Chris Christie's Nixonian CPAC appearance: Why he sounded so much like Tricky Dick

As his nascent campaign craters, New Jersey governor lashes out at "elites" and the media

Published February 26, 2015 7:38PM (EST)

  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Chris Christie brought his pugnacious braggadocio to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, declaring that the Obama White House needs to learn when to "shut up" and castigating "elites" and a press corps that has increasingly turned on him amid mounting evidence of mismanagement and corruption in his administration. The New Jersey governor depicted himself as simultaneously victim and victor; he's been persecuted by "folks in the media elite," Christie asserted, but he remains undefeated.

"I have The New York Times in my media gaggle every day. And when you do things like I've done in New Jersey ...they just want to kill ya, and that's what they try to do to me every day," the likely 2016 presidential candidate said, speaking in a Q & A format with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. "And here's the bad news for them: here I am. And I'm still standing, I'm gonna continue to do it. Because what matters more is the fact that I wake every morning knowing how to fight for the people of my state."

Tossing a slab of red meat at the assembled conservatives, Christie made sure to note that he's not a subscriber to the Times -- and, in case the audience missed the bit about how he detests the Gray Lady, he told Ingraham at the end of the interview that he'd given up the Times for Lent.

To hear Christie tell it, the media have it in for him because he's taken on "the special interests," by which he means people like unionized teachers and pensioners, not the political cronies he's rewarded with Port Authority contracts and tax breaks. Christie told CPAC that reporters are scrutinizing him because he's a "passionate" warrior for "truth." His unflattering press couldn't possibly have anything to do with Christie's heavy-handed tactics, New Jersey's sorry economic statehis penchant for secrecy, or his opulent lifestyle, funded at others' expense.

The performance evoked Richard Milhous Nixon, who reveled in stoking sentiment against the elite -- not least the Beltway scribes and Manhattan broadcasters whom he alleged were relentlessly persecuting him. Nixon's 1962 California gubernatorial concession speech was an exemplary case study.

"And as I leave the press, all I can say is this: fox sixteen years, ever since the Hiss case, you've had a lot of fun -- a lot of fun -- that you've had an opportunity to attack me, and i think I've given as good as I've taken. ... I leave you gentlemen now, and you will write it. You will interpret it. That's your right," Nixon said. "But as I leave you I want you to know -- just think of how much you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference," he declared, a promise he did not keep.

Like Nixon, Christie's anti-elitist rhetoric targets more than the media. Nixon castigated the Eastern seaboard trust funders whom he perceived as constantly sneering down at him; on Thursday, Christie told Ingraham that the blue-blooded Jeb Bush would emerge as the GOP nominee if "elites in Washington who make back room deals" were the ones to decide the matter.

Of course, for all their railing against the elite, Nixon and Christie are both indisputably of its ranks. After losing the California governorship, Nixon moved to New York, took a Fifth Avenue apartment, and began practicing law at a venerable corporate firm. Christie pals around with corporate moguls and foreign royalty and is all too happy to accept their luxe gifts, shamelessly admitting that he wants to “squeeze all the juice out of the orange.” But there was Christie on Thursday, saying that he's tired of the perception that the GOP is the party of the rich. Moments later, Christie derided a proposed minimum wage increase.

Christie's faux-populist shtick comes as the embattled governor has lost favor not just among the reporters and pundits who once hailed him as a different kind of Republican, but also, more crucially, among the GOP's donor class and primary voters. While Christie once ranked in the top tier of the party's 2016 contenders, he now has no conceivable path to victory, as my colleague Jim Newell wrote earlier this month.

Before long, we won't have Chris Christie to kick around anymore.

By Luke Brinker

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