By Alison Martin
DAVENPORT, Iowa — Just three days before Iowans make their choices for president, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told supporters and undecided residents of this Mississippi River town that he is the candidate who will “tell is like it is.”
“We don’t need a president who is steeped in Washington talk, because it’s what driving us crazy,” Christie said to a largely middle-aged crowd at St. Ambrose University. “It’s Washington talk that is making everyone in this country angry.”
As Exhibit A, he pointed to Thursday night’s debate and the struggles of two of his Washington-based rivals, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz , to explain their shifting views on immigration.
“That performance last night was pitiful,” Christie said. “You’re not going to get that from me tonight.”
Trailing badly in recent Iowa polls that show him with only two percent support, Christie showed off his policy chops when a volunteer from Take a Stand – an advocacy group for social security reform – asked his views on the federal retirement program.
He said he was the “only candidate with any kind of reform plan” and explained part of his 12-part plan that he says would save “over a trillion dollars.” It would also raise the retirement age, a point of contention among some soon-to-be seniors. Christie proposed cutting Medicare subsidies to 10 percent for citizens who earn more than $200,000 a year.
“We’re living 15 to 20 years beyond what the government can support,” Christie said.
When asked what his healthcare plan would look like, Christie promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which has added more than 17 million Americans to the insurance rolls. Christie would allow states to create their own health care systems.
“We cannot have a national solution to healthcare,” he insisted.
The former federal prosecutor promised to enforce federal marijuana laws, but he quickly turned to the need for drug treatment, relating a story he often tells about the danger and allure of narcotics.
“Drug addiction is a disease,” he said. “It is not a moral failing.”
Seated on a stool in front of his audience, Christie described a law school friend who had been badly injured and needed Percocet to cope. The friend got hooked on Percocet and overdosed.
“It can happen to anyone,” he said, adding that addiction “doesn’t discriminate.”
If elected as the 45th president, Christie wants to offer treatment options rather than incarceration for non-violent drug offenders.
Several of Christie’s other goals, including defunding Planned Parenthood, drew applause while others drew laughs. If China ever hacks into U.S. servers again, he said he will would authorize a cyber invasion of his own, instructing his “cyber warriors” to find China’s most embarrassing secrets and publishing them on the front page of The New York Times.
Christie also warned that the country was heading into a “Post-American era” – one in which the U.S. doesn’t lead the rest of the world.
While there were strong Christie supporters in the crowd, many came into the meeting with open minds, knowing very little about Christie and his policies.
Iowan Brenda Grunder has attended rallies for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Christie was her first Republican presidential candidate. Before the meeting, Grunder didn’t know how to read Christie, saying he came off “in a variety of ways.”
Tamara James, interim state director of AARP in Ohio and a member of Take a Stand, is also making the rounds. Given her interest in the embattled social security program, she was listening carefully.
After hearing Christie’s plan, James said she was “very interested.”
“We appreciate that he goes on the record,” she said.
The town hall meeting was Christie’s fourth of a busy day, with Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses looming on Monday night. As the gathering came to a close, Christie only asked for their vote.
“For those of you who want to win the game,” Christie said, “we need to put real players in the game.”