As the big draw on Thursday, the opening day of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sought to burnish his credentials with the right-wing activists whose hearts he must win if he is to capture the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Top on the list were Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who together control Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the United States, and whose strategic spending on and fundraising for political organizing groups and think tanks is largely responsible for the right turn taken in state legislatures across the nation since 2010.
After launching an apparent defense of the Koch brothers, whom he never mentioned by name, Christie trotted out his anti-choice bona fides, calling himself “the first pro-life governor of New Jersey” since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion.
After an opening vignette about curbing public employee pensions—the kind of thing the Koch brothers support—Christie lambasted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for “stand[ing] up and rail[ing] against two American entrepreneurs who have built a business, created jobs, and created wealth and philanthropy in this country.”
The only “entrepreneurs” Reid has taken aim at in his recent public comments are the Koch brothers, founders and funders of the nonprofit astroturf group Americans for Prosperity, which has so far spent $22 million on advertising in the midterm elections for U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
Here’s an excerpt of comments made by Reid on Tuesday, as reported by the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza:
What is un-American is when shadowy billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest one percent. I believe in an America where economic opportunity is open to all. And based on their actions and policies they promote, the Koch brothers seem to believe in an America where the system is rigged to benefit the very wealthy.
“Harry Reid should get back to work and stop picking on great Americans who are creating important things in our country,” Christie told the CPAC audience.
When Christie was urged to step into the presidential ring in 2012, David Koch was reported to be one of the big donors pushing him onto the stage, which Christie ultimately decided wasn’t quite set for him yet. But, even in the midst of a scandal over traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge orchestrated by his staff, Christie is looking and acting like a 2016 presidential contender. But to get over the right-wing hump, he’s going to need the Koch brothers.
Lending credibility to the prospect of Christie’s presidential ambitions was his attempt to frame himself as a “pro-life governor,” even though he isn’t known for any legislative or regulatory activism in the anti-choice arena. The rap on him among pundits is that he’s “too moderate” for the Republican base; he sought to flip the script by saying he’s found the way to win the rest of the country to the anti-abortion side. And, after all, if he can do that in New Jersey, which he described as “a blue state,” he can do it anywhere he contends.
In his rationale for his movement credibility, he did a clever thing: He sought to reframe anti-union education “reform” and deregulation of business and finance as “pro-life,” as well as the rehabilitation of drug addicts.
From Christie’s speech (my transcription):
What we need to start saying is … so when we say that we’re pro-life, and that we’re proudly pro-life, that doesn’t mean that we’re pro-life just when that human being is in the womb. We need to be pro-life when they leave the womb, as well—for every step of their lives.
What does that mean? It means we have to [have] an educational system that’s accountable so that child, as an adult, can have a world-class education. It means that we have to that we have to be in favor of a society that has opportunity and jobs for them—not one that has the government control what they think is good or fair in our society. And it means that if those children fall victim to disease—disease like drug [addiction]—we need to rehabilitate those kids. Because every life is precious. Every life is precious, no matter where they are in society. We need to be that difference.
It’s a perfect synthesis of the Koch agenda—anti-labor, and especially opposed to teachers’ unions, as well as government regulation of every kind—while appeasing the anti-choicers, whom the Kochs, as RH Reality Check has reported, rely on as their electoral foot-soldiers.