Are controversies helping Christie with conservatives?
February 3rd, 2014
02:32 PM ET
8 months ago

Are controversies helping Christie with conservatives?

(CNN) - Chris Christie's been under an hot media spotlight for nearly a month now, mostly for all the wrong reasons.

But the intense scrutiny by the mainstream media may actually be helping Christie, who's seriously considering a bid for the 2016 GOP nomination, with his party's conservative base, most of which has never warmed to the politically pragmatic Republican governor from New Jersey.


Christie will speak next month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the oldest and largest national annual gathering of conservative leaders, activists, and supporters, and a must stop for any Republican presidential hopeful. Organizers said Christie was snubbed from last year's conference because some of his positions were not conservative enough.

While one tea party leader told CNN  he was "stunned" Christie was invited this year, the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes the conference, said in a statement that it "was very excited to announce" that Christie would be address the gathering.

The head of the ACU said the coverage of the controversies might help Christie with the party's base, which doesn't like to see Republicans attacked by the media. Al Cardenas told CNN the politicizing of state investigations into the controversies by New Jersey Democrats has made conservatives "kindred spirits with Governor Christie."

Christie is currently awash in allegations that some of his aides closed access lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish that town's mayor for not endorsing Christie's re-election and that Hoboken's Democratic mayor was told Superstorm Sandy recovery aid for her hard hit city would be dependent on support for a development project backed by the Governor.

Grassroots conservatives are skeptical of Christie, in part because of the Governor's praise of President Obama over the federal government's assistance to New Jersey in 2012 following the massive destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy, and because of his criticism of some congressional Republicans over their initial reluctance to support federal relief aid to Garden State following Sandy. Christie didn't win any friends on the right by his support of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. He also angered conservatives with his willingness to work with Democrats on such issues as immigration reform, and his criticism of some on the right, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a tea party favorite who's a possible rival for the 2016 GOP nomination.

But while many conservatives may not be Christie fans, they like the mainstream media even less, and, as the old proverb goes, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

"Conservatives are very suspicious of the criticism of Christie because it's coming from the mainstream media. They're more skeptical of the reports coming out about the New Jersey Governor because of the media bias. Conservatives are significantly more open-minded about believing Christie and more willing to let this play out," Republican strategist Jon Brabender told CNN.

"They're fine with him coming to CPAC" along with the other potential 2016 GOP contenders, added Brabender, a longtime senior political adviser to former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum, a 2012 presidential candidate and possible 2016 hopeful.

Christie's standing with conservatives

Christie has never polled well with the grassroots wing of the GOP. He had 13% support in a recent ABC News/Washington Post survey which asked Republicans about their choice for their party's 2016 presidential nomination. But among tea party and grassroots conservatives, the New Jersey governor stood at 6%.

One Republican strategist said conservatives view Christie's current issues as "the GOP establishment's problem, he's not our problem."

"There are plenty of talented conservatives who are looking at running and if the 'Bridgegate' scandal escalates - or if another scandal breaks - the establishment may have to support one of the conservatives if it wants to back a winner in 2016," Republican communications strategist Keith Appell told CNN. "Most conservatives viewed Christie with skepticism before the scandal.  His tough talking persona, especially with public labor unions, was always offset by his reluctance to be a leader on issues of importance to conservatives."

"The scandal has not really drawn conservatives to his defense, the feeling is this is a problem of his own making whether he knew first hand or set the tone in his administration for underlings to take such sophomoric liberties.  The prevailing feeling is one of wariness that more shoes are yet to drop either in this scandal or about something else," added Appell, a senior vice president at CRC Public Relations, a Washington, D.C., PR firm that has had many conservative and Republican clients.

Judson Phillips, who heads the Tea Party Nation, used stronger language.

"No one I know has any changed perceptions of Chris Christie.  Everyone I know in the conservative movement dislikes him now as much as they did before Bridgegate," Phillips said. "I'm stunned he is invited to CPAC."

"Christie is not a conservative and he is not an ally of conservatives. He has repeatedly stabbed conservatives in the back and anyone else who stands in the way of his political ambitions."

With multiple investigations, the controversies facing Christie are far from over. And while he's obviously not winning over some conservatives, the media firestorm does appear to have a silver lining for a man considering a run for the White House.


Filed under: 2016 • Chris Christie • CPAC • New Jersey
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    This is nonsense. The conservatives will hold their noses and vote for ANYONE who isn't a Democrat, especially a Clinton.

    February 3, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
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