There are two big obstacles standing between Mitt Romney and the presidency: (1) Voters don't think he's very likable compared to Obama, and (2) although he has a lead over Obama on the issue of the economy--and even bigger lead on the deficit--voters seem uncertain that Romney would do what it will take to fix the economy and rein in spending. New Jersey governor Chris Christie sought to help Romney overcome both of these obstacles during his keynote address at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night. Christie framed the election as a contest of ideas, rather than a popularity contest, and he cast Romney as a bold reformer who would achieve for the country what Christie achieved for New Jersey.
At the beginning of his speech, Christie recounted how his Sicilian mother had taught him that "there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected. She said to always pick being respected, that love without respect was always fleeting -- but that respect could grow into real, lasting love."
"I believe we have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved," Christie explained. "Our leaders today have decided it is more important to be popular, to do what is easy and say 'yes,' rather than to say no when 'no' is what's required."
Christie didn't mention Obama by name. He deftly attacked Obama by simply lumping him together with other nameless failed politicians who had chosen popularity over leadership. That made Obama seem quite small.
Christie talked about the success achieved in New Jersey over the past three years--tax cuts, a balanced budget, pension reform, and education reform. He then drew sharp contrasts between Republicans and Democrats on big issues at the federal level.
"I know this simple truth and I'm not afraid to say it: our ideas are right for America and their ideas have failed America," Christie said. "Let's be clear with the American people tonight. Here's what we believe as Republicans and what they believe as Democrats."
We believe in telling hard working families the truth about our country's fiscal realities. Telling them what they already know - the math of federal spending doesn't add up.
With $5 trillion in debt added over the last four years, we have no other option but to make the hard choices, cut federal spending and fundamentally reduce the size of government.
They believe that the American people don't want to hear the truth about the extent of our fiscal difficulties and need to be coddled by big government.
They believe the American people are content to live the lie with them.
We believe in telling seniors the truth about our overburdened entitlements.
We know seniors not only want these programs to survive, but they just as badly want them secured for their grandchildren.
Seniors are not selfish.
They believe seniors will always put themselves ahead of their grandchildren. So they prey on their vulnerabilities and scare them with misinformation for the cynical purpose of winning the next election.
Their plan: whistle a happy tune while driving us off the fiscal cliff, as long as they are behind the wheel of power.
We believe that the majority of teachers in America know our system must be reformed to put students first so that America can compete.
Teachers don't teach to become rich or famous. They teach because they love children.
We believe that we should honor and reward the good ones while doing what's best for our nation's future - demanding accountability, higher standards and the best teacher in every classroom.
They believe the educational establishment will always put themselves ahead of children. That self-interest trumps common sense.
They believe in pitting unions against teachers, educators against parents, and lobbyists against children.
They believe in teacher's unions. We believe in teachers.
"Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good paying private sector jobs again in America," Christie said. "Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the torrent of debt that is compromising our future and burying our economy. Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the debacle of putting the world's greatest health care system in the hands of federal bureaucrats and putting those bureaucrats between an American citizen and her doctor."
Christie's speech is drawing some criticism for not focusing more on Romney and Romney's accomplishments. But a speech focused on big issues and a forward-looking agenda is probably far more beneficial for Romney than a speech looking back at Romney's work at Bain capital, the 2002 Olympics, and his term as Massachusetts governor.
“What will our children and grandchildren say of us? Will they say we buried our heads in the sand?” Christie asked. “Or will they say we stood up and made the tough choices needed to preserve our way of life? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my children and grandchildren to have to read in a history book what it was like to live in an American Century. I don't want their only inheritance to be an enormous government that has overtaxed, overspent and over-borrowed a great people into second-class citizenship. I want them to live in a second American Century. ”