The list of speakers at next month’s CPAC, the nation’s largest gathering of conservatives, will not include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — a snub the potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate earned, organizers said, because of his harsh criticism earlier this year of fellow Republicans over Superstorm Sandy spending.
Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union and host of the Conservative Political Action Conference, said Mr. Christie wasn’t invited because he undercut Republican efforts to slice billions of dollars of pork from the relief package.
“We felt that the governor’s tone and attitude regarding this relief bill, which was really a pork bill, did not justify an invitation to the conservative conference and we took a pass this year,” Mr. Cardenas said.
The annual CPAC meeting is being held March 14-16 at a conference center in the shadow of the Washington Beltway in Prince George’s County.
The three-day affair serves as a showcase for some of the nation’s top conservatives and Republican leaders, giving them the chance to speak directly to thousands of the movement’s most diehard activists.
Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as Rep. Paul Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are slated to speak.
SEE ALSO: Lawmaker: Christie agrees to expand Medicaid in N.J.
The guest list also features Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee; Sarah Palin, the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee; and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Despite the snub, Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist and former campaign manager for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, suggested Tuesday that Mr. Christie, who is up for re-election this year, has little to worry about.
“Look, this CPAC convention is increasingly the ‘Star Wars’ bar scene of the conservative movement. I mean, all that’s missing at that convention is a couple of Wookiees,” Mr. Schmidt said on MSNBC.
Mr. Cardenas’ criticism of Mr. Christie coincided with the news that he will be the eighth GOP governor to expand Medicaid rolls in his state by accepting additional federal dollars on President Obama’s health care law, which conservatives loathe.
In doing so, he joins the likes of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a fierce critic of Mr. Obama’s reforms, who shocked many observers last week when he decided to adopt the expansion. “The most conservative organizations have asked our governors not to sign onto the Medicaid expansion because of the fiscal constraints the country is going through,” Mr. Cardenas said.
Fueled by his blunt political style and high-profile scraps with public-sector unions over pension and health care benefits, Mr. Christie made an immediate splash on the national political stage and won kudos from scores of conservative across the country when he took office in New Jersey in 2010.
Mr. Christie in June headlined CPAC Chicago, where Mr. Cardenas introduced him as “probably the finest straight-talker in America” and called him a “great defender of liberty,” “great defender of freedom” and “a fiscal conservative.”
Since then, though, Mr. Christie has fallen out of favor with conservatives, a dip in popularity that some say started after he praised Mr. Obama for the federal response to Superstorm Sandy.
“He is a Republican, but I don’t think he would accurately be described as a conservative,” said Morton C. Blackwell, an American Conservative Union board member. “And a lot of people have in their minds the image of him hugging Barack Obama in the late stages of the presidential campaign.”
Mr. Christie also came under fire last month for saying that a television advertisement the National Rifle Association ran featuring Mr. Obama’s daughters in the wake of December’s mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., was “reprehensible.”
Mr. Cardenas, though, said that Mr. Christie’s torpedoed his chances of being invited to CPAC when he blamed House Speaker John A. Boehner and the “toxic internal politics of the House majority” for the continued suffering after Superstorm Sandy.
While the House GOP was trying to control wasteful spending, Mr. Cardenas said that Mr. Christie was nosing up to the federal spending trough.
“The challenge for conservatives was that there was only $9 billion in actual national disaster relief and $51 billion or so in pork,” Mr. Cardenas said. “Then along comes Gov. Christie in the middle of this important push — for gaining the upper hand with the public opinion, and in urging Congress to show fiscal constraint — and he was basically encouraging a mini-stimulus bill.”
• Tom Howell contributed to this report.