On the morning of June 26, Chris Christie, New Jersey's flamboyant, tough-talking Republican governor, appeared on NBC's Meet The Press. He then jetted out to Colorado, delivered a keynote speech at Charles and David Koch's ultra-exclusive seminar at the Ritz-Carlton resort near Vail, and returned home the same night, all without breathing a word about his adventure to his constituents.
In Part 1 of this report, we gave you the inside scoop on the Kochs' top-secret strategy meeting, where hundreds of wealthy patrons were urged to open their wallets for what Charles Koch described as "the mother of all wars"—the effort to unseat President Obama. We also told you we'd obtained exclusive audio recordings from the event. And we promised to reveal the identity of the main keynote speaker.
With security extraordinary on the seminar's opening night—audio speakers around the periphery of the outdoor dining pavilion blasted out static to thwart eavesdroppers—David Koch introduced Gov. Christie as "my kind of guy." (The two had previously met in private at Koch's New York City office, he revealed.) Before long, seminar attendees were roaring with laughter as Christie regaled them over dessert, telling them how, in his first weeks in office, he'd exercised extraordinary executive powers to impound billions of dollars in planned spending. ("The good news for all of you and for me," he said, "is that the governorship in New Jersey is the most powerful constitutional governorship in America.")
Christie went on to explain how he'd convinced the state's Democratic majority leaders, against the wishes of most of their caucus, to help him slash public-sector pensions and benefits. And he drew a bead on his next major target: public-school teachers and their union. "That's where we head next," Christie said. "We need to take on the teachers' union once and for all, and we need to decide who is determining our children's future, who is running this place. Them or us? I say it's us."
He presented his accomplishments in New Jersey as a model for curing the nation's ills: "We know the answers. They're painful answers. We're going to have to reduce Medicare benefits. We're going to have to reduce Medicaid benefits. We're going to have to raise the Social Security age. We're going to have to do these things. We're going to have to cut all types of other government programs that some people in this room might like."
The speech was classic Christie, but the governor expressed his views to the Koch crowd with a candor that politicians—especially those with a reputation for having mainstream appeal—usually reserve for very select audiences: He called New Jersey Democratic legislators "stupid" for pushing for a tax on the wealthy that he'd previously rejected. He mimicked the voice of his predecessor, Gov. Jon Corzine. And he boldly proclaimed that he'd been elected because "their ideas are wrong and our ideas are right."
Click icon to hear Christie's Corzine imitation.
(Complete audio and transcript is available at TheBRAD BLOG.)
The gathering, after all, was a fundraising and strategy session for what Charles Koch described as a battle "for the life or death of this country." And Christie dutifully rallied the troops. "You, the people in this room, are the modern day patriots who will save this country or let it go by the wayside. It's up to us," he intoned during his nearly hour-long address.
He wasn't the only GOP governor in attendance that weekend. White House hopeful Rick Perry of Texas spoke earlier that day—revealing his trip only after an Austin daily confronted his spokesman. Rick Scott of Florida and Bob McDonnell of Virginia made the pilgrimage too. But Christie managed to fly to Colorado and back undetected. The governor's public-relations staff provided a copy of Christie's daily schedule for June 26, which included his Meet The Press appearance, but nothing more. After we told his deputy press secretary that we wanted to talk about Christie's Colorado trip that day, nobody from his office would return our calls, despite multiple attempts.
The governor demurred, as usual, when Koch audience members called on him to join the 2012 race. But he did seem to be laying groundwork for a possible future presidential run. Koch seminars, after all, are loaded with the type of donors presidential candidates crave. And in his introduction, David Koch lauded Christie as a "true political hero."
"Five months ago we met in my New York City office and spoke, just the two of us, for about two hours on his objectives and successes in correcting many of the most serious problems of the New Jersey state government," Koch said. "At the end of our conversation, I said to myself, 'I'm really impressed and inspired by this man. He is my kind of guy.'"
Click icon to hear a portion of David Koch's introduction.
(Complete audio and transcript are available at TheBRAD BLOG.)
Koch went on to describe Christie as a "powerful voice for fiscal sanity in a state that has long been known for liberal politics, big-government policies, and its ever expanding public sector." He lauded the governor's "courage and leadership" in pushing through, days earlier, "a remarkable bill that reforms state employee health insurance and pension payments, bringing them more in line with the private sector"; the bill in question took away the right of public workers to collectively bargain for health benefits.
The crowd cheered loudly as Koch, whose estimated $22 billion personal fortune derives from his family's oil refinery empire, described Christie's unilateral withdrawal, on behalf of New Jersey, from a regional cap-and-trade market created by 10 northeastern states to curb industrial greenhouse gas emissions. (He neglected to mention that, in announcing the withdrawal in late May, Christie had acknowledged in no uncertain terms that climate change is real and that human activities contribute to it. "It's time to defer to the experts," he'd said.) There was an extended ovation when Koch, just before turning over the floor, expressed his hope of seeing Christie "on a larger stage where, God knows, he is desperately needed."
Christie wasted no time in serving up the red meat. "The opponents of what we want to try to maintain in our country are fighting harder than ever," he said.
He went on to mock President Obama's 2011 State of the Union Address, which he had watched with Andrew, his 17-year-old son. He and Andrew agreed, Christie said, that the president "had failed the fundamental test of leadership, which I believe is to tell the people who hired you the truth." He'd offered similar thoughts on Meet The Press that morning but amped up his rhetoric for the Koch crowd. On the show, he said the country had been "careening into an economic crisis." At the gathering, he declared that America was "careening towards insolvency."
It was time to tackle the "big things," he said, like "Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security systems, because they are bankrupting America." In New Jersey, the big things were to "return our budget to fiscal sanity by cutting spending and under no circumstances raising taxes"; "reform a pension and health benefit system" that was underfunded by $120 billion dollars and had New Jersey, too, "careening towards insolvency"; and "reform a broken K-12 education system…where the feelings of adults were given more respect than the needs of children."
Christie had offered similar thoughts in a February speech at the Koch-funded American Enterprise Institute in DC. But in Vail, he went further as he recalled discussing a fiscal 2009 budget shortfall with his aides shortly after taking office. He claimed to have told his aides, referring to the majority Democrats in the state Legislature:
Listen. We've got to fix this problem, but I do not want to deal with those people down the hall…
And so they told me, "If you declare a fiscal state of emergency, you can use your emergency powers as governor to impound $2.2 billion in planned spending and balance the budget. And you can do it by executive order." I said, "Man, I love this state!"
So, I went in my office, all by myself, and set up the executive order, and I signed it. But I thought it would be rude for me not to go down and tell that coequal branch of government what I had just done. [Scattered chuckles.] So I asked them for a joint session speech…I basically said this: "You left me with a $2.2 billion problem. You want me to raise taxes. I'm not going to. I just impounded the money by executive order. I fixed your problem. Thanks, have a nice day." And I walked out.
Click icon to hear Christie tell the story.
(Complete audio and transcript are available at TheBRAD BLOG.)