When he hugs Barack Obama just before an election and publicly criticizes Speaker John Boehner (all to help his constituents, of course), he becomes more popular at the expense of the Republican brand. He is effectively saying, “I’m not like them.” This buys him cover — enough cover to enact conservative policies at home.
And it’s not just the public who loves this maneuver — the media laps it up.
Unfortunately, this model doesn’t translate to the national level. At least, it hasn’t so far. Just ask John McCain. The press adored the maverick in 2000 when he attacked “agents of intolerance” on the right. McCain lost.
Eight years later, the press would turn on McCain — an outcome many believe will eventually repeat itself if and when Christie tacks right to win a primary — and then becomes a serious threat to win the presidency (and defeat a liberal Democrat) in the general election.