At CPAC yesterday, Laura Ingraham asked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) a common question about his presidential ambitions. ”Where does social conservatism and Chris Christie live together?” the conservative media figure asked. Ingraham noted there are plenty of “strong social conservatives” in the 2016 field, and asked, “How do you compete?”
The governor replied:
“I just stand on my record. I mean, I’m pro-life. I ran as a pro-life candidate in 2009 unapologetically, spoke at the pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse. The first governor to ever speak at a pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse in New Jersey, and vetoed Planned Parenthood funding five times out of the New Jersey budget.”
Planned Parenthood, of course, has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. In fact, Christie should probably ask President Romney about the political utility of attacking the non-profit health organization*.
But even putting that aside, when Christie says he can appeal to social conservatives by standing on his “record,” that’s probably more complicated than he’d like to admit. The governor boasted yesterday that he “ran as a pro-life candidate in 2009,” but it was necessary to clarify the year because Christie has not always run as a candidate opposed to abortion rights.
For much of the 1990s, Christie was unapologetically pro-choice – and he used to brag to voters in his early elections about the personal donations he’d made to Planned Parenthood.
Olivia Nuzzi recently highlighted the evolution in Christie’s thinking.
His epiphany, he first explained a few years ago, came after a doctor’s visit in 1995 when his wife was pregnant.“When my wife was pregnant with our daughter, Sarah, who is now 15, we happened to go to one of the prenatal visits at 13 weeks,” he told Piers Morgan, then of CNN, in 2011. “They put the Doppler on my wife’s abdomen, who didn’t look at all pregnant at that point, visibly. And we heard this incredibly strong heartbeat.”“And I remember we came separately. She came from her job. I came from mine. We went back to work. And I was driving back to work, I said to myself, you know, as to my position on abortion, I would say that a week ago that wasn’t a life. And I heard that heartbeat. That’s a life. And it – it led to me having a real reflection on my position. And when I took time to reflect on it, I just said, you know what, I’m not comfortable with that anymore. That was back in 1995, and I’ve been pro-life ever since.”
It’s worth noting a couple of details Christie left out of the story. For one thing, as Nuzzi explained, his daughter wasn’t his first child. For another, the ultrasound that led the New Jersey Republican to change his mind about abortion rights was in 1995, but in 1996, there are reports of Christie still describing himself as “pro-choice.”
It’s entirely possible that Republican primary voters won’t care about any of this. After all, Mitt Romney used to describe himself as a progressive, pro-choice Republican who attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, until he completely overhauled his entire persona and adopted the exact opposite worldview. It didn’t stop the GOP from making him a presidential nominee after changing his mind.
But this is nevertheless one more thing Christie will probably have to explain as the 2016 race takes shape in earnest.
* Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but played no role in this piece.