The blustery, bigger-than-life New Jersey governor rubs many women the wrong way. Michelle Cottle on how his wife—a cute, approachable, working mom—could soften his image in 2012.
Chris Christie is having quite the moment, with random citizens at public events begging him to run for president. The Republican establishment, such as it is, has thrown itself at his feet.
But you know how we know the GOP is getting really, really serious about pushing Christie into the race? The New York Post reports that former First Lady Barbara Bush recently placed an encouraging call to his wife Mary Pat to say: Don’t rule it out, dearie. Life in the White House isn’t as nightmarish as you think.
New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie, wife of Gov. Chris Christie, is seen in the crowd prior to the governor's budget address on Feb. 22, 2011, in Trenton, N.J. (Julio Cortez / AP Photo)
Everyone recognizes that these days, a key factor in a politician’s decision to mount a presidential bid is whether or not the missus is on board. After all, her life is just as likely as his to be ruined by a White House bid, and four years with a dangerously brassed off first lady is more than most men are prepared to handle.
In Christie’s case, however, the full and enthusiastic participation of his mate would be even more vital than for many candidates, because, well, the governor ain’t much of a ladies’ man, politically speaking.
In these angry, scary times, Christie has many obvious charms: He is big, brash, confrontational, and glaringly authentic—everything Barack Obama is not. At the same time, the governor doesn’t come across as a flake, a hatemonger, or a total nutjob. All things considered, who wouldn’t love a guy like that?
I’ll tell you who: Women.
Obviously I don’t mean all women. There are plenty of gals among the Republican masses pining for Christie. At a town hall earlier this year, one female admirer made news by declaring the governor “hot and sexy.”
The New Jersey governor suddenly has the political world guessing. Lois Romano on why he’s dropped the proclamations that he’s not ready to be president.
Let’s be clear: Chris Christie is not likely to run for president because he hasn’t lost the requisite weight needed to mount a campaign. Neither has the New Jersey governor started jogging publicly with his security detail to show how fit he is. So I say he does not go.
President Barack Obama walks with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Newark, N.J., as they returned from Paterson, N.J., after viewing damage caused by Hurricane Irene, Sept. 4, 2011. (Charles Dharapak / AP Photo )
Which brings us to the current frenzy: After the man has unequivocally declared countless times that he isn’t ready to be president, why are Republicans salivating that he might jump into the mix? And why are the media stalking a man who has said he likes his life as it is, and even jokingly threatened to kill himself to put the speculation to rest?
We are chasing him all over the country, parsing every word not uttered, and scrutinizing how he enters a room. Very wealthy men are calling on him to run, and The Wall Street Journal editorial page has added its voice of encouragement. His brother and father, neither of whom seem to know any more than we do, have weighed in, along with every pundit in America.
“For both the media and the politicos, the candidate always looks greener on the other side of the fence,” says Dan Schnur, a former aide to John McCain and now head of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “There’s nothing new to say about Mitt Romney, and the media are running out to of things to say about Rick Perry. Christie is the new kid.”
So hysterical is the chatter that one almost expected him to make a surprise announcement during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library on Tuesday night. He did not—but it sure sounded as if his “absolutely not” had morphed into “maybe absolutely not.”
“Your country needs you,” one woman pleaded.
“I’m just a kid from Jersey who feels like I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have the opportunity that I have to be the governor of my state,” Christie responded. “That heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. That reason has to reside inside me.”
At a Newsweek/Daily Beast breakfast, the mayor of Newark talked about the president’s jobs speech, the perils of ideological divide, and his relationship with Gov. Chris Christie. By Christopher Dickey.
Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, is a star in the Democratic Party, but these days he’s warning that “the parties” – and he’s talking about both the Democrats and the Republicans – “have hijacked our democracy.” The public is cynical, he said. The parties are more interested in partisanship than in solving the great problems facing the nation. And as a result, said Booker, good ideas in President Barack Obama’s jobs speech on Thursday night might amount to nothing more than “screaming into the wind.”
"I thought he was great," Booker said of Obama. "I thought he was right on on the important points. But the question is...will anything come of it? And it’s unfortunate that we have a political process right now that has created just cynicism, as I see, [that's] just pervasive in my generation, person after person just surrendering to the cynicism about our government."
Taylor Hill / Getty Images
“There is just too much of a damned crisis right now for partisanship,” Booker told a small breakfast meeting at the offices of Newsweek and The Daily Beast. “This isn’t World War II, but just imagine for a second during World War II if you had the kind of hyper-partisanship where our leaders couldn’t get things done,” said Booker. In Newark, unemployment is over 14 percent and people are confronted every day with poverty, with ignorance, with pain. “My generation won’t be called to storm beaches in Normandy,” said Booker, who is 42. “The great crisis of my generation is making this American economy work again.”
At the local and state level, where government is closer to the people and either delivers services or doesn’t, politicians may still find ways to cross that partisan divide to get things done. The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, is a Republican star. But Booker says he and Christie have found common ground on critical issues.
Cory Booker discusses how he gets along so well with Chris Christie.
Even before Christie was elected in 2009, he joined Booker one night on a citizen patrol driving through some of the most dangerous corners of Newark. As they rode through those mean streets in the dark, they talked about how people would try to pit them against each other. Instead, then and there they found areas where they could agree: education, economic growth, and public safety.
Cory Booker reacts to President Obama's jobs speech.
His brash hurricane performance only stoked some Republicans’ belief that the N.J. governor is the man to beat Obama. But Christie tells John Avlon he doesn’t “feel it.”
