BOSTON -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's clarion call for Republicans to renew their focus on winning and governing has been especially well received by a GOP establishment under heavy fire from a restless Tea Party base.
That a leading Republican figure and potential 2016 presidential frontrunner found it necessary to offer an aggressive, unapologetic defense of winning elections and pragmatic governance underscored how deep the GOP's internal divisions are. But for many Republicans who gathered in Boston last week for the party's summer meeting, Christie made them feel as though they finally had a vocal, influential champion after months of feeling besieged by critics within their own ranks.
Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call said Christie made the case that if Republicans don't win elections, they couldn't govern; and if they don't govern, they can't implement conservative principles. Call is working to re-energize a moribund party in a state that went from reliably Republican to Democratic bulwark, and it was clear that he appreciated Christie's subtle but unmistakable retort to activists who accuse GOP leaders of sacrificing the party's principles at the altar of winning.
"It is often a whole lot easier to say that you're principled and then be in the minority so you don't have to have the responsibility to govern. It's a heck of a lot harder to say that you're principled and that you want to see those principles advance; even if it may not 100 percent of what we want," Call told the Washington Examiner. "We don't need more voices in the wilderness, we need people who can govern and lead."
Steve Duprey, an RNC committeeman from New Hampshire and longtime GOP operative, also appreciated Christie's directness in his closed-door speech, parts of which were later provided to news organizations.
"I think it was very good of Gov. Christie to remind us that we don't get to put any Republican principles into operation unless we win the election and get the chance to govern," he said.
Christie is up for re-election in November and is expected to cruise to victory over his Democratic opponent despite New Jersey's liberal lean. And he regaled the RNC with war stories of his dealings with the state's Democratic legislature and its public sector labor unions. Only after establishing those credentials did Christie make a forceful case for why his party must focus on winning and governing.
"I'm in this business to win. I don't know why you're in it," Christie told fellow Republicans. "I think that we have some folks that believe that our job is to be college professors. Now, college professors are fine, I guess. You know, college professors basically spout out ideas that nobody ever does anything about. For our ideas to matter, we have to win because, if we don't win, we don't govern. And if we don't govern, all we do is shout into the wind. So I am going to do anything I need to do to win.
"We need to stop navel-gazing," Christie said.
Some conservatives, including elected Republican lawmakers and party activists -- many affiliated with the Tea Party -- have been highly critical of GOP leaders they believe are compromising to avoid a confrontation with Obama or congressional Democrats. These critics have openly mocked the idea of acting strategically in elections, arguing that fighting for conservative principles is more important than winning a political race.
That dynamic is now on display in the intraparty fight over whether the GOP should shut down the government if Democrats don't agree to defund Obamacare in the budget they'll take up this fall. Most Republicans see the strategy as a loser that would create a public backlash against the party. But conservative activists argue that defeating Obamacare is important enough to risk the fallout that could drag down GOP candidates in the 2014 mid-term elections.
Most RNC members who attended last week's summer meeting in Boston played down their divisions, arguing that Christie's focus on winning elections isn't anything new and doesn't accurately reflect the current state of the Republican Party.
"I personally didn't find anything out of touch with the party in [Christie's] remarks," said Georgia GOP Chairman John Padgett.