The Upside of Ignoring Christie

It was bound to happen. Ever since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie praised President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy in the days leading up to Obama’s reelection, it seems his every move is criticized by conservatives. Truth is, it isn’t as if Christie has been acting any different; it’s that his “shtick” has soured on the right wing, and they are starting to notice it more. And when the famed Christie bluntness is directed at you, it’s not fun at all.

This all came to a head this past week when it became clear that Christie was not going to be invited to speak at CPAC. (CPAC is the annual political conference held in Washington, D.C., hosted by the ACU, a conservative political organization founded by William F. Buckley.) Speculation as to the reason why ranged from the perception that his literal and figurative embrace of the president cost Mitt Romney the presidency, to his reportedly having a “limited future” in the GOP.

After further review, both these reasons don’t seem to have any validity. Romney said this past Sunday about Christie that “I lost my election because of my campaign, not because of what anyone else did.” The fact that he just donated the maximum allowed by law to Christie’s reelection campaign makes it clear that nobody who really understands what happened in that race blames Christie for it. Likewise, the fact that CPAC has Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney as featured speakers this year should do away with the “limited future” argument, as any future they have is surpassed by Christie’s.

The real reason for Christie’s exclusion was made clear by the ACU chairman, Al Cardenas, who explained that the decision was made due to his withering attack on Speaker Boehner and House Republicans, who sought to delay voting on the Sandy relief bill in order to remove the “pork” spending that was in it. Going to bat for a bill that was only 15 percent disaster-related in the way that he did disqualifies him from speaking at CPAC, which is, as Cardenas described, “…to conservative politics what all-star games are to professional athletes.”

The decision to exclude Christie was roundly criticized by many conservatives. Jonah Goldberg wrote in National Review (which, like ACU, was founded by Buckley) that it would be nice if CPAC were less exclusionary and acted “less like a border guard keeping all but the exquisitely credentialed out,” and invited Christie. Guy Benson at Townhall.com delineated the governorconservative positions and actions such as pulling out of a costly carbon emissions program and serving as a strong advocate for school choice, all while balancing budgets without raising taxes. He then pointed out that Christie, being the nation’s most popular governor, has cross-party and cross-demographic appeal — something Republicans are sorely lacking. Therefore, he argues, although “you might not even like him… how on earth does it make sense to tell him to get lost?”

The arguments of Goldberg and Benson were more or less echoed by many well respected conservatives. Dr. Charles Krauthammer, as well, said, “I think this is a vast overreaction and it’s a mistake…We should have him at CPAC. We should have a wide tent and if that’s what it takes to win elections in the northeast and nationwide, let’s go for it.” With the question thus framed, is it an overreaction by CPAC not to invite Christie? How much should be sacrificed in order to win elections?

To answer this question, and to understand why the ACU is holding firm in not allowing Christie, and others who represent values that are antithetical to conservatism, into CPAC, one should look no further than the actions and words of ACU founder Bill Buckley. In 1965, Buckley ran for mayor of New York as a conservative, in large part to express his dissatisfaction with GOP candidate John Lindsey (who later became a Democrat). Buckley ran with no expectation to win; as a matter of fact, when asked the first thing he’d do if he would he win, he famously quipped, “I’d demand a recount.” In a 1988 interview with Ron Paul on Buckley’s show, “Firing Line,” he explained that he “…ran for office having no intention of winning but having very much the intention of co-opting the press to pay attention to my points of view.”

That is the point of CPAC. It isn’t to map out electoral strategy or figure out ways to appeal to the broader electorate. It is, as the founder of the organization that runs it said, to get people to “pay attention to [conservative] points of view.” Excluding Christie and others whose views don’t jibe with the ACU seems to be the most effective way to get this done.