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Christie's Pitch to Conservatives

Did the 'bridgegate' scandal encourage the New Jersey governor to tack right?

6:35 PM, Mar 6, 2014 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who has had a fraught relationship with the conservative movement, sought to win back friends on the right Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. In a 15-minute speech, Christie recounted his battle with public sector unions, defended the Koch brothers from Harry Reid's vicious attacks, cursed at the president, blasted the media, and touted his pro-life views.

Chris Christie

Speaking of the congressional "super committee" that failed to produce a plan to cut the deficit, Christie said, "The president never met with the super committee or got involved with them because he knew they were doomed to failure. Man, that's leadership, isn't it? You're the leader of the government, you see something getting ready to go off the rails, and what you decide to do is stay as far away from it as possible? Well, my question now is the same question I had then, if that's your attitude, Mr. President, what the hell are we paying you for?"

Later, Christie lambasted Democrats for being intolerant on social issues. "They said it could never be done. Now twice--twice--for the first time since Roe v. Wade, New Jersey has elected a pro-life governor," he said to applause. "This is what I mean about the media. I got asked the question last year, 'Governor, you're very popular in a blue state. How can you export that to the rest of the country, given the intolerance on social issues in your party? And I said, 'Well, let me ask you a question. You said the Republicans are intolerant. I'll just tell you this. At our national convention, we've had people like Tom Ridge and Colin Powell and Condi Rice speak at our national conventions even though our party platform and I don't agree with their position on abortion. Tell me, sir, the last pro-life Democrat who was allowed to speak at a Democratic convention.' I said, 'By the way, don't strain yourself, because there's never been one.' They're the party of intolerance, not us."

It was a good speech--the kind of red-meat speech Christie has always needed to give if he ever hoped to win over enough conservatives to win the Republican presidential nomination. But is it a speech he would have given if the "bridgegate" scandal had not occurred in January? 

Prior to the news that his aides had caused a traffic jam in order to exact revenge against a mayor who didn't endorse Christie, the New Jersey governor seemed to treat the Republican nomination as an afterthought. Riding high off his reelection victory, most of Christie's speeches focused on his ability to win elections, work across the aisle, and get things done. Christie was acting as if he were already running in the general election and focused on winning over moderates and Democrats. 

But then the "bridgegate" scandal hit in January. His his top constituencey, the media, turned on him. And his poll numbers slid among Democrats. "The bridge scandal that has rocked the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has hurt the governor by diminishing one of his key selling points as a potential 2016 presidential candidate: Crossover appeal to Democrats," the Washington Post reported on January 30. A few days later, it was reported that Christie would speak at CPAC after being snubbed the previous year. 

Now maybe a pivot to the right was always part of Christie's plan. But at the very least, the scandal may have created an opportunity for Christie to get a second look from conservatives who were skeptical of him following his embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy. Thanks to "bridgegate," Christie now shares a common foe with those conservatives: the mainstream media. If evidence never emerges that Christie had foreknowledge of the scandal--a big "if"--it just might end up making a Christie Republican presidential nomination more likely, not less.

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