MEREDITH — "We need to turn the status quo upside down and build it over again," Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, told more than 200 voters crammed into the cafeteria at Inter-Lakes High School on Thursday evening. "I know how to disrupt and I know how to build," he added.
Christie recalled that when he was elected governor in 2010 New Jersey faced a projected budget deficit of $2.2 billion. Resisting rising pressure from the Democratic legislature to raise taxes, instead he declared a fiscal emergency and, without consulting the legislature, reduced spending to balance the budget. He said he has balanced budgets throughout his six years as governor without increasing income, sales or corporate taxes and while vetoing more proposed tax hikes than any governor in the country. After upsetting the apple cart, Christie said that he "brought people together" to reform the tenure system for school teachers and the pension system for public employees.
Referring to his rivals in the GOP field, Christie said "we have governors, senators, business types and a character" then quipped "we're not electing an entertainer-in-chief. We're electing a commander-in-chief. He dismissed first-term senators — Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — whom he said "have no idea how to run the most complex government the world has ever known. We did that eight years ago," he said, and stressed "We need need someone who's done this before."
Apart from his experience as governor, Christie also touted his seven years as United States Attorney, which included investigations and prosecutions of both corrupt public officials and plotters of terrorism.
"I'm the only candidate who has pursued and prosecuted terrorists," he said, noting that more than 14 years after the attack on the Twin Towers "We are questioning whether the government can keep us safe."
He called for strengthening intelligence agencies and restoring their authority to collect data.
"This is a much more dangerous world," Christie said. "American leadership is a burden and an opportunity, but it's not a choice," he continued. "But, American cannot carry the burden by itself."
He said that during the first 100 days of his presidency he would meet with the leaders of America's allies and, after "giving them an hour to vent about how they've been treated by the Obama administration," set about repairing relationships.
Christie said that a coalition of a coalition of European and Middle Eastern allies Imust be formed to destroy ISIS. Calling the nuclear accord with Iran "the worst thing the president has done," he said that he would tell the Iranians that the United States will never permit Iran to have a nuclear weapon, will have no relationship with Iran until it recognizes the right of Israel to exist and encourage Iranians to overthrow their government.
"To be part of the civilized world, you have to be civilized," he said, "and they are not."
Noting that 71 cents of every dollar in the federal budget is spent on entitlement programs and debt service, Christie said that the swollen national debt can only be shrunk by restructuring Social Security and Medicare and accelerating the pace of economic growth. He has proposed raising the retirement age from 67 to 69 over the next 25 years and means testing Social Security, which he said would save $1 trillion in a decade, while raising the eligibility for Medicare and reducing its subsidies for the well-to-do.
Health care, Christie said, should be the responsibility of the states. He said he would repeal Obamacare within a year then give states a year to develop a health care plan tailored to their own circumstances. He explained that each state differs and "the same plan can't work for all states."
At the same time, he would increase funding for the National Institute of Health for medical research, especially to address cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, which account for the major share of healthcare costs, especially at the end of life.
Rejecting calls to bar Muslims from entering the United Sates as "ridiculous," Christie said there should be no religious test for citizenship. Likewise, he dismissed the notion of building a wall on the southern border, but instead proposed additional fencing, electronic fencing and additional personnel to secure the border. Above all, Christie emphasized that existing immigration laws must be enforced.
With two-thirds of Republican voters still undecided, Christie is among a handful of candidates polling in the single digits. The recent CNN/WMUR poll of New Hampshire voters, conducted by the Survey Center of the University of Hampshire, indicates that his support has slipped from near 10 percent in December to 6 percent in January.