Christie Dons the Sanbenito

In case anybody was wondering if Chris Christie’s non-invitation to speak at CPAC next month stemmed from a scheduling conflict, or was merely an oversight that would soon be corrected, American Conservative Union (the group that puts on the event) chairman Al Cardenas spelled it out (via National Journal‘s Elahe Izade):

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was not invited to speak at the annual CPAC conference this year because he broke with conservatives on key issues over the past year, according to American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas.

Cardenas, whose group organizes the conference, wrote in an e-mail to National Journal that while CPAC was “proud” to invite Christie last year based on his record of balancing the budget and taking on teachers unions, Christie’s record over the past year is far less conservative.

“CPAC is like the all-star game for professional athletes; you get invited when you have had an outstanding year,” Cardenas said. “Hopefully he will have another all-star year in the future, at which time we will be happy to extend an invitation. This is a conservative conference, not a Republican Party event.”

Cardenas cited Christie’s decision to expand Medicaid under President Obama’s health care law and his support of a $60 billion aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims, which he argued was filled with wasteful spending.

Cardenas chose a sports metaphor for this action; I guess he’d say Christie is in the “penalty box” or has been sent to the minors for a rehab tour. But I think the better analogy, given the conservative movement’s commitment to rigid ideological orthodoxy and CPAC’s informal role as its enforcer, is to the Spanish Inquisition’s practice of forcing non-capital offenders to publicly wear penitential garment, known as the sanbenito, so that his or her shame would be known to the entire community. Indeed, the conical hat often worn along with the sanbenito may have been the original source of the “dunce cap” worn by students shamed for their ignorance or sloth.

In any event, I suggest this analogy because despite Cardenas’ suggestion that Christie just needs to cool his heels in the anteroom of the conservative movement, at some point, if he wants the opportunity to run for president, he’ll probably have to make a full recantation of his sins, or at least develop a compelling lie about them like Mitt Romney’s agonized effort to distinguish Romneycare from Obamacare. It’s not enough to obey the rules of the “true conservatives.” Those with national ambitions in the Republican Party must also (and often!) sing hymns of praise to the secular faith that must live and reign forever and ever, amen!

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.