Josh Barro comments on the beginnings of the movement conservative turn against Chris Christie:
So maybe the CPAC insider is right that Christie isn’t a conservative, at least as conservatives in the U.S. today define themselves. The insider told National Review that Christie has a limited future in the Republican Party because of his apostasy. But Christie is only an apostate because he realizes that conservatism, as defined by the sort of people who organize CPAC, has a limited future in America.
As movement conservatives start to sour on Christie, it might be instructive to recall what it was about him that many of them liked from 2009 through last year. For the most part, it wasn’t the content of his agenda, in which most of his admirers had little interest. It was Christie’s willingness to be combative and confrontational that won their admiration. When this was all that most movement conservatives knew about him, Christie’s future in the party seemed very bright, and his name was frequently listed along with such movement conservative heroes as Rubio and Ryan. When Republican pundits were trying to come up with a presidential nominee other than Romney, Christie’s name often came up. In late 2011, there was a ridiculous, last-minute effort to get Christie to run what would have undoubtedly been a debacle of a campaign organized on short notice. The largely pundit-driven enthusiasm for Christie masked the reality that he and the conservative movement were not a good fit. The first real break between the two came at the very end of the election campaign during Christie’s response to the hurricane, which was seen as giving unwarranted praise and aid to Obama in the final days. As I said the day after the election:
For various reasons, conservative activists and pundits chose to elevate Christie into a national figure because they liked his combativeness and his willingness to challenge some of their ideological opponents, but their enthusiasm for him was bound to be ephemeral. The political incentives for a Northeastern Republican governor and those of an ideological conservative movement will often diverge. If it hadn’t been Christie’s statements last week that turned many movement conservatives against him, it would have been something else later.
If he has ambitions for higher office, this isn’t all bad news for Christie. There are limits to what a politician can achieve by being and being seen as a cardboard cutout movement candidate, as Romney discovered in 2007-08 and Pawlenty found out in 2011, so Christie might try to follow the route that other relative moderate candidates have taken in the past to win the nomination. On the other hand, there are also few advantages in being openly disliked and opposed by movement conservatives, as McCain and Huntsman learned in their first presidential runs. A competitive candidate in the nominating contest has to avoid being afraid of and captive to the movement’s ideological enforcers, but he can’t afford to invite their loathing and active hostility. Striking that balance will be particularly hard for any Republican governor from a Democratic-leaning state, and it’s an open question whether Christie wants the hassle and grief that would come with trying to do that.