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First Thoughts: Christie Brings Blue-State Message to CPAC

Christie at CPAC: What a difference a year makes… How does he get received? (The governor speaks at 11:45 am.)… Rand Paul as Howard Dean?... Clinton walks back the Putin-Hitler comparison… And the health-care debate heats up again.

Christie at CPAC
What a difference a year makes: Chris Christie’s speech on Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in the Washington, D.C., area marks a striking turn of events for the New Jersey governor. Exactly a year ago, he was riding high in the polls on the way to a big re-election victory; he was the toast of establishment and Wall Street Republicans looking ahead to 2016; and -- get this -- he WAS NOT invited to speak at CPAC. Now after twin scandals have rocked his administration, Christie is sinking in the polls; he’s no longer viewed as a presidential front-runner; and -- get this -- he IS speaking at CPAC at 11:45 am ET. Per a source close to Christie, the governor will highlight his record of getting things done in a blue state, he’ll emphasize that it’s important for Republicans to focus on what they’re for and not what they’re against, and he’ll stress that conservatives shouldn’t waste time with political arguments that don’t turn the GOP’s ideas into results. Bottom line: Christie, it seems, will return to the script he was using before the scandals hit his office, which essentially says: “Hey GOP, what we need to focus on is winning and not on having meaningless ideological debates.”
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How does he get received at CPAC?
The question, however, is whether that’s the message the conservatives activists at CPAC want to hear -- and hear from Christie right now. A new Washington Post/ABC poll finds that three in 10 Republicans say they wouldn’t vote for the New Jersey governor if he runs for president. That follows our own NBC/WSJ polling, which has found that Christie has largely lost his crossover appeal: Back in October, he was viewed positively among Republicans (38%-19% fav/unfav), Democrats (30%-17%), and independents (31%-18%). But after the scandals, the numbers all dropped (Republicans went to 32%-20%, Dems to 15%-37%, and indies to 20%-27%). And then there’s this little exercise: Consider all of the other prominent CPAC speakers (Cruz, Ryan, McConnell, Rubio, Paul, and Perry). Who else has championed expanding Medicaid in their state? Which one embraced President Obama right before Election Day 2012, even if it was because of the hurricane that slammed into the state? The reasons why Christie is speaking at CPAC are pretty simple: Christie needs the conservative base as he tries to weather his scandal storm, and the conservative base naturally views any enemy of its enemy as its friend. Still, it will be fascinating to see how Christie -- with his message today and with his record -- is received.
And does Christie go after the media?
Of course, one surefire way to get a big applause from a conservative crowd is to go after the media. (Remember Newt Gingrich at that 2012 South Carolina debate?) Indeed, the same source close to Christie says: "Also expect Christie to tell the audience we need to stop letting the media define who we are and embracing the stereotypes perpetuated by political adversaries.”
The CPAC schedule
Here’s the line-up of the major speakers for the three-day CPAC confab that begins today:
Thursday: Ted Cruz (9:00 am ET), Paul Ryan (9:24 am), Mitch McConnell (10:19 am), Christie (11:45 am), Bobby Jindal (12:00 pm), Marco Rubio (12:16 pm), Mike Lee (12:31 pm), Wayne LaPierre (2:30 pm), Donald Trump (2:45 pm).
Friday: Rick Perry (9:00 am), John Cornyn (9:16 am), Mike Huckabee (10:23 am), Rick Santorum (2:26), Rand Paul (2:51 pm).
Saturday: Newt Gingrich (12:45 pm), Ben Carson (12:58 pm), straw poll results (5:23 pm), and Sarah Palin (5:45 pm).
Rand Paul as Howard Dean?
By the way, given Rand Paul’s CPAC appearance on Friday and given the fact that some are now considering him the GOP’s 2016 front-runner, one of us mentioned a different way to view Paul -- as Howard Dean circa 2003-2004. In other words, he’s someone promising to change his party’s thinking who has the potential to catch fire, but also the potential to fizzle out. “Like Dean with his opposition to the Iraq war, Paul wants to fundamentally change the Republican Party’s hawkish national-security and foreign-policy tendencies... Like Dean with the young voters he attracted, Paul wants to bring more young and minority voters into the GOP fold." But: “Like what ultimately happened to Dean, an ascendant Paul would likely inspire the other Republican candidates and outside groups to sink his candidacy.” Remember, Dean’s candidacy changed his party, and he laid the groundwork for future Democratic candidates (think Obama) despite his 2004 loss. Don’t be surprised if a Paul candidacy -- win or lose -- tries to change the GOP, especially when it comes to foreign policy.
Clinton walks back the Putin-Hitler comparison
It was interesting to see how quickly Hillary Clinton sort of walked back -- or clarified -- her earlier Putin-Hitler comparison when speaking at UCLAon Wednesday. "I know we are dealing with a tough guy with a thin skin," she said, per NBC’s Carrie Dann. "I know that his political vision is of a greater Russia," she added. "I said when I was still secretary that his goal is to re-Sovietize Russia’s periphery, but in the process he is squandering the potential of such a great nation, the nation of Russia, and threatening instability and even the peace of Europe." More from Dann: “On Wednesday, Clinton said she isn't ‘making a comparison’ between Putin and Hitler but that she believes the United States should keep the ‘historic perspective’ in mind. ‘What I said yesterday was that the claims by President Putin and other Russians that they had to go into Crimea and maybe further into eastern Ukraine because they had to protect the Russian minorities -- that is reminiscent of claims that were made in the 1930s when Germany under the Nazis kept talking about how they had to protect German minorities in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere throughout Europe.’” Considering how quickly she clarified this, it’s worth noting that this is what a presidential candidate does, not a private citizen.
Health-care debate heats up again
Health care is back in the news, especially with the March 31 deadline for Americans to have insurance less than four weeks away. Yesterday, the Obama administration announced yet another implementation change -- extending the ability for people to keep their non-ACA-compliant health plans for two more years. Also yesterday, the GOP-led House of Representatives voted on (and passed) their 50th effort to repeal, defund, or dismantle the health-care law. And today, at 11:35 am ET, President Obama holds a town hall in DC on the importance of Latinos to sign up for health-care insurance. By the way, this latest implementation change is politically smart for the Obama administration but it’s also pretty cynical. “The extension could help Democrats in tight midterm election races because it may avoid the cancellation of policies that would otherwise have occurred at the height of the political campaign season this fall,” the New York Times says. But it also could undermine the law. “Robert Laszewski, a consultant who works closely with insurers, said the reprieve for noncompliant policies ‘tends to undermine the sustainability of Obamacare’ by reducing the number of people who will buy insurance through the exchanges.” One more point: It’s worth noting how many of the implementation changes/fixes/delays go through 2016.
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