not have been here all day if you didn't believe in this country, believe in hard work.  And believe me what we've got ahead of us to fix this country is going to be hard work, but the reward will be a second American century, a second American century.

I want to end with this.  One of the great founders of our country, when he was right near the end of his life, wrote for posterity in his diary because he was so concerned that the country he had helped to found 50 years earlier was going off on the wrong track.  So John Adams wrote for posterity, for us.  He said you shall never know the sacrifices we endured to secure for you your liberty.  I pray you will make a good use of it for if you do not, I shall repent in heaven for ever having made the sacrifice at all.

The next century does not have to be a Chinese century.  It can be an American century. 

We do not need to have a country that stands idly by in the face of Russia aggression. 

We do not need to have a country that stands and watches as middle-class wages go down and our country's quality of life goes down. 

We do not need to have a country that looks at an entire class of children and says, you 'can't learn and we can't teach you, and it's not our problem.

The pursuit of happiness is a goal that we need to work every day to attain.  The world can't do without a second American century, and neither can my children or yours do without America being a strong resolute leader in this world.

I will guarantee you this for me.  I will not be willingly a part of a generation that makes John Adams repent in Heaven for having made the sacrifices that he and our Founding Fathers made for the liberty we enjoy and the freedom we live under today, and I am here today because I do not believe that any of the patriots in this room want to be a part of a generation that turns over to our children a lesser, smaller America that the one that was given to us.

It is time for us to stand up and fight together for the country that we were given, for the country we believe in, for the country the world needs, and for the country I want my children and your children to have.  If you are willing to fight with me, I will always stand with you and fight with you and tell you the truth.  God Bless this country and God Bless all of you. 


Transcript © 2015 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.