Chris Christie: Closet Moderate?

Gov. Christie used a speech at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., to talk up the "leadership and compromise" he said he had overseen in Trenton. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Tea Party-style Republicans love Chris Christie. He's blunt and loud, conveys anger really well, and that is what is animating the grassroots of the GOP these days. He has slashed state spending and batted around public-employee unions like a kitten with a ball of yarn.

And Christie oozes leadership, which is why many GOP elites turn their lonely eyes to him, begging for salvation from the problems of the field of announced candidates. Rick Perry's tanking and Mitt Romney is...Mitt Romney.

But some of Christie's positions violate conservative orthodoxy, and he's apt to look a little less like a shiny messiah after other candidates rake him over the coals with oppo-research emails and beat on him in debates.

Being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime," U.S. Attorney Chris Christie said in 2008, speaking at a Latino church. "The whole phrase of 'illegal immigrant' connotes that the person, by just being here, is committing a crime.” He said that it is against the law, a civil wrong, but not something the U.S. Attorney's Office should be prosecuting. At another point, Christie spoke of a "path to citizenship" - the kind of immigration reform that President George W. Bush tried and failed to get through Congress, and that John McCain supported until he was in the 2008 GOP primary and had to airbrush that from his record.

Perry was clobbered for opposing a border fence and because Texas offers in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants.

Christie once supported abortion rights, until his wife, Mary Pat, was pregnant with their first child, Sarah, now a teenager. Most social conservatives will not hold this conversion against him, but it's possible that the most ardent pro-life activists who are very powerful in Iowa would.

Also, the guy has said that he believes man-made global warming is real, not something made up by devious bureaucrats to destroy the U.S. economy with pollution controls. "When you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts," Christie said last month. Now, the governor said this as he vetoed a bill that would have made New Jersey part of a regional "cap-and-trade" compact, so maybe he can finesse it, but...

Last year, Christie decried politicians' (many Republican) using the ground-zero mosque proposal as a "political football" to exploit anti-Muslim emotions stirred up by the 9/11 attacks. More recently he ripped critics of his appointment to a judgeship of a Muslim attorney who had defended a cleric accused of terrorist sympathies. "I'm tired of dealing with the crazies," he said.

These deviations might be reassuring to independents, but Republican primary voters? Remains to be seen, if he does run.