Why Christie's Persona Will Play Well in the Rest of America
Forget the acceptance speech. If you want an example of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's imposing political IQ, watch the nine-minute impromptu speech he delivered in Sea Bright a few days before the election. The impeccable populist instincts that make Christie such a formidable politician were all in play — authenticity, empathy, combativeness.
It's the latter that is the most widely discussed aspect of Christie's political persona. It involves the gruff New York-area politico with the disposition of a Teamster. This is a guy who will look you in the eyes when he calls you on your BS. It's the guy who reacts to Warren Buffett's pleas for higher tax rates by saying, "Yeah, well, he should just write a check and shut up." It's the guy who tells a pestering liberal law student that he's an "idiot." ("I mean, damn, man, I'm governor. Could you shut up for a minute?") The guy who calls a former White House doctor, the one who suggested that he lose weight, a "hack" and, yes, tells her to just "shut up."
Christie wants a lot of people to shut up. The right people, usually.
Will the bluntness work on the national stage? That's the question a lot of people are asking. When he runs for president, will the average Minnesotan or Coloradan find this character refreshing? Boorish? Exotic?
Growing up in the NYC area, I am certainly familiar with the Christie type. And those with a similar upbringing will also recognize the cadence, the mannerisms and demeanor. Christie is the counter guy at the local deli who acts as if he's doing you a favor — "Hey, guy, what do you need?" He's busy. He's got important things to do — or at least a lot more important than whatever you're whining about. Attack is his default position when challenged.
The flipside is his gregarious nature. And as often as we hear about Christie's yelling at some union mouthpiece, he's less famously engaging voters in an earnest way.
So what happens when Christie starts telling Midwesterners — people who live in states where they smile at you for no particular reason or say hi to you on the street even if they've never met you — to shut their pie holes?
There are many reasons Christie may never be president, but his manner is not one of them. One liberal columnist claimed that Americans will be turned off by Christie's "famous bullying of ordinary citizens." This was exactly what liberals were telling us would happen in New Jersey. It never did. Maybe that's because what he's really famous for is confronting political adversaries as an ordinary citizen would — or wishes he or she could. Certainly, that's part of his appeal. Maybe it's refreshing. It's the frankness that validates the authenticity. Anyway, how likely is it that voters in Arizona or Virginia will be more appalled by Christie's conduct than the voters (more than 55 percent of them women) in Democratic Party-heavy New Jersey, who've seen him up close for years?
There are few things an elected official works harder at than pretending to be a "real" person. Christie is comfortable playing himself. It doesn't feel as if he's reaching for a mental cue card with talking points every time he answers a question. And when he doesn't want to answer a question, Christie tells you, "It's none of your business." Lawyer, lobbyist, governor, perhaps, but the perception is that he is as real as real gets in major league politics. Even when you disagree with him, you rarely dislike him. That kind of public currency goes a long way.
He may not be what conservatives want, but he may be what they need.