Christie's shameless, desperate new play: Wooing the GOP base

Attacking the New York Times and finally visiting the troops at CPAC, the ex-GOP frontrunner turns right for help

Published February 4, 2014 6:49PM (EST)

Chris Christie                          (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
Chris Christie (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

It’s almost sad. Chris Christie, putative GOP savior, supposed scourge of the party’s right-wing saboteurs, in the minds of Republican establishment figures and donors anyway, is now courting the far-right base he was supposed to crush.

Desperately clutching his presidential hopes when he ought to be working to remain as New Jersey’s governor, Christie is taking a page from an old GOP playbook: attacking the “liberal media” while courting reactionaries – specifically those who gather annually at the Conservative Political Action Committee.

You may recall that last year Christie was snubbed by the folks who organize the annual winter gathering of the far-right faithful. Mitt Romney went so far as to implore CPAC to listen to voices like Christie’s.

Explaining why Christie wasn’t invited last year, CPAC chair Al Cardenas said this:

CPAC is like the all-star game for professional athletes; you get invited when you have had an outstanding year. Hopefully he will have another all-star year in the future, at which time we will be happy to extend an invitation. This is a conservative conference, not a Republican Party event.

Great. So this is Christie’s all-star year, according to CPAC? He’s at all time lows in national polls and hanging on to his job tenuously, after a series of scandals raised questions about whether he was using his office and the state budget – more precisely, bridge access and Hurricane Sandy funds – to punish enemies and reward friends. That’s what CPAC considers an all-star performance?

It’s not like he did anything to make him a conservative hero in the year since CPAC snubbed him. If anything, he made more enemies on the far-right, by signing a New Jersey version of the DREAM Act, providing in-state tuition for undocumented students. The only thing Christie did was land in a national corruption scandal and blame his troubles on the media – and now he’s going to CPAC.

“Frankly, the heat he is taking in the press as a result of Bridge-gate has endeared him to some conservatives.” Civic Forum PAC Ford O’Connell told the Christian Science Monitor. “He’s going to need conservatives on his side. This is about mending fences on both sides.”

Honestly, though, for someone who’s never been beloved by the right wing base, Christie is playing this hand pretty well. Probably it’s because it’s all he’s got. He’s casting himself as a victim of the liberal media – first MSNBC, then the New York Times. In the ludicrous memo his office released denouncing David Wildstein for his misdeeds as a 16 year old, he also attacked the Times for Kate Zernike’s Friday evening story, which admittedly suffered from a headline and a lead that oversold her material, and was later edited.

But that wasn’t enough: Christie went after the Times again Monday, in an email to supporters that was “exclusively” obtained by the right-wing Daily Caller, just a rung above Twitchy in the media ecosphere. The Web site hyped Christie’s criticism of the Times for “sloppy” and “misleading” reporting and published the seven-page memo in full, complete with embedded Tweets of journalists, including some liberals, who criticized the Times for editing Zernike’s piece without notifying readers.

It could work. In just under a month, the loons at the Breitbart empire have gone from crowing over Christie's troubles to defending him as an embattled victim of Democrats and the liberal media.

Last year Christie shrugged off his CPAC snub. “It's not like I'm lacking for invitations to speak around the country,” he told a town hall meeting. "I can't sweat the small stuff. I've got a state to rebuild."

This year, he’s headed to CPAC. Maybe he’s lacking for speaking invitations around the country? He certainly still has a state – and a reputation – to rebuild. But Christie is showing he hasn’t completely given up his hopes of being president, and he’s got a new strategy for getting there.  You can’t go wrong in the Republican Party blaming your troubles on the liberal media.

By Joan Walsh