I like Chris Christie. A lot of people don’t. Especially people in the media, who find him to be crude, abrasive, dismissive and a big bully. Mainly, I think they don’t like him for the same reason they don’t like any other politician like him: He’s Republican. The hard right often complains about the “liberal media,” and for the most part I think they have a point: The fact is that the mainstream media is, by and large, liberal. Which explains how Fox News came to prominence in the first place, by giving conservatives a place to go and hear “their” side of the story.
The problem now, of course, is that the media is becoming increasingly balkanized: Fox News has gone so far off the rails showing their conservative bona fides (as anyone who saw a dazed Megyn Kelly scampering off to the network research room the night of the election in deference to Karl Rove, who sat pouting like a five-year-old that Ohio wasn’t over, can attest) that it’s emboldened that “mainstream” media to increasingly drop its own shields of impartiality. Soon, there will be no place left to go to actually hear, objectively, what the hell is going on.
Which brings me back to Chris Christie. The governor got himself into a lot of hot water with the GOP for overly praising (in truth, praising at all) the President for his Hurricane Sandy response. Perhaps timing is everything: My feeling is that if this had been last year, or next, Christie may have ruffled some feathers, but only a bit. It was the “week before the election” thing that got everybody hot and bothered. As none other than Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron (who knew?) pointed out in a piece on the Huffington Post on Monday, “too bad the GOP contingent believes that political affiliations never rest, even in crisis.” (To be fair, there is no doubt that the Democrats would have been just as churlish if the tables had been turned.) Cameron went on to say that Christie’s political career was basically finished, since the GOP will now exact revenge: Christie, he said, “committed political career suicide.”
He’s wrong. And I’ll tell you why. Chris Christie will continue to be a force in national politics as long as he does one thing.
He has to stay fat.
Even more than his brusque manner, his impressive girth is the thing that people talk about first when they talk about Chris Christie. And the Governor has proved surprisingly spry in his own willingness to laugh along with jokes about his weight. (Quipped David Letterman: “I think Chris Christie is a good choice for the keynote speaker. I mean, is there a better symbol for belt-tightening than Chris Christie?”) There are sober entries in this sweepstakes as well, commentators who lament the Governor’s evident “lack of discipline” and his “poor example,” and who seem to be dying to snap a photo of him snarfing down a box of Ho-Hos. Christie has been pretty forthcoming about his battle with the bulge, and there is no doubt that everyone, from his constituents to his cardiologist, would be happier if he dropped 100 pounds.
But with all due respect to Ronnie Cameron, that’s what would be political suicide.
Look, there’s a reason that Sarah Palin got to the GOP ticket despite the fact that anyone with any common sense knew she was a xenophobic dim bulb. And that reason is that Palin came off as a real person, someone relatable, someone who you could imagine in the supermarket line behind you, or in the office elevator with you, or at the back-to-school night with your kids. It’s the same with Christie. People like him because yes, he doesn’t seem to pull punches when he’s talking to the media, or hecklers, or the teachers’ union, or people he just plain thinks are dumbasses. But they really love him because he’s fat. Because you look at him and know that he has spent more than one night sitting on his sofa, slack-jawed, shoveling in Ben & Jerry’s while watching TV in his sweatpants. Like you have.
When you really think about it, he’s really just a fatter, more-to-the-right Bill Clinton. Many of us liked the way Bill managed the country, but we really loved the fact that Bill was a skirt-chasing hillbilly who craved McDonald’s. Today Chris Christie is a leader—a fresh, tell-it-like it-is voice in our cynical political discourse. Put him in Paul Ryan’s body and he’s just a bully.
I adore Barack Obama, because I think he is everything a president needs to be: measured, eloquent, steadfast, cool under fire, level-headed, an optimist but also someone who responds to reason over emotion. I actually also have some admiration for Paul Ryan, if only because while everyone else talked about entitlement reform and then hid, he had the balls to actually foment a plan and stand behind it. No matter what you think of his plan, that’s the definition of political courage.
I don’t know what kind of political future lies in store for Chris Christie; it’s hard to imagine he could physically endure the rigors of a national campaign. But as someone who resided in New Jersey for much of his first term, I can tell you this: I love him, too. Because he’s blunt, sarcastic, smart and tactical. Because he means what he says, and most of what he says is mean.
But mainly, because he’s fat.