At CPAC, Chris Christie Tries to Bring Back the Love

But will he succeed?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during at CPAC, March 6, 2014 at National Harbor, Maryland.
National Journal
Marina Koren
March 6, 2014, 7:45 a.m.

Without ques­tion, the most an­ti­cip­ated speak­er dur­ing the first day of the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence was Chris Christie.

The New Jer­sey gov­ernor took the po­di­um amid whis­pers of the “will he, won’t he,” vari­ety — spe­cific­ally, wheth­er he will re­claim his pre-Bridgeg­ate po­s­i­tion as a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate fa­vor­ite.

And Christie def­in­itely tried, strik­ing the trade­mark no-non­sense at­ti­tude that made him a na­tion­al fig­ure. This wasn’t a stump speech for 2016, by any means. The ap­pear­ance served as a way to get back in­to the GOP’s good graces, after re­cent polls showed that more Re­pub­lic­ans don’t want Christie to run for pres­id­ent than do. It also hin­ted at some re­demp­tion: Christie wasn’t in­vited to speak at last year’s CPAC, thanks to his Hur­ricane Sandy ap­pear­ance along­side Pres­id­ent Obama just days be­fore the 2012 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

In his re­marks, the gov­ernor went after the Right’s usu­al tar­gets: Pres­id­ent Obama, the me­dia, uni­ons, Harry Re­id. And he praised some of its fa­vor­ites: the fight against de­fense budget cuts, pro-life policy, GOP gov­ernors like Scott Walk­er and Rick Scott.

Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors “have stood up and done things, not just talked about them,” Christie said, em­phas­iz­ing that he’s a GOP lead­er in a blue state. “And what you see in Wash­ing­ton is people who only want to talk. They can’t stop talk­ing.”

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Christie ex­pounded a mes­sage that con­ser­vat­ive groups have been push­ing since the new year began: the search for a uni­fied party agenda ahead of midterm elec­tions. “The fact is, we’ve got to start talk­ing about what we’re for and not what we’re against,” he said.

For the past couple of months, Christie has lain low in or­der to re­pair his pub­lic im­age. His speech at CPAC rep­res­ents a first step in re­mind­ing the base — and Demo­crats — that he was once a for­mid­able 2016 can­did­ate. It helps that some right-wing Re­pub­lic­ans have re­cently em­braced the scan­dal-em­broiled gov­ernor, be­cause they think he’s be­ing per­se­cuted by both Demo­crats and the main­stream me­dia.

Wheth­er Christie suc­ceeded in win­ning back his fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans re­mains to be seen, but this year, the CPAC crowd was cer­tainly pleased to see him, wel­com­ing him to the stage with loud ap­plause and cheers.

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