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Orthodoxy's downside

Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - Updated: 4:10 PM

It's a safe bet that most conservative Republicans would rush to support a political leader with the following record, especially in a traditionally Democratic state:

* Reversed a $2.2 billion deficit and brought it into balance without raising taxes, largely by reduced spending and eliminating wasteful and unaffordable programs, allowing for a projected fiscal 2014 budget surplus of $300 million.

* Bipartisan pension and benefits reforms, saving the state $120 billion over 30 years.

* Streamlining government by eliminating 5,200 government jobs.

* Vetoing tax increase bills three times while cutting taxes for job creators.

* Reforming the nation's oldest teacher tenure law by making it conditional on teacher performance in the classroom.

* Reduced property tax increases to a 21-year low and capped them at a maximum 2 percent.

There's more, but shouldn't conservative Republicans be ecstatic by this record compiled by New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie?

Not the folks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which decided not to invite one of the party's superstars to its annual gathering in Washington. Apparently, the reason had to do with Christie upsetting conservative orthodoxy by saying something nice about President Obama for approving emergency aid to distressed New Jerseyans affected by Super Storm Sandy.

I'm all for orthodoxy, which some call principle. I am orthodox in many things, but in politics compromise in the pursuit of ultimate goals does not necessarily make one a compromiser.

Gov. Chris Christie is no liberal. He is proving his ideas work, which is why, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, he has a 74 percent approval rating in one of the bluest states in the country.

Most politicians would, as they say, "kill" for a number like that, but instead CPAC organizers "killed" Christie from their list of speakers.

Conservative Republicans have a unique opportunity to present a positive, forward-looking and reform-minded agenda at a time when most voters' approval of government is scraping rock bottom. Americans are aware of the current dysfunction in Washington and may be ready for a creative message if Republicans could show them how a 21st-century model would mutually benefit themselves and the nation.

Former George W. Bush aide Peter Wehner offers some suggestions in a Commentary magazine essay:

"First, Republicans should make front-and-center their plans to reform public institutions that were designed for the needs of the mid-20th century. Our health-care and entitlement system, tax code, schools, immigration policies and regulatory regime are outdated, breaking down, and creating substantial wreckage. If I had to boil it down to a single sentence, I'd urge the GOP to develop its reputation as the party of reform and modernization. Second, Republican leaders at every level need to conduct themselves in a manner that not just reassures voters but appeals to them. As former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has put it, 'as we ask Americans to join us on such a boldly different course, it would help if they liked us, just a bit.' ... Third, Republicans must resist the temptation of defeatism, enervation and turning against the country. It is entirely within the power of the GOP to both remain principled and appeal to a majority of Americans. An intellectually self-confident party would, in fact, be energized by a challenge of this scale."

Read this line again: "It is entirely within the power of the GOP to both remain principled and appeal to a majority of Americans."

A bold agenda that does these things reflects Gov. Christie's record in New Jersey. By not inviting him to speak, CPAC invites comparison with a pessimistic and hypercritical political environment of the past. If the Republican "tent" isn't large enough for Chris Christie, then it will resemble a pup tent for some time to come.

Republicans should be focused on deconstructing failed liberalism and styling their alternative in positive terms, not rejecting one of their own. Hating President Obama is not a policy. Intellectually defeating his policies is.

CAL THOMAS is a nationally syndicated columnist.

     

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