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
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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.”

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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