Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Mitch Daniels of Indiana, two of their party’s most high-profile executives, met at Rider for a public conversation sponsored by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
Sean Ramsden

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (right) elicits a laugh from N.J. Gov. Chris Christie on September 22.

Two of the Republican Party’s most appealing candidates for president, albeit two of its most reluctant, shared the stage of the Bart Luedeke Center Theater on Thursday, September 22, for a very collegial public conversation about the state of national affairs and the tactics that should be at the top of the list for those who do intend to run for the Oval Office.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his counterpart from Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, who both have had to respond to continual speculation about their interest in running for the White House, appeared together on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus as guests of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. And while both maintained their intent to stand aside during the 2012 presidential election, they also insisted their appeal lays not so much in some indefinable je ne sais quoi, but in their willingness to openly confront unpleasant political issues.

“Politicians on the national stage underestimate the American people – politicians on both sides,” said Christie, the first-term governor who has simultaneously earned the respect and the ire of Garden State voters for his tough stance on issues like pension and benefit reform for the state’s public employees. “They think you don’t want to hear the truth. They need someone of stature and credibility to tell them how these crises need to be handled. That’s been a failure of this president and a number of the (Republican) candidates.”

While the United States faces an unprecedented national deficit, leaders on both sides of the political aisle have been drawn into battles of political will and ideologies while the huge swath of Americans who identify themselves as middle class remain frustrated by high unemployment and a stagnant economy. This is one reason voters are looking for proven solutions from beyond the federal government, according to Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute, who introduced Christie and Daniels.

“Because of the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., the laboratories for the future of government continue to be found in the states,’ Dworkin said. “When either of these men speaks, people listen.”

Daniels, who is on a tour to promote his new book, Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans, has built a reputation in his state for many of the same reasons Christie has locally: austere state budgeting and reforming the health-care plans for public employees, among other cost-cutting tactics.

“When I took office in 2005, we were broke,” said Daniels, whose state now functions with fewer public employees than it has since 1976. “It didn’t take magic; we brought the level of state spending down.”

Daniels said the United States can pull itself from the fiscal morass, but not if the partisan bickering continues without a solution, and it won’t be his generation that pays the cost.

“Young people are going to be in a very serious hole if we don’t get serious about the debt we’ve piled up,” explained the 62-year-old Daniels. “That’s not a political statement, that an arithmetical one. Let’s not worry about whose fault it is.”

Christie agreed, adding that no one seems willing to taking a forthright lead in the conversation.

“It seems that we have to prod people into talking about these things,” he said.


Editor's Note: In the days following this event, speculation began to mount regarding Gov. Christie's possible interest in running for president in 2012. However, on Tuesday, October 4, he officially announced that he will not seek the G.O.P. nomination for president.