Chris Christie is playing with fire

January 18, 2013

Chris Christie is immensely popular and is a huge favorite for reelection in New Jersey this year, with voters from across the political spectrum giving him the thumbs up.

When it comes to the national conservative base, though, the governor is at risk of earning a different one-finger salute.

Christie is already on probation with some conservatives for his praise of President Obama's work on Hurricane Sandy in the closing days of the 2012 election -- something a few critics have even suggested put the president over the top.

Now the potential 2016 presidential contender has lashed out at the National Rifle Association, calling a new ad from the group "reprehensible" for using Obama's daughters to make a political point.

"To talk about the president's children or any public officer's children who have -- not by their own choice, but by requirement -- to have protection and to use that somehow to try to make a political point, I think, is reprehensible," Christie said. He added: "I think it's awful to bring public figures' children into the political debate. They don't deserve to be there. And for any of us who are public figures, you see that ad and you cringe. You cringe because it's just not appropriate to do that, in my opinion."

Within the Republican Party, there are certain groups you just don't mess with if you want to win primaries, and the NRA is one of them. As we're seeing in the current gun debate, even many Democrats don't mess with the NRA.

Christie's outburst has already earned the rebuke of conservative talk show host Mark Levin -- “Anybody who is sick and tired of Chris Christie’s big mouth, raise your hand,” Levin said -- and you can expect more where that came from.

Update 4:57 p.m.: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another potential 2016 contender, is going after Christie. "You have some Republicans backing down like Christie backing down and criticizing the NRA, and I think that doesn't do any good," Paul said on Laura Ingraham's radio show.

In fact, Christie's putdown of the gun rights group was so strong and out of the ordinary that some Republicans think it's proof that he won't run for president in 2016.

"I think that Gov. Christie in his comments has made it plainly clear that he has no intention of pursuing higher office in the Republican Party," said one GOP strategist, granted anonymity to offer a candid assessment.

Added another strategist, from New Jersey: "Nationally, it certainly isn't going to help. However, I remain unconvinced he is interested in running in '16."

There is lots of time between now and 2016, but certain things are not easily forgotten. And if Christie does run for president eventually, you can bet his NRA outburst will be an issue.

On the other hand, Christie was unlikely to be the NRA's choice 2016 candidate anyway, given some of his past statements opening the door to more gun control. But while he has favored gun control, it's not like he's jumping on board with Obama's proposals; he was criticizing the tactics employed by the NRA rather than its agenda

So something like this may not be as big a deal as it seems 24 hours after the fact.

(Worth noting: Christie also recently attacked conservative Republicans who held up a Sandy relief bill. That strike us as less fraught, though not necessarily helpful with the base.)

Republican consultant Jon Lerner said Christie's plain-spoken style is a big part of his appeal and that he's doing what he needs to do for his immediate political future (New Jersey isn't exactly the NRA's home turf).

"To whatever extent he might be making a political calculation, he is smartly focused on 2013 New Jersey general election voters. That's what he should do," Lerner said. "If he runs for president in 2016, he will have plenty of time to adjust to the needs of the national Republican primary electorate."

Christie political adviser Mike DuHaime agrees and says people are looking for truth-telling rather than political calculation.

"Most people would rather have an authentic leader who says what he believes than a politician who says nothing because he is afraid of offending one group or another," DuHaime said.

That's true, and it's perhaps the reason that Christie is so popular today.

But today's Republican Party is decidedly unwilling to compromise and has seen fit to exclude some pretty popular politicians -- Charlie Crist and Richard Lugar both had great numbers shortly before they were cast aside -- because of litmus-test issues like working with Obama, the stimulus, bailouts, tax increases and, of course, guns (the NRA hated Lugar).

Christie may get the benefit of the doubt for now because his political brand is so broadly good and because people (besides The Fix) aren't paying close attention to 2016, but he's certainly on the verge of creating some real enemies within the party -- enemies with long memories.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Next Story
Sean Sullivan | January 18, 2013