To put Christie’s appeal in perspective, it’s worth noting that conservatism’s main challenge lies not in a sea of particulars on issues that will fade, but in the ability to outline just how and why collectivism and top-heavy bureaucracy diminish the public good. Obama just overcame a litany of broken promises on unity and economic recovery by caricaturing conservatism as a narrow defense of privilege that doesn’t bat an eyelash at that larger public interest. To minimize his success as pandering or slick talk misses the degree to which Obama has put the right on the defensive.

Christie at his best (see that Reagan library speech) counters by describing the weak foundations of Obama’s liberalism: the low respect for individual capacity, the fecklessness on debt, the timidity in defending democratic values abroad. He matches the case we all can recite on slow growth and overreach with a strike at the softness and emptiness of Obama’s philosophy.

There can’t be enough advocates on the right who talk that way. It is why a liberal press is so eager to read Christie out of the Republican conversation. He puts too many points on the board for us to play into their game.