“You’re done. It’s 4:30 p.m. You’ve maximized your tan,” he bellowed from behind a podium, flanked by state officials. Early the next morning, as the storm hit New Jersey, leaving half a million residents without power, Christie stood vigil at an emergency-operations center, giving updates to the Sunday shows. Days later he was still on the scene, touring flooded areas as rivers swelled, in full view of TV cameras.
“We’re not out of the woods yet regarding this storm,” Gov. Chris Christie told a crowd in Manville, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP Photos)
Critics say Christie’s tactics were typically heavy-handed and self-aggrandizing. Supporters turned “get the hell off the beach” into a rallying cry, adding to his reputation as the un-Obama: unapologetic, unceremonial, and unmistakably in charge.
It seems that every move Christie makes these days is accompanied by the drumbeats of a draft movement. Billionaire businessmen, conservative commentators, and grassroots Tea Party enthusiasts—they’ve all been begging him to get in the 2012 presidential race, despite his repeated resistance.
“It’s incredibly flattering,” Christie says, “but I’ve been pretty clear about it. I know what I want do and what I don’t want to do.” Rarely has a fat man tried harder not to get a date.
Less than two years ago, Christie was barely a blip on the national political radar screen—just a U.S. attorney with 130 successful prosecutions, 125 Springsteen shows and 300-plus pounds under his belt. But the seeker is never as popular as the sought, and petitioners point out that the last rookie New Jersey governor pushed into a presidential run was Woodrow Wilson in 1912—precisely 100 years ago. This, they argue, is Chris Christie’s moment.
Gov. Chris Christie has mastered the politics of austerity. Can Obama learn from his success?
You wouldn’t know it from looking at them, or hearing them talk, or hearing people talk about them, but Barack Obama and Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, have a lot in common. Both were elected in the midst of the Great Recession. Both inherited a post-apocalyptic mess from a predecessor of the opposing party. Both sold themselves to voters as truth-telling change agents. And both plan to spend 2011 tackling the same thorny issues: education reform, public-pension stabilization, and long-term debt reduction. During the 2009 campaign, one Christie commercial even showed his supporters cheering and waving signs as a stirring Obama speech played on the soundtrack.
Yet with economic growth in a near stall, unemployment approaching 10 percent, and experts warning of a double-dip recession, Obama is struggling to recover from the worst midterm rout in 65 years—while Christie, 48, is more popular than ever. A November Quinnipiac poll shows that 51 percent of New Jerseyites approve of the governor’s performance, compared with only 38 percent who don’t—a spread that has grown 12 points since June. Videos of Christie dressing down critics have captivated the conservative blogosphere. Glenn Beck has compared him to “common-sense porn.” And Rush Limbaugh recently pondered whether it was “wrong to love another man, because I love Chris Christie.” Even the mainstream media have begun to fall for the hefty governor. Last week he scored an East Coast–elite hat trick: a big story in New York magazine, a guest spot on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and (full disclosure) a NEWSWEEK correspondent at his town-hall event in Hackettstown, N.J., to report a profile. In contrast, the president’s disapproval rating (49 percent) now exceeds his approval (45 percent).
There are many reasons Christie is outpacing Obama. In the Garden State, a governor can pass his agenda without a Senate supermajority, and he doesn’t have to endure the same radioactive levels of scrutiny and vitriol as the commander in chief. But Christie’s success isn’t solely circumstantial. As his time in Trenton has proved, and as last week’s event in Hackettstown confirmed, it’s also the product of his distinctive approach to governing.
The easiest way to understand why Christie has flourished and why Obama has faltered is to look at the jobs they held before entering politics. From January 2002 to December 2008, Christie served as New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor; earlier, Obama spent 12 years as a constitutional-law professor at the University of Chicago. Today, Christie leads like the prosecutor he once was, identifying the crime, fingering the culprit, and methodically building a case designed to convince a jury of his peers. “Christie is who he is,” says Ruth Mandel, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. “If you spend years exercising your biceps, those are muscles you’re going to have.” Obama, meanwhile, leads like a professor, examining all angles of an issue and seeking evolutionary change by consensus. There are strengths and weaknesses in both approaches. But in an age of anger and austerity, Obama may have more to learn from Christie than the other way around.
The first lesson of Christie’s success: keep it simple. Within minutes of lumbering into Hackettstown’s American Legion Blue Ridge Post 164, Christie has managed to sum up his agenda in less than 140 characters. “We’re spending too much, borrowing too much, and taxing too much,” he says. “We need to spend less, borrow less, and tax less.” The capacity crowd applauds. It’s an easy message to grasp. After all, who’s to say Trenton shouldn’t respond to the fiscal crisis the same way families do?
Of course, the policy reality is more complex; most economists agree, for example, that government should spend more during a recession, not less. But Christie’s rhetoric creates a neat frame around his entire agenda: capping property-tax growth at 2 percent a year; slashing $820 million in education spending; demanding that state employees contribute to their pension and health-insurance programs. “People understand why Christie is doing what he’s doing, even if they don’t always agree with every detail,” Mandel says. “That’s a valuable thing.” Obama boasts about the size and scope of his accomplishments and refuses to reduce complex challenges to catchy soundbites. But in Hackettstown, Christie shows that he’s comfortable with strategic simplicity, mocking Trenton lawmakers for obsessing over bills about “foreign dentures” while the “hard issues” go unaddressed. At a time when voters are wary of government overreach, it may be the savvier approach.
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