One often hears New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before one sees him. His booming voice precedes his physical presence, announcing his arrival with the self-assurance of a seasoned executive. He will never be mistaken for a church mouse.
Mr. Christie is the quintessential Jersey guy, a Mack truck of brash opinions. His take-no-prisoners style earned him a reputation as a gruff straight-shooter, instantly catapulting him onto the national stage. In a way, he was Donald Trump before there was a political Donald Trump. But wielding his own brand of common-sense candor, Mr. Trump has largely eclipsed Mr. Christie, forcing him to play catch-up.
A Republican governing a deep-blue state with a Democratic legislature, he has faced economic challenges that have led to multiple credit downgrades, but he has also developed a record of bipartisan cooperation on tax and regulatory relief.
Mr. Christie was strongly encouraged by Republican kingmakers to run for president in 2012, but he declined, citing unreadiness. Many now feel that as a Northeast moderate running in a year in which the vibe is thoroughly anti-establishment, he may have missed his moment. Among the top-tier candidates for the first debate, he must now fight to gain ground in a fluid and unpredictable environment.
I spoke with Mr. Christie this week about a range of issues, starting with how he’d get us on the path of economic growth akin to the 6 percent to 9 percent growth rates we experienced during the Reagan recovery.
“The president’s killed economic growth in this country,” he says. “What we need to do to get economic growth going again are three different things.
“First, we need to reform the individual tax system in this country . The top rate was at 28 percent under the Reagan tax reform. That’s what it should be now. The lowest rate should be 8 percent. We should have one rate in between. But in return for everybody getting lower rates, you’ve got to get rid of all those deductions and loopholes except for two: the home mortgage interest deduction and the charitable contribution deduction. In return, you’re getting lower rates.
“Second, we have the highest business tax rate in the world, here in America [at 35 percent]. We need to get rid of their loopholes and deductions and lower it to 25 percent. That’ll put us in the middle of all the industrialized countries.
“Third, if I’m president,” he continues, “the first executive order I’m going to sign is freezing any new regulation by any department or agency of the federal government, and I’m going to ask my people to do two things: one, the same thing, bringing back these regulations to get rid of, and two, review every executive order this president has signed for the last eight years for me to rescind.”
Given the gravitational pull of the federal Leviathan, how would he bring government spending under control?
“There are only two ways to deal with it,” he replies. “It’s to reduce and control spending and then to get economic growth. You’re not going to cut your way into eliminating that debt. There’s simply not enough money you could cut. You have to grow this economy, you have to work from both ends. You have to be disciplined to keep government spending where it is now, and not let it grow .
“The scary thing about $19 trillion in debt is that we are at about zero percent interest rates right now,” he says. “When interest rates start to go back up, which they inevitably will, it will eat us alive . The entitlement reform that I put forward would save $1.2 trillion in the next 10 years. Those are the kind of things we need to do to be able to make those programs solvent and to deal with the long-term debt issue.”
Turning to illegal immigration, I ask an important but often overlooked question: U.S. policy used to require periods of time to elapse between immigrant waves to allow for assimilation, i.e., Americanization. Over the past 50 years, that policy has ceased. Would he resurrect it, and if so, how?
“We have to,” he says without hesitation. “For those coming here legally, we must make them speak English and learn our history. Those are the two most important things to encourage legal immigrants to assimilate and truly become American. We have to get back to it.”
He closes on an optimistic note. When I ask if he worries — like so many Americans — that Mr. Obama has largely succeeded in “fundamentally transforming the nation” from a self-reliant society built on individual freedom into a government dependency society, he responds emphatically.
“No. The president has not irrevocably changed this country. He has moved us backward economically, in terms of our fundamental rights and our place in the world. But with strong leadership, it can be reversed and we can start restoring America.”
Mr. Christie speaks with authority, knowledge and force, but in this large and dynamic field, is it enough? He’s a tough guy in an unforgiving business, and barreling through challenges is what he does best. This is the fight of his political life, but as a Garden State girl, I know to never underestimate a Jersey guy.
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