Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says his party must change the way it talks about beliefs on social issues.
Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, was speaking at the Aspen Institute on Thursday night alongside a handful of governors. He acknowledged the GOP is “getting pounded because of the way we present ourselves” but said Republicans don’t need to avoid or change their stances.
He was answering a question from Paul Pariser, a Republican from New York. Pariser said, “I feel over the last many years that we’ve been abandoned – I’ve been abandoned. The social issues of the Republican Party that get pounded on in the debates are casting a dark eye on people like me, who are a little more open and flexible to gays, to women, and minorities. I’d just like to get your sense on how we can turn this around a little bit.”
The Garden State governor said it all boiled down to how the GOP promotes its views, but that doesn’t mean the party needs to change its positions. He pointed out that he’s the first “pro-life” governor in his state since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized most abortions.
“People want folks who are authentic, and who believe what they say is true. But also are willing to be tolerant and listen to other points of view," he said. Christie added that the GOP lost in 2008 and 2012 for a slew of reasons, but “the social issue-matrix was an absolutely minor one.”
In the GOP’s so-called autopsy report following Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, the party acknowledged it needed to engage in extensive outreach to several groups, including women, minorities, and gay Americans.
In the lead up to 2016, Christie has seemingly begun to lean to the right. He recently vetoed gun control legislation, declared that the gay marriage debate isn’t over, and took a more hard-line stance on Israel. Many conservative primary voters have long viewed Christie, an establishment Republican governing a blue state in the northeast, as a RINO — Republican in Name Only.
In Aspen, Christie said that being “pro-life” does not only apply to the issue of abortion, pointing to the many Americans who are behind bars for non-violent drug crimes. He lauded his state’s program mandating treatment for nonviolent drug offenders.
“I’m making the argument to my party: I’m pro-life, and if you're pro-life, you have to be pro-life when they get out of the womb also,” he said. “And that gets messy sometimes, because they don’t create trouble in the womb. But when they get out of the womb, lots of tough things can happen.”
Christie, who once led the GOP pack in the nascent race to become the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, is trying to turn the page on allegations that some of his staffers and allies closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge, seemingly for political retribution, back in September. After the scandal erupted early this year, his popularity took a hit.
The latest RealClearPolitics average of polling data surrounding 2016 Republican nomination shows Christie in fourth place with 10.8%. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky came in first with 13.2%, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s 12.2% and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with 12%.
Christie’s recent trips to the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire have been creating buzz that the governor, despite his recent troubles, is seriously considering a bid for the nation’s highest office. He has said that he won’t make a decision until a year from now.