New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie received high marks for his fighting address at the Republican National Committee meeting Thursday in Boston, and even its most conservative members told Newsmax they forgive him for what is known in GOP shorthand as "The Hug."
Many Republicans condemned Christie when he embraced President Barack Obama in November as they toured the damage wreaked by Superstorm Sandy, saying it gave the president an important boost over Mitt Romney on the eve of the presidential election.
But almost to a person, RNC members who spoke to Newsmax following Christie's address said they have put "The Hug" behind them and offered strong praise for his remarks and the possibility of a Christie presidential run in 2016.
"Oh man, my family went through [Hurricane] Katrina in '05 and I sure understand how traumatic it is for a state and its people when a natural disaster hits," Louisiana State Chairman Roger Villere Jr. told Newsmax. "Gov. Christie was doing everything he could to help his state during Sandy. So do I mind him embracing Obama under the circumstances? No, not at all."
Villere emphasized that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal "is my guy" for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. But, he added, "If Gov. Jindal didn't run, Gov. Christie is sure someone I would look at positively."
South Carolina's Matt Moore — at 31, the youngest GOP state chairman in the nation — recalled that "New Jersey had been through a tragedy. Gov. Christie had to do what was best for his state. Do I understand it? Sure."
"If my state was ravaged the way New Jersey was and I knew the president was going to provide disaster relief, I would not only have hugged Obama, I would've kissed him," said District of Columbia GOP Chairman Ron Phillips, once an aide to former Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and a supporter of Newt Gingrich for president in 2012.
Asked if Christie could be an attractive candidate in parts of the country outside the Northeast, Phillips shot back: "You bet he'd be. He's not Mitt Romney, who doesn't have a hair out of place and looks as though he stepped out of [GQ]. He looks and talks like a regular guy, and that is appealing everywhere. If Christie runs, he's a candidate I'd strongly consider backing for nomination."
Christie's speech was behind closed doors and off-limits to reporters. But once the address was over — and Christie had left the Westin Waterfront Hotel without taking reporters' questions — RNC members who heard him made it clear to Newsmax they liked what he said.
Virginia Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell — a conservative leader as far back as 1964, when he was the youngest convention delegate for Barry Goldwater — told Newsmax that Christie "tells it like it was. He drew a distinction between public-sector unions and private-sector unions and pointed out that 30-odd building-trade unions are supporting him for re-election this fall."
On the other side of the ideological spectrum was New Hampshire Committeeman Steve Duprey, who backed liberal Republican Rep. Pete McCloskey of California in his 1972 primary challenge to President Richard Nixon and was a leader in his state for John McCain in the 2008 and 2012 GOP primaries.
Duprey also praised Christie's speech, saying he "really drew cheers when he recalled how he's not afraid to take on public-employee unions. And we liked when he said the way to succeed in politics is to say what you're going to do and do it."
Stressing that he must remain neutral in the 2016 race because of his party office, Duprey did say he "liked when Gov. Christie said people would disagree with him and that when you want someone who will agree with you all the time, 'Look in the mirror.'"
"In many ways he's like John McCain at all those town meetings. I was with him in the New Hampshire primaries in '08 and '12. He's not afraid to tell people when he doesn't agree with them," Duprey said.
Headed toward what looks like a landslide re-election this year, Christie is nonetheless not fully trusted as a presidential candidate by many on the right in his party. But judging from the response to his remarks in Boston, he has put the distrust stemming from "The Hug" behind him.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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