“It’s just crazy and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.”
That was classic Chris Christie, two years ago this month in response to criticism after he appointed a Muslim lawyer named Sohail Mohammed to the New Jersey Superior Court. Christie was fed up with the spread of baseless linkage between his nominee and Sharia law, which is when he channeled Jack Nicholson from As Good as It Gets.
It wasn’t the first—or last—time he’s suggested that crazy be sold someplace else.
In the aftermath of the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary, the NRA aired a commercial that called President Obama “just another elitist hypocrite” for opposing armed guards in American schools while his own daughters get Secret Service protection (overlooking, of course, the unique risks faced by children of a sitting president).
Christie pounced. “Reprehensible” is what he called the NRA ad.
It’s why we like him. Indeed, it’s why he’s become a phenomenon, beloved by regular Joes and celebrities alike. (At the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner, my conversation with Christie was interrupted by a fawning Tracy Morgan.) He’s what we’ve been waiting for: a no-B.S. politician who refuses to empanel a focus group or put his finger to the wind before telling us what he thinks. A New Jersey-style Republican—meaning a centrist—who is willing to reach across the aisle, even if it means alienating his party’s normal constituencies, to do the right thing.
In the short term, that authenticity will continue to serve Chris Christie well. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll in June charted his 70 percent approval rate; he held a gargantuan $4 million fund-raising edge over a Democratic opponent you’ve likely never heard of (Barbara Buono).
It’s the next step that’s more complicated. Is he too real to be elected president? Will those same attributes that win him plaudits and essentially guarantee his reelection this November ultimately prove to be his limitation nationwide?
That he wants to run in 2016 seems certain, given the election calendar he contrived after the passing of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg. Instead of scheduling the Senate general election on the same date as his own gubernatorial contest, he set the former for three weeks prior to his own, lest having Cory Booker on the ballot diminish his own margin and lessen his national appeal.
But if you ask me, for the man George W. Bush fondly nicknamed “Big Boy” to become the first New Jersey politician since Woodrow Wilson to be elected president, he’ll need to overcome two major obstacles: his party and his mouth.
Neither will be easy to do.