Tonight, Chris Christie will take the podium at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and give a speech on leadership, an event that some Republicans hope will turn into the launch of a bid for the GOP presidential nomination.  With Rick Perry taking a beating from the Right and Mitt Romney gamely holding onto his co-frontrunner status, some conservatives see Christie as a potential white-knight candidate.  New York Magazine’s Dan Amira takes a look at Christie’s record — and wonders whether Christie would solve any of the problems in the race, or compound them:

Did you hear the news? Chris Christie is going to save the Republicans from Rick Perry, who was supposed to save them from Mitt Romney but turned out to be a completely inept debater and a traitor on issues like illegal immigration and injecting little girls with mental retardation. Now, granted, Christie has said a hundred times that he isn’t ready to run for president and won’t do it. He’s even threatened to kill himself to show how serious he is. But with Perry proving himself less than ideal, the never-satisfied GOP elite is once again pining for a conservative savior who can unite the party (or at least the anti-Romney faction of the party) and defeat President Obama. According to various reports, Christie is telling donors that, public refusals notwithstanding, he’s open to reconsidering.

But if conservatives think Christie is the answer to their every prayer, they may be making the same mistake they made with Perry — allowing themselves to become enamored with the idea of Christie, while overlooking who he actually is. Conservatives know the New Jersey governor is a straight-talker who slashes budgets and takes on the public unions and yells at people on YouTube. Which is all great, obviously. But on some issues, Republican primary voters would be in for a rude awakening.

Interestingly, the list of issues looks a lot like the same issues on which conservatives are hammering Perry.  For instance, on immigration, Christie has insisted that the US has to come up with “a clear path to citizenship.”  As Amira notes, we already have a clear path to citizenship for legal immigrants, so this sounds more like an amnesty approach — a conservative heresy that Perry hasn’t committed.  Christie has also called illegal immigration an “administrative manner” rather than a crime, and proved it as a US Attorney with an unusually thin record of prosecutions in this area, which made Lou Dobbs lament Christie’s record as “an utter embarrassment.”

How about gun rights, another bedrock conservative principle?  Even Democrats don’t argue for gun control any longer, but Christie made the case for gun control at the state level — and on Sean Hannity’s show, no less, in October 2009.  Perry has come out adamantly against changing energy policy to accommodate “climate change,” while Christie says he believes that humans are changing the climate and says “it’s time to defer to the experts.”  Rick Perry and Mitt Romney traded jabs over Romney’s arguable support for Race to the Top, but Christie called Obama “a great ally” in education and applied to join the Race to the Top program.

So what would happen if Christie jumped into the race?  Well, the debates would certainly get more entertaining.  All of those who have launched attacks on Perry would have a new front open to them.  Christie’s position would inevitably make Perry and Romney look more conservative by comparison.

In truth, governing means having to do a significant amount of horse trading in order to win on overall goals and directions.  Christie would be no different than Perry or Romney in having to defend his record — except that his record seems to be even more divergent from the two front runners, and more problematic for a base that seems dissatisfied with them over arguably smaller heterodoxies.  Christie is smart enough to know this, and I suspect that the only news we’ll hear from tonight’s speech on leadership is that Christie intends to apply those principles exclusively in the Garden State for the foreseeable future.