Chris Christie gave an impressive speech at the Reagan Library last night. But by far the most interesting moment was an exchange from the question and answer session.
A woman in the audience asked: “You know how to tell the American people what they need hear. I really mean this with all my heart. We can’t wait another four years, I really implore you as a citizen of this country, to please, sir, reconsider. Don’t even say anything tonight, of course you wouldn’t, go home and really think about it. Please, sir, your country needs you.”
“This is all I'll say about this tonight, is that I hear exactly what you're saying, and I feel the passion with which you say it. It touches me. I can tell you, I'm just a kid from New Jersey who feels like I'm the luckiest guy in the world to have the opportunity that I have to be the governor of my state.
“So, people say to me all the time now, when folks like you say those kinds of things, for as many months as it's been said, ‘Governor, why don't they just leave you alone? You've already given your answer. Isn’t it a burden?’
“What I say to you tonight and say to everybody else who was nice enough to applaud what she said, is that it isn't a burden.
“The fact of the matter is, anybody who has an ego large enough to say, ‘Oh, please, please, please, stop asking me to be the leader of the free world, it's such a burden. If you could please just stop.’ What kind of crazy egomaniac would you have to be to say, ‘Oh, please stop, stop.’
“It’s extraordinarily flattering. But by the same token, that heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. The reason has to reside inside me.
“And so, that’s what I’ve said all along. I know, without ever having met President Reagan, that he must have felt deeply in his heart that he was called to that moment, to lead our country.
“And so, my answer to you is this, I thank you for what you're saying, and I take it in, and I’m listening to every word of it and feeling it, too. Please don't ever think for a second that I feel like I’m important enough in this world that somehow what you're saying is a problem for me. It’s a great, great honor. I’m extraordinarily flattered, and I really appreciate you being willing to stand up and say it with the passion that you did.
“That’s why this country is a great place, because of folks like you. So, thank you very much.”
It makes for a compelling moment (worth watching here). Christie’s answer is eloquent and sincere. But—if I may say so, and I say so with some diffidence—it seems incomplete.
Is it right, as Christie says, that “the reason [to run] has to reside inside” him? Doesn’t the reason reside more importantly in the crises the country faces? The reason fundamentally has little to do with what Chris Christie feels in his heart. It has everything to do what he thinks the nation needs. If he thinks he can benefit the nation, he should run.
It’s one thing for someone who has never run for office—a Colin Powell or a Bill Bennett or a David Petraeus—to decide he’s just not cut out for elective office, and to choose not to embark on that course. But Chris Christie—like Paul Ryan and Mitch Daniels, to mention only two others—already holds elective office. If any of them honestly thinks he could win the nomination and the presidency, and would be a better candidate and a better president than the rest of the Republican field—and if there are no show-stopping medical or family issues—doesn’t that public official have some obligation to step up to the plate?
You don’t have to “feel deeply in [your] heart” that you’re called to run for president. You have to think you’re the right man for the job. And, if that’s the case, you have a duty to your country to step forward.
It’s not about you. It’s about your country.
UPDATE: Most perceptive email so far: “Mr Kristol: Please remind Chris Christie that IF HE CHANGES HIS BEHAVIOR AND GETS IN THIS RACE, THE FEELINGS WILL FOLLOW. This, courtesy of the Jesuits and solid Catholic psychology.”