If we’re going to burn Christie in RINO effigy, we might as well have lots of gasoline for the fire.

In the interview, Mr. Christie said intelligent voices were being drowned out in Washington, and described the effort led by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to cut off funding for President Obama’s health care program as “a monumental failure.”…

Mr. Christie’s national profile will only increase later this month as he assumes leadership of the Republican Governors Association, which gives him sway over which state candidates the party will support, allowing him to rack up favors with other Republicans and create relationships with local leaders in key presidential states.

In the interview, Mr. Christie said he would be appearing frequently in “places like Ohio and Michigan and Florida,” all states with incumbent Republican governors up for re-election next year. He has also told South Carolina Republicans that he wants to help Senator Lindsey Graham, who is facing a conservative primary challenge next year. And in New Hampshire, which has the country’s first presidential primary, the national committeeman, Stephen Duprey, said he was inviting Mr. Christie to the state to discuss policy and to raise money for the party.

Why would the head of the Republican Governors Association go to bat for a U.S. senator … who hails from one of the key presidential primary states? Oh. Oh. Still, I think there’s more to this than Christie just wanting face time with Carolina voters and a grateful surrogate locally. Backing a pro-amnesty, super-hawkish incumbent like Graham is his way of brand-building. He knows he’s not going to win tea partiers in 2016, especially with Paul and (maybe) Ted Cruz in the mix, so here’s his chance to impress centrists and the donor class by showing them he’s not afraid to do battle with the right, even if it means helping one of grassroots righties’ Most Wanted to another term in the Senate. And if things go badly wrong in SC and Graham is overwhelmed by conservatives in the primary, that’ll be a message to Christie that he needs to tack right in 2015 during the presidential primaries to make amends.

There’s actually an easy way for him to hedge his bets: Tim Scott, who was appointed earlier this year to fill Jim DeMint’s Senate vacancy, will also face voters next year in a special election to determine who’ll serve out the last two years of DeMint’s term. Going to bat for him too would give Christie a bit of cover among tea partiers. And between the two of them, Christie could signal to black voters and to Latino voters, per Graham’s vocal support for immigration reform, that he wants to try to make further inroads with them after last night’s landslide. No joke:

exit

Then again, would Christie volunteer to help Scott when he refused to help Ken Cuccinelli? Probably, yeah. The reason he stayed away from Cuccinelli, I suspect, isn’t because of the association with tea partiers, it’s because he thought Cooch was a dead duck and didn’t want any part of his looming defeat spilling over and spoiling Christie’s big night. (E.g., “Does Cuccinelli’s loss prove that Christie won’t play outside New Jersey?”) Scott, however, is almost a lock to win in SC next year so campaigning for him is all upside. Christie wants to be seen as “not a tea partier,” not “anti-tea party.” You can get nominated if you’re in the first group, as we know from 2012, but maybe you can’t if you’re in the second — and even if you can, who knows how much that perception would discourage righties into staying home in the general election. This is why Christie was careful to praise the tea party in his interview with Jake Tapper yesterday and to focus his criticism on tea-party leaders like Ted Cruz instead. He doesn’t want to be seen as rejecting the movement, just certain members of it. That might be enough to keep a critical mass of conservatives on board if he makes it to the general.

Here’s Charlie Cook fantasizing on MSNBC this morning about Christie ripping a tea partier’s lungs out or something. Click the image to watch.

cco