Just as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed marriage equality in New Jersey a year ago, the right wing Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has vetoed the New Jersey governor’s immediate future in national politics by refusing to invite him to its annual conference. Because the extremist wing of the party is a gatekeeper for who gets the presidential nomination (or any national office, really) they sent a message to Christie that he has no future outside the small confines of his home state. Incredibly, CPAC views the caustic governor as too liberal on issues ranging from guns to compromising with Democrats. According to the Daily Beast:
Christie was not extended a CPAC invitation, according to ACU chairman Al Cardenas, because he pushed Congress to pass a bill that would provide $60 billion in relief to people in the region affected by Hurricane Sandy and because he signed up New Jersey to expand Medicaid as a part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
The radicals who lord over the Republican Party, are no doubt, still smarting over Christie’s embrace of Obama in the aftermath of Sandy, and a few credit this partnership with costing Mitt Romney the election. No matter that the governor is very conservative, his brand has been tarnished with the base, and now he has been banished. While there is still time to turn this situation around before 2016, Christie would have to move so far to the right to please the Party’s Masters, that in doing so he would surely alienate New Jersey voters, and turn off independent voters who are crucial to winning national elections. So, what should he do?
It would behoove Christie to continue rebranding himself as a problem solver and an independent thinker who puts country before party. One way he could decisively move in this direction is to change his position on marriage equality and join the many Republicans who have reversed course. Signing a law legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey would immediately soften his image and create a legitimate opportunity to run as an Independent in 2016. Another scenario is that he sits out the next presidential contest and let’s the GOP nominate an extremist like Rick Santorum. After such a candidate crashes and burns in spectacular fashion, the adults in the GOP and the donors with deep pockets, might be ready to drive the toxic Religious Right from party in time for 2020. Under this paradigm, Christie would be well-positioned to be a top contender to lead the GOP ticket.
Although the inmates are still running the asylum, there are signs that moderates in the GOP are awakening and increasingly challenging the zealots who have turned the GOP into a regional party that only wins by gerrymandering districts. A prime example is in Virginia, where key business leaders have confronted Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who they feel is too extreme to win the upcoming governor’s race in Virgina. According to Politico:
Bobbie Kilberg, a longtime Republican donor and CEO of Northern Virginia Technology Council, and Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association, stood up separately to confront Cuccinelli about what is on the minds of many Virginia and national Republicans: whether the Tea Party-backed attorney general can, or wants to, run a pragmatic campaign in the increasingly moderate Old Dominion.
In a weekend interview with POLITICO, however, Shapiro expressed deep reservations about Cuccinelli and said he feared hard-core social conservative policies would make Virginia less attractive for business. “I’ve told Cuccinelli I would not support him,” said Shapiro, an independent who supported Mitt Romney last year and has criticized Cuccinelli in a Washington Post op-ed. “Virginia’s incredible tilt rightward, thanks to a lot of Cuccinelli initiatives, has not been helpful at promoting Virginia as a diverse, pro-business state.”
Christie should look at the fracas in Virginia and conclude that if a hard-edged conservative is having problems in Old Dominion, there isn’t much future in veering to the far right. America will support an Independent or a Republican who is tough, but also has the ability to solve problems and compromise. Within the next decade, the Republican Party will likely be ready to elect a candidate who endorses marriage equality. However, they will not be looking for a carbon copy of Ken Cuccinelli with a New Jersey accent.
I think that Christie should see his CPAC snubbing as a blessing in disguise, because it makes him appear less extreme, and more palatable to mainstream voters. To take the next step, he has to drop his intellectually silly and politically stupid stand against marriage equality in New Jersey — and be politically savvy enough to know this will be an issue that can help his future prospects significantly more than CPAC ever could.