I can’t say exactly when my infatuation with Chris Christie began.
Perhaps it was that instant-classic press conference, shortly after Christie became governor of New Jersey, in which he gamely responded to a reporter’s query about his “confrontational tone” by, well, confronting him. “This is who I am,” said the governor. “Like it or not, you guys are stuck with me for four years.”
Or it might have been earlier, when he was still campaigning against incumbent Jon Corzine, who had made sloppy, obvious allusions to Christie’s wide girth in TV attack ads, about which Christie deadpanned to Wolf Blitzer, “I’ll let you in on a little secret, Wolf: I’m overweight.”
Whatever his faults, Christie at least earns points for cheeky self-awareness.
As a political figure, Christie, who is up for re-election this November, has served as a Rorschach test of sorts since his earliest days as New Jersey’s chief executive. You can tell a fair amount about a person based on how he or she reacts to Christie’s antics in Trenton and on the national stage. It’s interesting, in part, because the two camps do not always divide along traditional political lines.
Of course, the most obvious reason for this phenomenon is that Christie himself does not divide along traditional political lines—more precisely, he has no qualms about criticizing members of his own political party or praising members of the opposition.
He is presently experiencing a wellspring of support and affection from New Jersey voters, 73 percent of whom said they approve of his job performance, according to a recent poll.
Certainly such uncommon popularity began in response to Christie’s leadership amidst the calamitous hurricane that struck the coast in late October, during which Christie famously—or infamously, for Republicans—heaped praise upon the Obama administration for its own swift action in that emergency.
In recent weeks, Christie further grated Republicans and delighted Democrats by attacking the House for failing to hold a vote on a bill to provide hurricane relief funding, saying, “There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: The House majority and their speaker, John Boehner.”
Theories abound as to what Christie is “up to” in these moments of rhetorical treachery, most of them rooted in the assumption that he will eventually run for president, possibly as early as 2016.
The theory I most prefer, which also serves to explain Christie’s curious cross-section of admirers, is that he is not up to anything at all. That he is—to coin a phrase—who he is. That he will say exactly what is on his mind, no matter the political peril involved, and if you don’t like it, you can shove it.
This is an attitude that Americans tend to like. The man who won’t be pushed around. The gruff father figure who will do what he thinks is best for his children. The righteous bully whom you would love to have on your side.
What is more, in addition to embodying much that Americans appreciate in a leader, Christie is the antidote to much that Americans hate: The shady, the equivocating, the pandering and the intellectually bankrupt who are prepared to say whatever they think their public wants to hear and who tend to run the show in Washington, D.C.
But the mystery is hardly solved. I, for one, have every reason in the world to dislike the governor, from his tendencies toward the anti-intellectual—asked about his views on evolution, he replied, “That’s none of your business”—to his stated opposition to the one issue I really care about, same-sex marriage.
Yet I’m crazy about the guy all the same, and I suspect my admiration cannot be explained as simple masochism on my part. Nor do I think I am the only person suffering from this cognitive dissonance.
Should Christie decide to seek the White House in 2016 or sometime thereafter, the question will arise (as it already has), “Is he too fat to be president?” The premise, I presume, is that a man of Christie’s rotundity is a man without discipline, and thus a man unsuited to the profound difficulties of the Oval Office.
But there is an alternative narrative to this. That Christie’s weight, in this most judgmental and politically correct of times, is emblematic of his most marked and invaluable characteristic: His ability and self-confidence to just not give a crap.