Commentary Magazine


In Christie’s World, It’s All About Chris

Who would have ever thought it? Underneath it all, the tough-guy governor and former prosecutor who doesn’t scruple at angrily lecturing teachers, parents, taxpayers, reporters and anyone else who dares to question his policies or motives is a sensitive soul who is as needy of love and understanding as a guest on “Oprah.” After years in the public eye spent flipping off his detractors and daring them to try and do something about it, Chris Christie now needs a hug.

That’s the upshot of an unintentionally hilarious analysis published today in the New York Times, in which we are told the New Jersey governor is “deeply misunderstood and wounded” by the lingering hostility he continues to face from Republicans who think he threw Mitt Romney under the bus in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when he went out of his way to embrace and endorse President Obama. The accusations that Christie lost the election for the Republicans are preposterous since Romney’s problems were bigger than the hurricane. But it is hardly surprising that Christie doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. As he demonstrated during the Republican National Convention and the subsequent presidential campaign, in Chris Christie’s world, it’s all about Chris. The governor’s tolerance for any other frame of reference is nonexistent. What is so telling about the subsequent controversy is not the resentment of many Republicans around the nation, but Christie being hurt by it.

Let’s specify that Christie may well have been completely sincere in his actions during the hurricane and that he felt genuine gratitude to the president for his response to the crisis, even if in retrospect the performance of FEMA during Sandy may not have been much more effective than it was during the Katrina disaster in 2005. He may have been “just doing his job,” but his shock at the reaction of Republicans who thought he overdid his thank you to Obama was hardly surprising given the context of a heated campaign.

I don’t think Christie was consciously undermining Romney, but I do believe his nod to the president was not unconnected to the needs of his own re-election campaign. He may or may not run for president in 2016, but he needs to win re-election in blue New Jersey next year, and giving Obama that much love didn’t hurt his standing among voters in the Garden State.

That is just common-sense politics and, as was the case with Mitt Romney’s experience in Massachusetts, the things a Republican who wants to be elected governor of a Democrat-dominated state must do and say are not going to be the same things he will say when running for president. But it says a lot about Christie that he is so bewildered by the fact that conservatives around the country are not happy with him right now.

Those same conservatives cheered Christie as they watched the YouTube videos where he brusquely trashed his opponents and dismissed their point of view. But now they are getting a taste of the same treatment from him and understanding the sense of entitlement that pervades his public persona. He is a politician who is not inclined to try to view the world from any one else’s perspective.

By the same token, that same character trait is responsible for Christie’s own lack of understanding of why so many Republicans are mad at him. Expecting to be cheered at the recent annual Republican Governor’s Conference in Las Vegas, he wound up getting the cold shoulder from many in the party. But rather than trying to understand their feelings, Christie is not backing down. That some in his camp feel the need to whine about it to the New York Times, of all papers, tells us a lot about how self-involved the governor and his entourage come across.

Christie has bigger problems than the grudge many Republicans are holding against him. He has a state that still must deal with the impact of the hurricane and a re-election race in which he may have to face off against a tough opponent like Newark Mayor Cory Booker. But if he survives that test and decides to run for president, as most people expect him to do, he may have to find a way to reach out to those Republicans he has offended. Unless his personality changes in the next few years, that’s not going to be easy.

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