By now, everyone knows how to do the Republican presidential hokey pokey: You put your right foot in. You take your right foot out. You put your right foot in and you shake it all about—preferably while railing against immigration reform, Obamacare, gun control, abortion, Big Government, or whatever stew of left-wing evils happens to be roiling Sean Hannity’s Facebook page that day.
Later, after assuring the base that you share its no-compromise, anti-Obama rage, you can start working to woo back the electoral center: maybe you don’t put your left foot all the way in, but you at least stop shaking the right half of your body quite so violently.
Gov. Chris Christie knows the dance. He’s watched the dance. He’s sneered at the dance. And now, as he lays the groundwork for 2016, America’s “hottest” political leader is ever so delicately attempting to choreograph his own variation.
Over the past week or so, as much of the political class luxuriated in the relative serenity of Congress’s summer recess, Christie executed a trio of policy moves on ticklish social issues that raised eyebrows across the political spectrum.
First came firearms: Friday night, the governor vetoed a variety of gun-control bills, including a ban on .50 caliber long-range rifles that he himself had proposed in the wake of last year’s Sandy Hook massacre. Gun-rights advocates expressed their delight at Christie’s about-face on the issue. Republican operatives, meanwhile, stressed the move’s political savvy. As a veteran of the presidential campaign trail reminded me, “The Second Amendment issue is one you simply cannot be on the wrong side of with base voters in early primary states.”
Lest anyone think Christie is throwing all in with the wingers, however, on Friday the governor also advocated easing access to medical marijuana for ailing children. Three days later, he ventured onto even trickier political terrain by signing a bill to outlaw so-called gay-conversion therapy for anyone under the age of 18. Whatever your position on gay rights or the toxic quackery of such treatment—which aims to turn gay folks straight and which the American Psychological Association has warned poses “critical health risks”—it takes serious stones for a Republican to support any bill that impinges upon parental rights. Veteran GOP spin doctor Mark Corallo proclaimed himself “puzzled” by Christie’s moves and mused, via email, “Not sure why he’d want to start a fight with some of the more highly motivated primary voters.”
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