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.”
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.