New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s brash, say-it-like-it-is persona has made him a political celebrity. But as he relinquishes his position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie shifts from advocate for others to salesman for himself as a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Speaking for no one else, Christie will soon find out how well telling a heckler to “sit down and shut up”— as he did at a recent press event in his home state — is received in the South or the Midwest where presidential nominations are won and lost.
Some Republicans believe the swagger may be more damaging to Christie than New Jersey’s economic troubles— especially in the aftermath of the George Washington bridge scandal.
“This sort of bully demeanor may go over well in certain places, but … I grew up in the South, and we’re ‘Yes ma’am’ and ‘No sir,’ and a little bit more polite,” said Sen. Rand Paul, another possible presidential hopeful.
But interviews with nearly two dozen voters from early-voting Iowa, rural Illinois, and other states suggest that, in fact, many view Christie’s tough-guy personality as his biggest asset.
“I appreciate a politician being honest,” said Jerry Eisele, 67, a self-described conservative who lives in Bushnell, Ill. “You don’t see enough of it.”
Iowa’s Wilma Hauser, 84, a registered Democrat, said she found Christie’s approach refreshing.
“I don’t know if I’d want him to be president, but I got a real charge out of him telling [off] that protester,” she said. “Whether you agree with him or not, you know where he stands.”
It’s a phrase often echoed among voters, and a response his aides are banking on as they prepare to sell the concept of a President Christie. But GOP operatives have begun to wonder if Christie’s persona has long-term appeal.
“Chris Christie’s default is to shout down political opponents,” said Hogan Gidley, a top South Carolina Republican political operative. “That will work for a while and it will get you recognized and it will satisfy the Republican voters’ desire for a fighter. But it will only satisfy it for so long.”
Steve Schmidt, a top Republican consultant and senior adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, predicted several of Christie’s opponents, knowing they can throw him off message with a heckler or the right question, will develop sophisticated techniques designed to provoke him into having outbursts on the trail.
“If you believe that events in the world are spiraling on the edge of being out of control, do you want someone who, whether he is or not … he can appear very hot at times and extremely thin-skinned,” he said.