It’s a Friday night in mid-October, 18 days before the midterm elections, and Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is out on the stump, expertly inhabiting what has now got to be the most famous body in American politics: the big arms and legs, the umpire shoulders, the triangular face welded to a bulging neck, the hooded eyes and double chin, the pinkish lips on a potholed turnpike of skin. Below the belt, he seems carved from one seamless rectangle of dark cloth.
“Well,” Christie says, “I came up here to Connecticut tonight, not because I’m lost, okay? … Because I want to show all of you a living, breathing example of what is gonna happen on November 2nd.”
I followed Christie here, to this high-school gymnasium in Stamford, Connecticut, on the promise of an only-in-America sort of spectacle — Linda McMahon, the multi-millionaire ex-CEO of WWE wrestling and a candidate for U.S. Senate, appearing with the man they’re calling the “Trenton Thunder” and “Governor Wrecking Ball.” But McMahon disappoints; in her purple suit and peroxide hair, she’s too icily poised. Rather, it’s Christie who fills the room with a version of the crackling energy that has made him a viral-video sensation. On YouTube, you can see him shout down a heckler who confronted GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman in California, or telling a reporter who accused him of being “confrontational” that if the reporter thought the Governor was confrontational now, “You should really see me when I’m pissed.” Before Christie arrived tonight, I mingled with the crowd, and many had seen his videos. “He should be president,” said Kathy Bertasso, a retired teacher. “He’s putting his foot down. He’s not letting anybody get away with anything.” I got back in my press seat and noticed the woman in front of me reading The Roots of Obama’s Rage. Her name was Tricia Galloway; she said she’d heard about Christie from right-wing talk radio. (Glenn Beck: “Chris Christie, I’ve been watching you from across the river … you may be George Washington. … [whispering] Help us.”) Because Galloway described herself as a social conservative, I asked her if Christie’s moderate social stances give her pause. No, she said; right now, fighting debt and spending is the most important thing: “If we don’t solve that one problem, we’re done.”
In America, we’re experiencing one of these weightless moments that come along every so often: Liquid crawls up walls, the center does not hold, the skinny black guy with the chilled-out demeanor is the one who’s full of rage, and the passionate fat guy from Jersey is the new face of sobriety. “I don’t think President Obama does angry well,” Christie recently told NBC Nightly News, and it was hard not to read between the lines: Guy, relax, leave this to me. Christie does angry well, and in this sour environment, he’s thriving. Ten months into his gubernatorial administration, his approval rating is 51 percent. Obama’s is 45 percent. Democrats can’t seem to touch Christie, despite crude attempts to brand him as a “bully” (the New Jersey teachers union) and a “coldhearted fat slob” (MSNBC host Ed Schultz). And, perhaps most remarkably, Christie has threaded the needle of the civil war transforming his own GOP.