Over the weekend, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is "for big government and trying to go along to get along.” She added that Christie has "got a schtick going there where he's got a YouTube videographer following him around, kind of these set-up situations sometimes so he can be seen as perhaps a little bit avant-garde and going rogue on things."
Christie said nothing in return. He should. Here's why.
Taking on Palin is good politics for Christie or Jeb Bush or anyone else who is planning to run as a quasi-establishment candidate for president in 2016. (No one will run a public-facing "establishment" candidacy but there are clearly people, like Christie or Bush, who would run with the blessing of many of the people who comprise the GOP establishment).
Palin is widely viewed by much of the party -- with the exception of her core followers (and she does retain a real following) -- as someone who is advocating a direction for the Republican party that could lead to its electoral demise in 2016 and perhaps beyond.
There is a sentiment -- largely expressed privately, still, at the moment -- that someone needs to stand up to that wing of the party and say "enough is enough." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who faces a conservative primary challenger back home in Kentucky, won't do it. House Speaker John Boehner, who hopes to unite his conference on debt and spending matters this fall, can't/won't do it.
But Christie could -- and should. He is cruising to re-election in a blue state. He already has a reputation as a guy who speaks truth to Republican power. And, most importantly, he genuinely believes that the path people like Palin want to lead the party down is a giant philosophical and political mistake.
Wait, you say. Attacking Palin means Christie will a) get into an extended back and forth with the former governor, who has shown she will never back down from a political jab and b) reinforce for conservatives that he is a moderate, and moderates never win primaries.
To that we say, not necessarily so.
No one who counts themselves as a loyal Palin backer at this point is going to consider pulling the lever for Christie in 2016. Just not happening. Their bases of support are in the "never the twain shall meet" category.
It's possible that a Christie denunciation of Palin would mean that the likes of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both of whom are considering running for president in 2016, jump to defend Palin -- sensing a political opportunity. Maybe. But, our sense is that Cruz and Paul -- and their political advisers -- will likely steer clear from any too-close association with Palin since she has proven herself to be a sort of free radical in the political process.
And, even if Christie does take some heat from the right for saying something along the lines of "I believe Sarah Palin is a voice for shrinking the Republican party, not growing it", the gains he would make among the GOP voters who don't identify with Palin and her brand of confrontational conservatism would more than make up for it.
Remember that the Republican presidential nominee dating back to at least to 1992 has NOT been the candidate touted as the most conservative in the field. George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney were all far more establishment types than conservative warriors. And they all won.
The term "Sister Souljah moment" is overused in political journalism -- and by us in this blog. But, that sentiment is what should guide Christie here. (Maybe more of a "Sister Sarah" moment.)
Rather than be cowed by a segment of the party that, if history is a guide, is not large enough to keep him from the nomination, he should challenge that part of the party, just the way Bill Clinton challenged Sister Souljah. Fortune favors the (politically) bold.