Chris Christie’s presence at Congressman Steve King’s subtly titled Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines seemed, on the surface, somewhat odd.
Christie enjoys a reputation as a moderate conservative, while other speakers at the weekend event—Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee—are known more for their bombastic, often biblical rhetoric.
King himself is viewed as a political sideshow, known for warning of illegal immigrants who have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
A Google search for “Steve King crazy” turns up 35,700,000 results.
Republican pundit Ana Navarro, who worked on the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Jon Huntsman, wondered why Christie would be seen there: “I don’t understand why Chris Christie is at Steve King confab. Doubt he’ll gain any supporters. Quite possibly will lose some.”
But Christie’s visit wasn’t about wooing conservatives; it was about loyalty to King, his longtime ally and friend.
Christie and King’s unlikely friendship dates back at least to Christie’s first gubernatorial campaign, when King talked up and defended him to his colleagues in Washington. Since then, they have enjoyed a relationship that has seen Christie frequently jet off to Iowa for fundraisers boasting King’s name.
In 2009, Christie, who was running for governor, traveled to Washington to testify to a House judiciary subcommittee—of which King was a member—about contracts he had awarded while a United States Attorney.
In his opening remarks, King praised Christie as : “…part of the future leadership of this country, and hopefully this will enhance his ability to contribute to American society….”
Christie, it seemed, otherwise, did not have a lot of friends among the committee members, and the hearing became contentious, with Christie at one point accusing a member of making “an ethnically insensitive comment to an Italian American.”
Christie was scheduled to leave to catch his train back to New Jersey at 1:30 p.m. that day—but, when the time came, the committee leaders didn’t want him to leave. King came to his defense.
“There was an agreement with the gentleman, Mr. Chairman. Is that not correct, an agreement at 1:30?” King asked.
“Was there an agreement with Mr. Christie that he would leave at 1:30, and why would you resist that?”
Christie left the meeting.
In true Christie fashion, he called it a “political circus.”
Since being elected governor, Christie has had King’s back. He has fundraised prolifically for him since 2011, and even continued doing so after King voted against providing emergency aid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which badly damaged New Jersey.
Besides their personal friendship, there is a good case to be made that Christie needs all the practice that he can get addressing social conservatives, and King’s event was just a warm-up.
After all, Chrisie—a thoroughbred East Coast Republican—seems anything but at ease when discussing social issues.
Christie began his career as a pro-choice, pro-gun-control moderate who only had a change of heart after losing several elections in early- and mid-1990s.
When he speaks now about the types of social issues people who frequent King events want to hear about, he tends to interweave them with topics he already feels comfortable discussing. Abortion, for instance, he braids into a riff on prison reform—an issue on which he is well-versed. “You need to be pro-life after they get out of the womb,” he often says.
Back in the Capitol, King smiled when asked about his friend Chris.
“Chris Christie is a man of real character,” he said.
Overhearing King’s words as he passed down the other side of the hallway, Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold quipped, “The man is a character!”
“He will wade into something and he will hammer it out. He’s not afraid, he doesn’t flinch and he tells you what he believes. I like that… He’s very direct. When he talks, he looks you in the eye and he means it.”
“And when he makes you a promise—every time I’ve heard one—he follows through and he fulfilled it.”
Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.