Chris Christie has conservative admirers left, and I’m hardly the only one. The Christie following on the right includes much of the audience that heard him at the Reagan Library in 2011, delivering what stands then and now as the sharpest, best rhetorical critique of Barack Obama’s contribution to Washington’s divided ways.
It takes in social conservatives who know the isolation of living inside hostile lines in the Northeast, and who have relished a voice that defends unborn life and opposes same sex marriage and can do so without resorting to condescension or seeming stuck in a time warp.
The camp also includes critics of what public sector unions have done to bloat state budgets, and what teachers unions have done to make teaching the least accountable public service, and who recognize that Christie has tamed both forces in a state where they traditionally make politicians cower.
I will claim conflict of interest on the question of whether Christie ought to speak at the upcoming CPAC event (full disclosure, I am one of what an MSNBC reporter called the developmental league of lesser talents who will speak at the convention: it’s a chance to hone our meager skills before a small intimate gathering!) But the broader question of whether Christie helps strengthen the Republican coalition is not really close. While lacking Mitt Romney’s capacity to write a $3800 check, I’ll cast the same vote in favor of Christie’s relevance and his potential.
To put Christie’s appeal in perspective, it’s worth noting that conservatism’s main challenge lies not in a sea of particulars on issues that will fade, but in the ability to outline just how and why collectivism and top-heavy bureaucracy diminish the public good. Obama just overcame a litany of broken promises on unity and economic recovery by caricaturing conservatism as a narrow defense of privilege that doesn’t bat an eyelash at that larger public interest. To minimize his success as pandering or slick talk misses the degree to which Obama has put the right on the defensive.
This article originally appeared on ricochet.com on March 1, 2013.
Christie at his best (see the Reagan library speech) counters by describing the weak foundations of Obama liberalism: the low respect for individual capacity, the fecklessness on debt, the timidity in defending democratic values abroad. He matches the case we all can recite on slow growth and overreach with a strike at the softness and emptiness of Obama’s philosophy.
There can’t be enough advocates on the right who talk that way. It is why a liberal press is so eager to read Christie out of the Republican conversation. He puts too many points on the board for us to play into their game.