Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET on 8/15
Boston (CNN) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie planted himself firmly in the Republican Party’s establishment wing Thursday with a pugnacious speech calling on his party to focus on pragmatism rather than ideology and crippling internal debates.
"We are not a debating society,” Christie told a lunchtime audience at the Republican National Committees summer meeting in Boston. “We are a political operation that needs to win."
Some of Christie’s remarks, relayed to a reporter by GOP officials who attended the closed-press event, were interpreted by many here as another jab at Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a potential rival for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
Christie and Paul tangled earlier this summer after the New Jersey governor criticized Paul’s libertarian-tinged worldview as “esoteric” and “intellectual,” drawing a series of pointed rebukes from Paul and his allies.
“I am in this business to win. I don’t know why you are in it. I am in this to win,” Christie said at the luncheon, his first appearance a meeting of the RNC.
“I think we have some folks who believe that our job is to be college professors,” he said. “Now college professors are fine I guess. Being a college professor, they basically spout out ideas that nobody does anything about. For our ideas to matter we have to win. Because if we don’t win, we don’t govern. And if we don’t govern all we do is shout to the wind. And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win.”
Christie also appeared to rap Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another potential White House hopeful who made headlines in January when he implored the GOP to “stop being the stupid party.”
"I'm not going to be one of these people who goes around and calls our party stupid,” Christie said, a startling remark given that Jindal and Christie work hand-in-hand as chairman and vice-chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
“We need to stop navel gazing," he added. "There's nothing wrong with our principles. We need to focus on winning again. There's too much at stake for this to be an academic exercise. We need to win and govern with authority and courage."
President Obama and Congressional torpor merited barely a mention in his remarks. Christie devoted the much of the speech to his record in New Jersey, highlighting efforts to fix a budget deficit and his noisy fights with teachers unions over pension reform.
“You got two choices as a governor,” he said. “You either sidle up next to them and whisper sweet nothings in their ear or try to hope they don't punch you. Or your second alternative is you punch them first.”
By most accounts, Christie’s remarks were met with enthusiasm by the nearly 200 state GOP chairmen, staffers and party insiders who attend these quarterly meetings to plot election strategy and hunt for business.
“It was really great,” said Indiana committeeman Jim Bopp. “Successful politics is a matter of heeding your principles, implementing them, but also being pragmatic about what you can accomplish and need to win. You can’t govern if can’t win.”
Cindy Costa, a national committeewoman from South Carolina, called the speech “amazing.”
“It was impressive. I forgot about the Obama bear hug,” said Tennessee GOP Chairman Chris Devaney, referring to Christie’s tour of the New Jersey coastline with President Obama just days before last year’s presidential election, a moment of bipartisan harmony that rankled GOP activists and top members of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Though he earned rave reviews from a range of party leaders, a handful of RNC members, including several Paul supporters, left unimpressed. One conservative on the committee who declined to be identified called Christie “a pompous ass.”
Others expressed admiration for Christie but wondered whether his brash northeastern brand could appeal in other regions of the country.
If Christie does seek the presidency, he would face the prospect of courting voters in Iowa and South Carolina, where Republican primary contests tend to favor candidates from the conservative wing of the party.
“He wouldn’t play too well where I’m from because we’re a little bit too conservative,” said Alabama GOP Chairman Bill Armistead. “He is probably a bit more liberal socially than some folks. That would cause some problems in Alabama. But everybody loves that he tells it like it is and doesn’t flinch at the opposition.”
Christie, who is carefully balancing his re-election campaign in New Jersey this fall with efforts to build a national profile ahead of a possible presidential bid, held a handful of private meetings with some party leaders at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel, including one with fundraiser Spencer Zwick, the national finance chairman of Romney’s 2012 campaign.
Christie avoided reporters during his day-long visit and made his way into the hotel ballroom where he gave his speech through a back entrance, rather than face a pack of nearly two dozen reporters waiting for him at the bottom of an escalator adjacent to the meeting.
Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the RNC, declined to say whether the request to keep cameras out of the speech came from Christie high command.
“The event has always been closed press,” he said.
But when Spicer agreed to allow a single photographer into the speech to capture a still image of Christie, several reporters protested, prompting a heated argument between about the meaning of “closed press" with some prominent members of the Boston media.
Eventually, the photographer was allowed in, while the rest of the press waited outside for Christie to finish.