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January 22, 2014 10:57 AM Christie’s Media-Bashing Strategy

By Ed Kilgore

At TNR Noam Scheiber has an interesting preemptive strike on the idea that Chris Christie’s going to be able to rebuild his status in a right-bent Republican Party by bashing his tormenters in the news media. It won’t work for Christie because the controversy over which he’s at war with the media isn’t any sort of right-wing cause:

That’s not to say media-bashing can’t work—it clearly has on occasion. But the only reliable formula is when the infraction that kindled the media firestorm in the first place attests to one’s conservative credentials. Say, when Sarah Palin accuses the Democratic nominee for president of palling around with terrorists, then blames the resulting uproar on media bias. Or, to pick the more relevant example of a moderate trying to gin up conservative support, when Rudy Giuliani questions whether waterboarding is in fact torture, accuses Democrats of refusing to use the term “Islamic terrorist” out of misplaced political correctness, or trims the welfare rolls by hundreds of thousands of people. All of these prompted a media uproar, which in turn prompted Giuliani to attack the “liberal media.” (Not that he ever needed much provocation.) And though these frequent outbursts didn’t exactly secure the GOP nomination for him… they probably did boost his ratings among primary voters at various points in 2007.

The BridgeGate allegations, on the other hand, “sound like a Tea Partier’s nightmare of big government,” so there are built-in limits to how much succor Christie can expect from the Right.

That’s probably true, but may be essentially irrelevant to Christie’s national standing as a possible presidential candidate. Thanks to a multitude of sins (the Medicaid expansion, the gun policy heresies, the insulting mockery of Islamophobes, the perfidious praise of Obama) he’s never going to be loved by conservative activists; he’ll be tolerated as a successful Republican operating in difficult territory and accepted as a presidential nominee if there is absolutely no electable alternative (keeping in mind, BTW, that conservatives don’t exactly buy into conventional measurements of “electability,” i.e., polls). So if you want to assess Christie’s relationship with conservatives don’t just look at how they feel about him; look at his numbers against Hillary Clinton as compared to other Republicans. Right now they’re not looking so good. If that persists, it just won’t matter which direct or three-cushion strategy he uses to curry favor with conservatives. It’s ironic but true: for Christie to have any value for the Right, he’s got to maintain his appeal to the Center and even elements of the Left. And even then it won’t do him much good if activists can find some evidence a candidate they really like might be electable, too.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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