BAYHAM: Guess Who’s Coming To CPAC

Last year, New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s absence from CPAC was noted. He had addressed the annual conservative confab previously and had scored well in the presidential straw poll.

Supposedly there was some ill will between the folks at CPAC and the Garden State governor, whether it was real or merely convenient political theatre to “moderate” Christie politically in his re-election year is up for speculation.

If it were due to Christie’s conservative credentials being viewed with suspicion, I thought it was silly for the organizers to snub one of the most prominent figures in the GOP and thus make it appear that the right was being not so much principled but petty.

During a question-and-answer session, I asked columnist Ann Coulter (a one-time cheerleader for Christie) if she felt it was appropriate for Christie to have not been slated to address the conference. Coulter’s reply was snide, mocking Christie’s “all about me” speech at the Republican National Convention and ignoring his considerable standing in the Republican Party and ability to win as a center-right candidate in a deep blue state.

The New Jersey governor was hardly the lone politician who exploited his spot in the national limelight for self-promotion (anyone else in Tampa caught the Marco Rubio self-narrated autobiography?) and I didn’t think his address to the delegates undermined Mitt Romney’s candidacy or his bid to get a boost from the convention.

Many on the right have soured on Christie for embracing some Democratic positions or not yelling amen loud enough on TEA Party causes. However it is easy for conservatives to rail about Christie’s relative moderation as their constituency is the conservative blogosphere and not the decidedly Democratic New Jersey electorate.

And more importantly when it comes to actual governing, Christie has to deal with a partisan Democratic legislature. If Christie wants to do something in office other than cut ribbons and give speeches, he cannot draw lines in the sand on every issue that doesn’t conform to the conservative line or for that matter his own conservative philosophy.

It’s easy to opine without having to take responsibility for the consequences of taking steadfast positions. I don’t agree with many of Christie’s policy postures though I do recognize that he is likely as good as it’s ever going to get in Trenton and that his political success represents a beachhead of sorts in unfamiliar territory.

Regardless of reason, Christie is slated to speak in 2014 at CPAC at what has been a trying time for the governor.

Since the Bridge-scandal has unraveled, Christie has seen his assumed presidential ambitions take on a great deal of water, going from the heavy favorite to win the party nomination in 2016 to politically radioactive.

While CPAC isn’t exactly to him what Fenway Park is to the New York Yankees, Christie should expect to be greeted roughly by more than a few in attendance who view him as a R.I.N.O. I’ve seen former Vice-President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld heckled from the floor at CPAC.

More so than any elected Republican politician, Christie is fearless when it comes to confrontation, whether it be at press conferences or while strolling along the Boardwalk with his family while eating an ice cream cone.

And maybe Christie is looking for a “Boardwalk moment” at CPAC, anticipating some Rand Paul supporting college student to get in his face.

Any display of hostility by attendees towards Christie will be the story of CPAC, making him look like the reasonable one while conservative activists appear to be a bunch of obnoxious blowhards not interested in growing the conservative movement or the party. Hopefully the catcalls will be at a bare minimum.

The truth is both sides need each other. Christie needs to create more space between his Obama hug and his potential presidential candidacy and prove that he is not a political pariah, due to ideology or ethics. Conservatives need to show that they can be politically pragmatic and welcoming to those leaders who are a few degrees to the left of Ted Cruz.

Perhaps CPAC will be the venue where Christie not only rights his ideological rudder but demonstrates that he remains a viable contender for the White House.

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