East Coast Loudmouths Don’t Win the White House
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, according to unconfirmed reports last week, is in line to give the keynote address at this year’s Republican National Convention. If it happens, the move means that Christie, while enjoying a place of prominence at the convention, will not be Gov. Mitt Romney’s running mate this year.
The idea of Christie on a presidential ticket won’t likely disappear, however. During the never-ending Republican primaries, the governor was approached by various GOP bigwigs seeking to persuade him to enter the race, while in TV interviews Christie, when inevitably asked veepstakes questions, has been known to muse about running for president himself someday.
Christie is reasonably popular in New Jersey, and those YouTube clips in which he berates people in town halls are a huge hit among the Tea Party crowd. I’m sure he’ll give a speech in Tampa that revs up the convention crowd. However, I’m not so sure that Christie stands much of a chance of ever becoming president. And that’s because he’s a certain type: an East Coast Loudmouth. And East Coast Loudmouths haven’t had much of a history of national electoral success.
Most of the source of skepticism about Christie’s presidential ambitions has centered on his weight. But aside from questions about Christie being physically fit for the campaign trail, I’m not so sure being overweight would keep him from strongly contending for the presidency. The size of his personality, however, very much could.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being an East Coast Loudmouth. If you live in the Philadelphia area, you probably have a lot of them in your life, and you may even be one yourself. People who look and talk like Chris Christie are a feature of life in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and a few other places. But the fact is, East Coast Loudmouths don’t exist in most of the country and overall, they’re a distinct minority.
Would a Republican Party that’s long been wedded to the language of “small-town regular folks” and “real Americans in the heartland” go for a brash, loud, finger-pointing guy from New Jersey who’s a dead ringer for Bobby Bacala, and has a penchant for off-the-cuff statements delivered at full volume? Would Christie’s style appeal to swing voters at a national level?
You could say the same thing about Ed Rendell. He was mayor of a major city and governor of a major state for eight years each, but has never been seriously considered for national office. Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign in 2008 fizzled out for many reasons, but his big-city East Coast brashness certainly had something to do with it. And Joe Biden is more of an East Coast Gaffe Machine than a loudmouth.
It’s hard for someone from the Northeast to get elected president; no one has since John F. Kennedy. Part of the reason is that Republicans have spent years ginning up the notion that the region is a hotbed of evil, libertine elitist Ivy League villainy, and certainly not in line with the “real American” values of the Midwest or South. The man chosen to deliver that message at the 2008 GOP convention was … Mitt Romney, who gave a speech denouncing “Eastern elites,” despite his own status as a former Massachusetts governor with law and MBA degrees from Harvard who has lived on the East Coast for the better part of 40 years.
Democrats, meanwhile, have internalized that idea and more often than not backed candidates from other parts of the country. On two occasions in the last 30 years they have nominated East Coasters—but say what you will about Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, neither lost because he was too much of a loudmouth. Romney, despite his Michigan ancestry, may be an East Coaster too, but he’s no loudmouth.
Who was the last East Coast Loudmouth to be elected president? Nobody in the last century, for sure. Historians may differ on whether Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt count as “loudmouths,” but both served at a time before television.
I’m not saying it’s an impossibility for Chris Christie to ever become president. It’s just that his personal style is one without a template for success in the recent history of presidential politics.