Last week, I expressed my surprise that Republican leadership didn’t follow the plan last year for the opposition response to the State of the Union address by having Chris Christie deliver a riposte about government spending from the New Jersey legislature.   Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell did a good job in framing the GOP response from the state’s Assembly, which allowed for better optics than the usual ten-minute speech from a closed office.  Yesterday, The Star Ledger reported that Republicans did ask Christie to do just that — and that Christie refused:

New Jersey has a rising Republican star in the Statehouse, and a Democratic president about to give a State of the Union address. But history won’t repeat itself this year — even though Republicans were interested in making that happen.

William Palatucci, Gov. Chris Christie’s close personal and political confidante, told The Auditor that Republican leadership had inquired with the governor about rebutting President Obama’s big speech on Tuesday.

“They tried to see if there was some interest, and there wasn’t any,” Palatucci said.
He said Christie wants to stick to New Jersey.

“The governor is in the midst of his legislative agenda,” Palatucci said. “There’s no reason to try to get involved in federal issues.”

That sounds a little strange for an explanation.  Christie has had no trouble speaking on national issues of spending and waste during the last couple of years, perhaps even especially over the last twelve months.  He usually relates those issues to what he faces in New Jersey, but there is little doubt that Christie has pursued a national-media strategy during his tenure in office to push hard against public-sector unions, entrenched pension obligations, and the sense of entitlement to taxpayer money that legislators seem to have adopted.

Some of the reluctance to speak out now might have something to do with Christie’s desire to tamp down speculation over a presidential run in 2012.  It may also have to do with another controversy surrounding a judicial appointment, at least among conservatives:

Last week, the pundits on talk radio and in the conservative blogosphere were asking the same question posed by Augustine, a retiree from Cedar Grove. All were busy blasting Gov. Chris Christie for betraying his conservative beliefs by handing a judgeship to a lawyer who has defended Islamic terror suspects.

In defense of Christie, let me ask my own question: What conservative beliefs? …

Steve Emerson, a nationally known expert on Islamic extremism, was critical of the nominee and his sometime-client, Muhammed Qatanani, an imam from Paterson who is in the midst of a long legal fight against deportation to the Palestinian territories.

Emerson wrote that “Qatanani has a history of Hamas support and was related by marriage to a leading Hamas operative in the West Bank.” When Christie was U.S. attorney, Emerson wrote, he embraced Qatanani at a Ramadan breakfast.

Shocking? Not to anyone who has a clue about Christie. His relationship with Qatanani is entire in keeping with his politics.

The judicial nomination is for a county court, a low-ranking appointment for someone who apparently has had a political relationship with Christie for some time.  As Paul Mulshine writes, lawyers defend all sorts of people, and the state Senate can ask some probing questions as to why Sohail Mohammed chose to represent Qatanani for so long.  New Jersey voters can ask Christie why he embraced Qatanani himself, although Mulshine probably diagnoses that one correctly, too: “Qatanani is the type of imam adored by politicians trying to prove their multicultural bona fides.”  The Bush administration had Anwar al-Awlaki up to the Pentagon not long after 9/11 for the same reason, it should be remembered.

Still, this goes to executive judgment, and with this question being hotly debated, perhaps it’s best that Christie turned down the invitation.