Conservatives respond to Christie with wary optimism

BY Ruth Tam  March 7, 2014 at 2:38 PM EDT
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Returning to CPAC, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie criticized Democrats to build his base with more conservative supporters. Photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore

At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave attendees the aggressive red meat speech they were hungry for.

“Our ideas are better than their ideas and that’s what we have to stand up for,” he said to applause.

Launching criticism of President Barack Obama, who Christie embraced during Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, and Democrats — saying “They’re the party of intolerance. Not us.” — Christie gave no mention of the bipartisan credentials he’s touted in the past.

“We’ve got to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for,” he said — alluding to the media’s coverage of the George Washington Bridge lane closures that stemmed from his office. “The fact is that we have to take these guys on directly.”

Christie ended his address with a harsh truism.

“We don’t get to govern if we don’t win,” he said. “…what’s worse is they do.”

Often using the word “they” in reference to Democrats, Christie’s speech represented a departure from his inclusive message from the time before the lane closure controversy. Many in the audience stood to applaud his efforts — and several were relatively optimistic on how close Christie could get to the White House.

“He may be seen as more moderate but if you listen to his record and his speech, I don’t see why,” said Bill Saracino, 62, who traveled to the conference from Glendale, Calif.

“I think there are any number of people who are [capable],” he said. “[Christie’s] one of them and that’s why I liked his combativeness.”

“If he doesn’t get beat up in the primaries too bad, he’d probably be able to carry it,” said Doug Kolling, who traveled to the conference from Greenville, Ohio after watching CPAC on TV for the previous two years.

But lingering in voters’ minds is the governor’s image as a bipartisan player, which received differing levels of approval.

While Kolling is comfortable with “any Republican” and his wife, Jana, would support “whoever can beat Hillary,” Saracino’s bar is slightly higher.

“[Christie’s bipartisan image] is not something that appeals to me as a conservative,” said the self-proclaimed “Reagan Republican.”

“Bipartisanship is as phony concept. It’s never existed. People fight for their beliefs and that’s called partisanship. That’s not terrible; it’s how you decide between two opposing views.”