New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will deliver the keynote address in two weeks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., it was announced Tuesday morning. Many consider the primo speaking a launching point into national prominence. But the first-term governor has already garnered plenty of attention within a party that begged him to run this year.
So why did the Republican National Committee pick him? The American populace may be witnessing a tricky but common political bait-and-switch, most recently executed with Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. And the results may not bode well for Mitt Romney.
Most within the GOP feel Christie has turned the Garden State into a veritable laboratory for the modern Republican platform. From fighting unions to cutting taxes, the 49-year-old governor has ensured his fiscal conservative bona fides remain sterling.
If the Republicans' presumptive nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, represents the GOP's number-crunching, data-driven super ego of reason, Christie's ferocity and "Jersey-style" delivery paints him as the merciless Republican id. The party's zealots may prefer the latter after four years stewing at President Barack Obama's presence in the White House.
"As governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie has proven how bold Republican leadership gets results," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus in a statement, according to Businessweek. "He has fearlessly tackled his state's most difficult challenges, while looking out for hard-working taxpayers."
The prime speaking spot at a national convention, ahead of the party's nominee, has historically been a chance to trot out blue-chip political prospects and energize the party faithful, regardless the outcome on Election Day. Christie doesn't need the limelight, with conservative columnists regarding him an exemplar of what the Republican agenda can achieve.
In some respects, picking Christie makes sense. Who better to deliver the RNC keynote than a man who delivers the GOP message with a vigor and pugilistic style that fuels the perception of Christie as the ruthless defender of Republican truths? But it's those same characteristics that offer an unflattering juxtaposition for Romney.
"I'll try to tell some very direct and hard truths to people in the country about the trouble that we're in and the fact that fixing those problems is not going to be easy for any of them," Christie told USA Today. "The American people are ready to confront those problems head-on and endure some sacrifice."
The situation puts former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the precarious position of kicking off his general election campaign by following a man who is, by nearly every measure, excites Republicans more than him. A man who Romney's advisers said he did not pick specifically because of his confrontational style, according to the New York Times.
Where Christie snaps, Romney bends like spaghetti. While the Jersey governor points fingers, the GOP primary winner extends an open palm. Most importantly, Christie will take the stage unburdened by a litany of dubious past statements and positions that run contrary to the opinions he espouses today. For example, Christie can lambaste Obamacare without the slightest bit of hypocrisy, since it was not modeled after any of his legislation.
Christie has even made veiled comments that differentiate himself from Romney, who has endured a tough summer batting away suggestions he's hiding something by only releasing two years of tax returns (a point which Christie openly called Romney out on).
"You can't lead by being a mystery," Christie reportedly said at a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "You can't lead by being an enigma. You can't lead by being aloof. You can't lead by being programmed. I think you have to lead by being yourself and who you are and then people will trust you."
But the truth may lie in the numbers. And therein 2004's Democratic Convention becomes constructive.
A look back eight years reveals a nation troubled by 9/11 and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The voting public was largely waffling on the incumbent, George W. Bush, but not sold on his opponent, Sen. John Kerry. The incumbent's own party had just launched an attack portraying the Massachusetts senator as a flip flopper, months before he formally accepted the party's nomination. And the polls were dicey at best.
In the weeks leading up to the July 26-29, 2004, Democratic National Convention, Kerry held a negligible lead in most polls, according to a Real Clear Politics. He chose a hot-shot young senator, John Edwards, to be his running mate, with little effect on the polls.
In fact, a poll conducted by ABC News/The Washington Post showed Bush ahead of Kerry by two points in the three days leading up to the convention. Sentiments for Kerry remained lukewarm at best.
Enter Barack Obama, already being mulled as the party's next great hope without even holding an elected position at the federal level. There was the obligatory New Yorker profile, published well before he won his U.S. Senate race. He had an autobiographical tome, "Dreams Of My Father," which the political junkies fawned over.
Within many circles, Obama's turn at the DNC served a dual purpose: an audition for 2008 as well as a bolstering of Kerry. It succeeded in one respect and failed spectacularly in the latter sense.
When Kerry's speech at the convention landed flat, the party rallied around its hatred of Bush, hoping outrage over two wars would be enough to squeak their frankly uninspiring nominee past the incumbent. And all the yapping pundits redoubled their immediate focus on the scrawny Illinois state senator who brought down the rhetorical house, making Kerry seem that much worse.
Flash forward to late August 2012. The economy now stands as the crisis du jour; the incumbent faces tepid poll figures, yet his opponent has not inspired a rabid following. Will Chris Christie tone it down, and provide a suitable warm-up act that leaves the spotlight for his party's standard-bearer? Or will he grab the chance to leapfrog the man who chose someone else as his running mate?
"Jersey-style" means we'll spend most of early September discussing "that Christie speech."