New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie laid out a vision of Republican strength tempered by occasional compromise with Democrats in a speech to 1,700 Tennessee Republicans on Friday.
Speaking at the Tennessee Republican Party's annual Statesmen's Dinner, Christie said he has managed to get things done while working with a Democrat-dominated legislature in the Garden State.
"I don't know when compromise became capitulation," he said. "That's what people in Washington, D.C., seem to think. I don't know when it became wrong to talk to the people on the other side, to respect them and become their friends.
"We can disagree, but if we don't establish relationships, when real problems need to be solved, really tough, intractable problems, we won't be able to do it if we're not even on speaking terms with the people that we've chosen to run our government across this country."
Christie, who was re-elected last fall, was considered a leading candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination until a scandal tied to some of his closest aides over the closing of lanes on a busy bridge, which the aides ordered as political retribution against a mayor who didn't endorse the governor's re-election bid.
During a stop with Gov. Bill Haslam at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant in Nashville earlier Friday, Christie, who is chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said he won't decide on running for president until sometime next year.
"I've said to folks, I'm certainly thinking about it," he told reporters.
But "it's a lifetime away until 2016," he said. "My mother taught me a long time ago, stupid people make decisions before they have to. I'm not stupid."
After being greeted profanely by a heckler talking of "payback" on his way into the Church Street restaurant, Christie heard applause once he got inside and started pressing the flesh. He quickly ran across Jessica Levy, a 25-year-old New York woman in a white cowboy hat who was there for her bachelorette party with a group of friends in pink "Jessica's Last Rodeo" tank tops.
"Congratulations!" Christie told Levy, who said she's getting married in three weeks.
At the Republican dinner, which raised more than $700,000, Christie said New Jersey voters are like teenage boys doing a science experiment in the basement to see what explosions they can cause by mixing volatile chemicals. He talked about standing up to the Democratic leaders of the New Jersey state legislature when they tried to play political hardball.
"We can only compromise from a position of strength," he said.
Christie, who was hammered by many Republicans for praising President Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy hit his state about a week before the 2012 election, criticized the president Friday for his leadership at home and abroad. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, who advised Christie not to be nervous before the big crowd, made similar remarks, saying he hopes Obama will give a "clear speech" about restoring the United States' position in the world when he travels to Poland next week.
"As much as I hope that, and I really do hope that for our country and our world, I long for 2016, when we have a Republican president and I don't have to hope," said Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Christie attended the opening of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's West Tennessee campaign office in Germantown, a Memphis suburb, before flying to Nashville. He told reporters he's committed to helping Republican governors throughout the nation win their elections this fall before deciding about his own political future.