NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland (Reuters) — New
Jersey Governor Chris Christie urged conservative activists on Thursday
to talk about what they are for, not just what they are against, and
said Republicans need to focus on winning elections in addition to
promoting their ideology.
In his first major appearance before Republicans since he was
engulfed in a home-state scandal over political retribution in
January, Christie led a parade of potential 2016 presidential
contenders who laid out their visions for activists at the annual
Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
It was a trip into previously hostile territory for Christie. He is
viewed warily by some of the most conservative members of the
Republican Party, in part because he oversees a mostly Democratic
state and praised Democratic President Barack Obama's work on
disaster relief in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Christie was not invited to the CPAC meeting last year, in a move
widely viewed as retribution for his friendly words about Obama just
before the 2012 presidential election. But Christie was given a warm
reception on Thursday as he praised the accomplishments of fellow
Republican governors and emphasized his conservative stances on
issues such as reducing government.
He said Republicans should fight back against what he described as
media bias and explain themselves better.
"We don't get to govern if we don't win," Christie told activists
packed into a hotel ballroom in suburban Washington.
"Let's come out of this conference resolved to win elections again,"
Christie said, echoing the sentiments of moderates in the Republican
establishment who say the party has thrown away opportunities to win
some elections in recent years — particularly for congressional
seats — because it nominated candidates who were too conservative
for many voters.
"We've got to start talking about what we're for and not what we're
against. The reason for that is very simple ... our ideas are better
than (Democrats') ideas," Christie said.
A WARNING FROM CRUZ
Four other potential presidential candidates — Senators Ted Cruz of
Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
and Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan — also spoke to the
They blasted Obama and his fellow Democrats for pushing a broad
healthcare overhaul and other government solutions to problems, and
said Republicans would win the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016
race for the White House by holding true to their conservative
"If you want to lose elections, stand for nothing," Cruz said,
adding Republicans managed to win elections in 2010 — and give rise
to the conservative Tea Party movement — because they drew a line in
"We said we stand unequivocally against Obamacare, against
bankrupting the country, and we won a historic tidal wave of an
election," he said. "When you don't stand for principle, the
Ryan, Mitt Romney's vice presidential candidate in 2012, said the
feud in the Republican Party between Tea Party conservatives and the
more pragmatic business wing was a result of "creative tension" and
said Republicans should "give each other the benefit of the doubt."
The three-day conference brings together a range of conservatives,
from lawyers in pin-stripe suits to Tea Party activists in cowboy
hats, to listen to speakers and attend panel discussions with titles
such as "The American Dream vs. the Obama Nightmare."
A who's who of conservative talk-radio hosts from across the country
brought their shows to the conference, and a large exhibit hall
featured displays for conservative organizations. Throughout the
conference, the chatter among conservatives was about the elections
this November that will determine control of Congress, and the 2016
presidential campaign, which could pit the Republican nominee
against a formidable Democrat: former secretary of state Hillary
David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association and a
former president of the American Conservative Union, a sponsor of
the conference, predicted that Christie would enter 2016 as a
serious contender for the Republican nomination but ultimately would
not be nominated.
"He's got a serious cultural problem," Keene said, adding that the
notion that a northeastern, moderate Republican such as Christie
could "sit down with six farmers in Iowa or New Hampshire and have
them say, 'He's our guy,' is pretty far-fetched."
Democrats said the annual conservative gathering demonstrated that
much of the Republican Party is outside the nation's political
"This year, CPAC isn't just a meeting of conservatives, it's an
agenda-setting moment for Republicans heading into the midterms," a
statement from Democratic campaign committees said on Thursday. "The
traveling circus is back in town, and the gathering is more divisive
Four other Republicans who could be presidential contenders in 2016 — Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former
Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former Arkansas governor Mike
Huckabee — will address the conference on Friday.