If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is preparing to run for the Republican nomination in 2016, he's borrowing from Jon Huntsman's playbook. On Tuesday, Christie announced that New Jersey would implement the Medicaid expansion called for under Obamacare in an address to the state legislature. "Let me be clear, I am no fan of the Affordable Care Act," he said. "But in this instance, expanding Medicaid by 104,000 citizens in a program that already serves 1.4 million, is the smart thing to do for our fiscal and public health." While the Democratic-controlled legislature gave Christie a standing ovation for the move, the organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference have not invited Christie to appear at their gathering next month.
This sort-of-kind-of good feelings with Democrats coupled with distrust from conservatives is familiar. We watched Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and Obama's ambassador to China, go through it in his unsuccessful 2012 primary run. So if Christie wants to repeat, he is going to need to find a way to add Winning to the formula. It is accepted among pundits that the Republican Party has to change to win national elections. But Republicans tend to be unhappy with people who do some changing. Christie first became a conservative fan favorite after Glenn Beck touted a series of YouTubes in which Christie yelled at teachers, reporters, and other hostile questioners over his budget plans. But turning that tough love against the GOP has proved harder for conservatives to stomach. Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, jokingly poked at Republicans, like when he tweeted, "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." He did not come close to winning any Republican primaries in 2008. And yet, look at how many things in common Huntsman has with one of the top 2016 contenders:
They both can work across the aisle: Christie said very nice things about President Obama during Hurricane Sandy (that is reportedly why he didn't get invited to CPAC). Huntsman said nice things about Obama when he was Obama's ambassador to China.
They both were not totally completely opposed to all of Obamacare. Christie's taking the Medicad expansion money. Huntsman said he wouldn't repeal Obamacare, but take a "careful assessed approach."
They both have a pop culture sensibility that's attractive to middle-aged Washington people: Christie is obsessed with 80s legend Bruce Springsteen. Huntsman is obsessed with 80s non-legends of prog rock.
All very attractive, bipartisan positions. Again, Huntsman won zero primaries.