The findings of a Rutgers-Eagleton survey on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie released last week showed the governor’s favorability numbers taking a nosedive, 42 percent of NJ voters approving and 52 percent disapproving of his performance in office. A far cry, this, from those salad days when, back in 2013, he was seeking a second term and, he would later admit, was looking to “run up the score” against his opponent as he and his retinue tried to bolster what they saw as presidential credentials in the man. True, the Bridgegate scandal that erupted in early 2014 wasn’t exactly what Christie needed while trying to enhance his presidential prospects. But, as we’ve previously said here, with or without Bridgegate, realizing those grand ambitions was always going to be more challenging than Christie and his cheering section imagined.
It’s amazing that one quality in a guy could at once be regarded as cute and saleable by sycophants and recognized by a more objective gaze as a deal killer in any quest for widespread public affection. After he first became governor, a major piece in what the Christie camp thought to be their route to bigger things was a calculated marketing of their guy via his famous town hall meetings across the state. That the much touted videos of these “performances” invariably included boorish and/or insulting Christie putdowns of common or garden variety Jerseyites evidently contributed, in the view of the Christie promoters, to how special the governor was. In the real world we watched, dumbstruck, these recurring poor-taste displays. And we knew full well that the idea of offering this unseemly stuff as prelude to a presidency could only come from wackos.
The Rutgers poll reported that 20 percent of respondents cited Christie’s personality as an important factor framing their negative rating for the governor. Respondents were quoted as having used terms like “arrogance,” “rudeness” and “abrasive” in forming their judgments. We don’t know whether either in the earlier elected position of county legislator or later in the role of U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, to which George W. Bush appointed him, Christie demonstrated the churlishness that would be so front and center as governor. Perhaps by the time of his run for governor in 2010, anti-Jon Corzine (the incumbent) sentiment was so deep-seated with the electorate, it trumped any off-color vibe Christie emitted. Whatever, Christie certainly seems to have found his assumption of gubernatorial office a dandy time, if not before, to unleash the full personality package.
It bordered on surreal. Christie in full flight, via those town hall videos, might give us a “Shut up and sit down” leveled at some poor slob wishing to engage the governor about some matter. We might hear him tell a questioner that where the governor’s children went to school was none of her business. We might see the guv get hot under the collar or on his high horse when someone attempted to raise an issue, maybe already making news, about which any resident of the state was perfectly entitled to inquire. Or we might see Christie, in town halls and elsewhere, warming to what seemed one of his favorite things – spewing remorseless hostility toward, of all people, the state’s educators.
It’s difficult to come up with rationale for why masterminds of the Christie marketing operation didn’t see the derailment potency of these ongoing exhibitions. For that matter, it’s mystifying that Christie himself, who reportedly had his eyes on a political career from quite early, would consider the patented rudeness and abrasiveness mentioned in the polling data useful assets as he charged forward. That’s some major hubris, if Christie and his minions felt he had enough going otherwise to neutralize the highly toxic element in the package.
Then of course there was the Bridgegate mess. Again, one can’t fathom why Christie would be convinced that his mere insistence of non-participation in or planning of that insidious closure of Washington Bridge lanes was enough for his accusers and the public to “move on.” Folks in the very inner sanctum of his office operation being evidently involved in that episode of political dirty tricks unbeknownst to him, even if true, is hardly flattering to the governor’s hands-on, take-care-of-business creds. A politician hoping to take the ultimate career leap can’t realistically expect to not be tarred by rivals as incompetent or worse, in the face of a Bridgegate type plot hatched right under his nose.
The crystal ball picture may not have changed with dramatic quickness after the porous nature of Christie’s so-called ascent became exposed, but with time his 2016 White House viability has settled into where it rightly belongs. On the personality thing, Christie denies being a “bully” whenever that discussion comes up. And in his understanding of the term, he honestly may not think himself a bully. Just as honestly should he concede that he’s definitely not presidential.