By Melissa Hayes, The Record
EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Less than two hours before President Barack Obama addressed the nation on military intervention in Iraq and Syria, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacked the president over foreign policy at a Republican Party fundraiser that seemed more like a presidential campaign rally.
Wednesday’s event, which was expected to raise more than $600,000 for the state GOP, was billed as a celebration of Christie’s 52nd birthday, but Christie’s and Romney’s remarks seemed more in line with something they would have said on the presidential campaign trail as they criticized Obama over his handling of Islamist extremists in Syria and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The foreign policy he’s had has not been good for America, it has not been good for our safety, it has not been good for our friends around the world,” Romney said. “Three years ago there were people saying to the president that you need to have a strategy in Syria, you should be finding the moderates and supporting them. Now three years later, tonight he’ll be speaking finally, finally doing that and yet at a time when the best opportunity for that has passed.”
The crowd of 1,000 in a ballroom at the Hilton in East Brunswick erupted in applause as Christie and Romney slammed Obama.
Their appearance on stage at the same time and their pointed remarks at Obama further highlighted the fact that Christie remains surrounded by speculation that he might run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Christie, who had been considered a possible vice presidential pick by Romney, has said he won’t announce whether he’ll run until early next year. Romney, whose name has again been floated as a potential candidate, said recently that after his 2012 loss he won’t make another bid.
“All I have to say is this: Wouldn’t our country be a hell of a better place if this man was president of the United States?” Christie said of Romney.
In 2012, Christie was a prominent Romney supporter, but cut his campaigning for Romney short in the days before the election and welcomed Obama to New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy devastated the state. That led to speculation of a fallout and post-election reports that the Romney campaign was unhappy with Christie and had soured on him as a potential running mate.
On stage Wednesday, Christie heaped compliments on Romney and held him up as the man who should be president, and Romney described Christie as an accomplished state leader who is working hard for Republicans across the country.
When people ask him why he was right in supporting Romney for president, Christie said he points them to the presidential debates.
“I want you to remember the foreign policy debate the president had against Governor Romney, when Governor Romney said that Russia presented the greatest threat in the world and the president gave some New Jersey smart-aleck response to him that, yeah the ’70s and ’80s were calling and looking for their foreign policy,” Christie said. “Well let me tell you something, Mr. President, you were wrong and Mitt Romney was right and the world is suffering because of it.”
Christie briefly acknowledged the presidential speculation, but didn’t offer the crowd any insight into his own thoughts.
“There are lots of people, lots of people who are saying now, ‘Geez, what’s going to be next for the governor,’ ” he said. “I’ll tell you what’s next. What’s next is tomorrow morning I will wake up, get dressed and go to work in the greatest job I could have possibly dreamed of and that’s being governor of the state where I was born and raised, that’s what’s next.”
Brian Riordan, an Upper Saddle River resident who attended the event, pointed to the joint appearance by Christie and Romney as a sign that would heighten presidential speculation.
“I think it’s very interesting to see them sharing the stage, especially because I know Christie endorsed Romney for president in 2012 so it’s making me wonder would Romney endorse a Paul Ryan campaign or would he endorse a Chris Christie campaign,” Riordan said.
While on stage, Christie highlighted his accomplishments in office — bringing private-sector jobs to the state and making changes to the state’s 100-year-old teacher tenure law. He also emphasized a theme he repeated during his trip to Mexico last week that the United States has to work more closely with Mexico and Canada to build a stronger North America.
Christie has had to balance his job in New Jersey with his position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association during a year when there are 36 state races. He’s been traveling the country raising money and campaigning with GOP candidates — he’ll be in Florida on Friday and North Carolina, South Carolina and New Hampshire next week.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr