Christie Ridicules Democrats for Emphasizing Income Inequality

The party, Mr. Christie appeared to argue implicitly, should do the same when it comes to him. “Parties tend to become pragmatic when they are powerless,” he said. “It’s time for us to get pragmatic.”

Mr. Clinton, he said to knowing laughs, “was far from the perfect candidate.”

With his wide-ranging talk, as a guest of the Economic Club of Chicago, Mr. Christie seemed determined to reassert himself as a Republican standard-bearer, despite the imbroglio over accusations of political intimidation that awaits him back in New Jersey.

After weeks of subdued and somber appearances, at which he spoke of soul-searching and self-flagellation, it was the old Chris Christie who emerged inside a ballroom at Chicago’s Sheraton Hotel and Towers: at once sharp-tongued and philosophical, boastful and self-deprecating, political and personal as he held an audience of about 1,500 in his thrall.

He boasted of his daughter Bridget’s aggression on the basketball court (“it’s almost embarrassing”), and he cracked wise about how little time his son Andrew, a student at Princeton University, spends in class. “The more you pay,” he said, “the less they go.”

But the contradictions and complexities of Mr. Christie were never far from view.

He took pains to explain that it was “irresponsible” for him, a mere governor without access to top-secret briefings, to criticize Mr. Obama’s approach to foreign policy (earning warm applause in the process).

Moments later, he seemed to disregard his own mantra, saying: “I do detect some confusion in the world about who we are and what we stand for. That needs to be clear.”

He went out of his way to describe a personal brand of politics that prizes bipartisanship and civility, holding it up as a model for Washington. “There are a lot of words for Washington, D.C. — civilized would not be one of them,” he said.

But as he sat onstage here, he ignored the message that his associates sent by shutting down access lanes to the George Washington Bridge: that opponents will pay dearly for crossing his administration.

Asked about the bridge controversy, Mr. Christie replied that large organizations are “inherently flawed because they are inhabited by human beings.”

“Some people who worked for me made some significant mistakes in judgment,” he said, leaving it at that.

National Democrats, who have made a sport of trailing, ridiculing and protesting Mr. Christie whenever he travels out of state, were on hand to ensure that the controversy was not cast off so tidily. Up the street from where Mr. Christie spoke, they put forward a former Democratic governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, to berate Mr. Christie in unusually harsh language. As the leader of a state himself, Mr. Strickland said, he found it hard to swallow the claim that Mr. Christie was unaware of his administration’s role in the lane closings.

“Either the governor knew and he is lying or he is the most inept, incompetent chief executive imaginable,” Mr. Strickland said.

“God help us if he were to be president,” he added.

But on a day when Mr. Christie sought a return to the national spotlight, it was his strongly worded criticism of those Democrats pushing their party to fight income inequality that stood out.

Mr. Christie pooh-poohed the issue and its champions, Mr. de Blasio and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, predicting that they would never achieve the level of influence that the Tea Party had exerted in the Republican Party. “I don’t think they are affecting the rest of the country all that much,” he said.

The problem, he said, is that Americans do not want income equality, suggesting that it is antithetical to the country’s abiding belief in “income opportunity” that rewards hard work and merit. “You want income equality? That is mediocrity,” he said. “Everybody can have an equal, mediocre salary.”

Mr. Christie, a father of four, said the current Democratic debate over the yawning disparities in pay across the country reminded him of his 10-year-old daughter fighting with his 13-year-old son. “ ‘You did this for him — that’s not fair,’ ” he said, mimicking their voices.

Mr. Christie, who recently met with Mayor de Blasio, could not resist another gentle jab at his neighbor to the east. He spoke fondly of the two architects of New York’s renaissance over the past 20 years: Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, both of whom ran for office as Republicans.

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