New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has not always counted among his fans and supporters the conservative Republicans who attend the Conservative Political Action Conference each year.
Last year, Christie did not even speak at the CPAC, which drew scores of other Republican politicians with designs on running for president. But, this year, Christie was greeted with a standing ovation from a packed ballroom, his reputation apparently undented -- or only lightly so -- by his "bridgegate" scandal at home.
Christie might have been prepared for a less welcoming crowd, however, and opened his speech, delivered from notes, with an anecdote about remarks he once delivered to firefighters, who booed him before he won them over. The lesson, Christie said, is that Republicans must speak not only to those who agree, but to everyone.
To do so effectively, Christie said, “We have to start talking about what we’re for, and not what we’re against. The reason is because our ideas are better than their ideas, and that’s what we need to stand up for.”
For Christie, however, his speech seemed as much about policy ideas as about countering a few nagging ideas some people within his own party have about him.
Whereas Christie drew criticism for focusing too much on himself during his speech to the 2012 Republican National Convention, he offered effusive praise Thursday for the work of other Republican governors -- including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is also thought to be considering a bid for president in 2016.
And Christie focused on themes familiar to and safe with a conservative crowd: the value of being pro-life, support for free markets, the evils of labor unions -- and, of course, the shortcomings of President Obama.
Christie slammed the president in particular for not working with Congress toward positive outcomes, as with the budget “super committee.”
“If that’s your attitude, Mr. President, what the hell are we paying you for?” Christie said. “Leadership is about getting something done and making government work, leadership is not about standing on the sidelines and spitballing.”
Bashing Washington has become a familiar and successful theme for Christie, and he used the tactic to his advantage when he negotiated with Congress for more relief funding after Superstorm Sandy.
At the same time, he has staked much of his political brand on bipartisanship, often touting his record as a popular Republican in a Democratic state.
He touched on that theme Thursday, but barely. For this more partisan crowd, Christie’s focus was instead on slamming Democrats and their policies, and in stronger terms than usual.
“They’re the party of intolerance, not us,” Christie said.
An aide to Christie said he did not have any other events or meetings scheduled during his trip to Washington and would return to New Jersey shortly after his speech.