New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Republicans must change how they promote their views on abortion and other social issues, while not altering their stances, to improve the party’s prospects in the 2016 presidential race.
“We’re getting pounded because of the way we present ourselves,” said Christie, a possible White House contender. “People want folks who are authentic and who believe what they say is true, but also who are tolerant and willing to listen to other points of view.”
That doesn’t mean reversing the party’s long-held opposition to abortion rights, he said last night at a gathering in Aspen, Colorado. Stressing his own commitment to that view, he said he’s the first “pro-life” governor elected in New Jersey since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
His comments reflect a push by some Republican leaders to retool the party’s image in an attempt to reach beyond its base to win the presidency.
Christie, 51, was responding to an audience question as he appeared on a panel with four other Republican governors. He rejected the premise that the party lost the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections because voters rejected its positions on social issues.
“We’ve lost for a whole bunch of reasons over the last two cycles,” he said. “The social-issue matrix was an absolutely minor one.”
The party must be more inclusive toward those who disagree with its platform on abortion rights and same-sex marriage and more welcoming toward minority voters, a report released by the Republican National Committee following the 2012 election recommended.
Other Republicans who may make White House bids -- Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin -- have embarked on efforts to reset the party’s message on addressing the growing U.S. income inequality.
The forum at the Aspen Institute was held in conjunction with the Republican Governors Association summer meeting in the mountain resort community. Christie, who heads the association, shared the stage with Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Scott of Florida, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Nikki Haley of South Carolina.
All except Christie are facing re-election this year, and polls show that Scott, Brownback and Walker -- another potential 2016 presidential aspirant -- are locked in close contests.
The panel discussion, moderated by institute President Walter Isaacson, also covered how to reduce the nation’s prison population, a budgetary concern for the governors.
Isaacson asked them their views on a proposal by Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who also may seek the presidency, to change federal drug laws to lessen the incarceration rate for non-violent offenders.
Christie said he agreed that “we have too many people sitting in state prisons across this country for nonviolent, petty drug offenses,” and touted his record.
New Jersey halved costs for first-time offenders by requiring them to participate in mandatory one-year inpatient drug treatment, spending $24,000 annually instead of the $49,000 cost of housing them in a prison, Christie said.
He framed the incarceration issue as an extension of the Republican position on abortion.
“If you are pro-life, you have to be pro-life when they are out of the womb also,” he said. “And that gets messy because they don’t create any trouble in the womb, but when they get out of the womb, lots of tough things can happen.”
Christie, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, is working to defend the 22 governorships held by his party that are on the ballot in this November’s elections.
He appeared on July 23 in Denver to stump for Bob Beauprez, a former Republican U.S. House member who is challenging the incumbent Democrat, John Hickenlooper. Recent polls show the two in a close contest.