COMMENTARY | Apparently the people running CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) simply cannot comprehend the idea of a Republican Party that actually can function through compromise and proactive bipartisanship. Where Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey gets the broader approach and is willing to embrace certain uncomfortable truths (like the fact that President Barack Obama can really be good at his job on occasion), CPAC does not. And they are willing to prove it by inviting every hard-right potential 2016 GOP presidential contender to their annual conference — and not the guy that has the best chance of winning against the Democrats.
As CNN reported Monday , Christie hasn’t received an invite to CPAC 2013. CPAC officially says that it is finalizing their schedule, but it seems rather curious that the one Republican executive officer who publicly commended President Obama for doing a good job with the response to Hurricane Sandy has been left off the list of invited attendees.
So maverick was his praise of Obama in the aftermath of the superstorm that swept the New England coast (making landfall in New Jersey) that some even went so far as to blame Christie for Mitt Romney’s loss in the national election just a week later.
And it isn’t as if they’ve not invited a few closer-to-moderate Republicans, like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (who called out the GOP to stop being stupid) and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. But their speaker list is heavy with representatives from the far right: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas, whose group organizes the annual event, defended the decision to not invite the popular governor Tuesday in an email to the National Journal , stating that Christie’s record over the past year was less conservative than the year before (when he was invited).
“CPAC is like the all-star game for professional athletes; you get invited when you have had an outstanding year,” Cardenas wrote. “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.”
Perhaps they’re just teaching him a lesson: They just want him to know that the power brokers in the GOP are displeased with his maverick behavior. Some of that behavior was brought up in the email, like Christie’s expansion of Medicaid. Cardenas even cited Christie’s acceptance of the $60 billion Hurricane Sandy Relief funds, which he said were loaded with wasteful provisions.
But Christie defended his decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, a program he personally does not support, by saying that it was “the law of the land” and he would, according to Talking Points Memo , “make all my judgments as governor as what is best for New Jersey.” On a practical note, he also posited that if New Jersey hadn’t taken the funds, they would have been distributed elsewhere.
But if Christie isn’t invited to CPAC, seen as a stepping stone to running for president, it is definitely CPAC’s loss. Inviting him would show that conservatives are willing to work with those willing to work with others (read: Democrats). They would appear less extreme. Apparently, being blamed for congressional gridlock and obstruction has become a proud mantle.
Christie is riding a groundswell of popular opinion. His everyman persona and his tell-it-like-it-is attitude have won over many Americans. In a Public Policy Polling survey released in early February, Christie was the only potential Republican contender that came near besting the top Democratic hopeful, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
Of course, not being invited to CPAC in 2013 doesn’t mean he won’t be invited in 2014 and thereafter. And not having the unified support of CPAC conservatives does not preclude the New Jersey governor from running for president anyway. Look what Romney achieved. (By the way, he’s speaking at CPAC 2013 as well.)
Still, if closing ranks and ignoring a guy like Christie, a politician willing to compromise on issues and to give due credit to his political opponents, is the path that CPAC and the GOP wish to take, they will undoubtedly take their uncompromising reputation and walk wide-eyed into another presidential election defeat in 2016. Because being conservative doesn’t mean they have to be stupid. But being intractable and unopen to compromise, especially with members of your own contingent who don’t always toe the party line, shows a determined willingness to be so.