- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2014

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is working his way back into Republicans’ good graces, and all he had to do was get Democrats mad at him.

After being denied a speaking spot at last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Mr. Christie has been invited this year. Meanwhile, fellow Republicans have fanned out to the political talk shows to defend the embattled governor, rallying around him in his fight against both federal and state probes. 

“We are very excited to announce that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will speak at CPAC 2014,” said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, the host of the annual gathering, which will take place in early March just outside of the Washington Beltway.

It’s a stunning turnaround for a man who a year ago was facing heated criticism for having hugged President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and then went on to bash fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill until they approved sending tens of billions of dollars to New Jersey to recover from the storm — with the money tacked onto the federal deficit.

He also took heat when he refused to take a tougher stand against same-sex marriage and when he signed a bill granting young illegal immigrants the right to receive in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities.

But now, faced with an investigation by state Democrats into the George Washington Bridge scandal, and another probe by a federal inspector general into a Hurricane Sandy marketing contract, Mr. Christie is once again feeling GOP love.

SEE ALSO: FLASHBACK: CPAC: Chris Christie snubbed for criticizing GOP on Sandy relief

John Feehery, a GOP strategist, said Republicans are lining up behind Mr. Christie because they feel like he has gotten a raw deal from the media.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Mr. Feehrey said.

After one conservative, former Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, said Mr. Christie should resign as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, the pushback was strong.

“I think he ought to stay there,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the previous RGA chairman, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

And Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee, said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that Mr. Christie is “a friend” and a “fantastic governor.”

“I don’t think he should step down because nothing has been proven, and you always give a person the benefit of the doubt in those kinds of situations, in my judgment,” Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Christie has been operating under a cloud since last month’s revelation of emails that suggest his administration forced a traffic jam in Fort Lee, causing backups on the heavily-traveled George Washington Bridge, in order to exact political payback.

Last week the attorney for David Wildstein, the Port Authority official who ordered the mid-September lane closures, raised new questions about what Mr. Christie knew about the traffic jams, suggesting his client has evidence that refutes some of the governor’s denials.

In response, the Christie administration suggested the media is on a witch hunt and dinged Mr. Wildstein’s character — highlighting, among other things, that when he was 16 year old he sued over a local scholar board election and a high school teacher accused him of “deceptive behavior.”

Mr. Christie won re-election in November by appealing to Democrats and independents, in a race many viewed as a trial run for a potential 2016 presidential bid.

The 51-year-old has had an up-and-down relationship with the organizers of CPAC, which 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.

In 2012, he headlined CPAC Chicago, where Mr. Cardenas showered him with compliments, calling him a “great defender of liberty,” “great defender of freedom” and “a fiscal conservative.”

The following year, though, he was shut out of the event because of the sharp criticism he directed at House Republicans for not moving quickly enough to pass $60 billion in Hurricane Sandy funding.

“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 told The Washington Times at the time.

The snub also coincided with the news that Mr. Christie was going to expand Medicaid in his state by accepting federal dollars from Obamacare, angering conservatives.

Mr. Cardenas, though, is now embracing Mr. Christie, saying that his potential presidential candidacy makes him part of the solution to the failures of the Obama administration.

“This will be the year that conservatives begin pulling the nation back from the brink of Barack Obama’s disaster with a movement that inspires, unites, and discovers new solutions to our current challenges,” Mr. Cardenas said.

The CPAC 2014 event is scheduled to feature a slate of possible contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Texas and Ted Cruz of Texas. Mr. Paul and Mr. Jindal, as well as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and New York real estate magnate Donald Trump are also scheduled to speak.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, has also been invited to the event, which is being held March 6-8 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside Washington, D.C.


• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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