More details on Chris Christie and CPAC

On Tuesday evening, American Conservative Union chair Al Cardenas discussed the reasons New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was not invited to address CPAC 2013 with National Journal:

Cardenas, whose group organizes the conference, wrote in an e-mail to National Journal that while CPAC was “proud” to invite Christie last year based on his record of balancing the budget and taking on teachers unions, Christie’s record over the past year is far less conservative.

“CPAC is like the all-star game for professional athletes; you get invited when you have had an outstanding year,” Cardenas said. “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.”

Cardenas cited Christie’s decision to expand Medicaid under President Obama’s health care law and his support of a $60 billion aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims, which he argued was filled with wasteful spending.

The non-invitation to Christie has been compared to the exclusion of gay conservative group GOProud from CPAC.  For what it’s worth, I disagree personally with the latter decision, while also disagreeing with GOProud on same-sex marriage.  They really ought to be welcome, not least because everyone should be prepared – indeed, eager – to discuss their differences on such an important issue.  Or discuss why they don’t think it’s an important issue, as the case may be.

But including a group at CPAC is rather different than extending one of those choice high-profile speaking positions.  There are only so many of those spots available, after all.  I don’t have the impression Governor Christie would be forcibly barred from attending CPAC, and I don’t suppose he wants to attend unless he’s a featured speaker.  Although I could be wrong about that.  If there’s anyone in politics today who would consider crashing such an event, or just showing up with a ticket in hand and shopping at the souvenir booths…

The question of whether Christie is sufficiently conservative to merit an invitation is a tough call.  It’s a matter of degree, and Cardenas has indicated more than one factor was taken into account.  Some wonder how the same numbers crunched to deny Christie an invitation could be crunched in such a way that they produced one for Mitt Romney.  Did he have an “outstanding year?”  Did he turn out to be as “severely conservative” as he asserted at the previous CPAC?  Those are fair questions, but Romney did win the GOP presidential nomination and pull some 59 million votes in the general election.  He has said that he wants to remain involved in the national conversation.  There is value in hearing what he has to say.

There could be such value in Chris Christie’s remarks too, of course, but it’s a judgment call, and too many of his breaks with conservatism have come so quickly of late.  And there’s the question of future influence… which Christie might have in greater abundance than Romney at the moment, and that’s the problem.  The nation has been dragged dangerously, maybe even suicidally to the Left.  There are some who believe the conservative movement should shift its center of gravity leftward in accommodation.  I think that would be a fatal mistake for both conservatism and America.  At this particular moment, the Christie actions cited by Cardenas – Medicaid expansion, the slash-and-burn defense of Hurricane Sandy pork, the eleventh-hour embrace of Obama during the election – are not what the CPAC audience wants to rally around.

Frankly, much of that audience might not be very friendly to Christie this year, and while he’s hardly afraid of addressing tough crowds, it’s probably not a spectacle either the Governor or CPAC need right now.  Both can survive a year in which Chris Christie sits on the bench, and contemplates whether he still believes himself part of the conservative movement.  Nobody within that movement is likely to forget the things they’ve always liked about him.  There are still conventions to come before 2016, in which many judgment calls might be made differently, if that’s what Christie wants.