Republicans have an image problem. “Only 16 percent of Americans believe the Republican Party is compassionate,” Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, told a roomful of Christian conservatives on Friday, citing a recent poll. Voters, he said, see Republicans as fighting against things and Democrats as fighting for people—and, framed in those terms, it's no surprise people tend to prefer the latter.
Such angst was a common refrain at the annual confab of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group of right-wing Christians helmed by Ralph Reed, the remarkably resilient character you may remember from the Christian Coalition (in the 1990s) or the Jack Abramoff scandal (in the 2000s). Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate, said the party’s message had grown “stale” and “out of step” with people who “don’t think we care about them.” Liberals love to talk about how Republicans haven't done much to make over the party since 2012, but no one, it seems, is more aware of this than Republicans themselves.
Into this dilemma strode New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, with a novel potential solution: liberalizing drug policy. The drug war of the past 40-plus years, Christie said, “hasn’t worked.” Instead, he said, “what works is giving those people—nonviolent drug offenders, addicts—the tools they need to be able to deal with their disease.” Christie drew a line between compassion for addicts and opposition to abortion: “I believe if you’re pro-life, as I am, you need to be pro-life for the whole life,” he said.