WASHINGTON (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie's decision to stop fighting gay marriage in New Jersey was pragmatic — same sex weddings had already begun and a court warned that the state would have little chance of overturning them. But the move also reflects Christie's bid to cast himself as leader of a welcoming GOP as he seeks re-election and ponders a White House bid.
Friends and foes describe the move simply as Christie being Christie.
The tell-it-like-it-is governor is signaling that he won't be intimidated by a vocal conservative minority that usually wields great influence in Republican presidential politics. And with political divisions deepening in the Republican Party, Christie is betting his political future that the GOP and the nation ultimately would embrace an unapologetic compromiser capable of attracting a broad coalition of voters — as he's expected to do in gubernatorial voting in two weeks.
There are clear risks.
While national public opinion is evolving, Republicans who oppose gay marriage traditionally dominate GOP politics in early-voting states on the presidential calendar such as Iowa and South Carolina.
"Abandoning foundational principles that go beyond politics is not the way to get positive attention in South Carolina," said Bob McAlister, a veteran South Carolina-based Republican strategist, adding that Christie's latest move "is absolutely going to hurt him."
Christie remains personally opposed to gay marriage.
He vetoed a bill approved by the legislature last year to legalize the practice. When a trial-level judge ruled last month that the state must allow same-sex couples to wed, Christie appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court.
The high court agreed to take up the case but unanimously refused to delay the start of gay weddings in the meantime, saying the state had little chance of prevailing in its appeal. And just hours after gay couples began exchanging vows on Monday, Christie announced that he was withdrawing his appeal.