How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is what he is

Gov. Christie periodically acts like a bully at press conferences and community gatherings. He is an equal-opportunity verbal abuser. His targets have included average citizens, Navy SEALs, journalists, teachers, union officials, judges, state legislators and political opponents.

If a person questions or disagrees with our governor, his fury knows no bounds. Paul Waldman, author of an article in The American Prospect, “Christie 2016: Vote for Me or I’ll Punch You Right in Your Stupid Face,” wrote, “If you stand up at a town meeting and ask him an impertinent question about something like the state budget, he’ll shout you down.”

A recent example of the governor’s notoriously confrontational behavior was when he told a Hurricane Sandy activist, who had the audacity to hold up a sign imploring the governor to finish the job leading the Jersey Shore recovery, to “sit down and shut up.”

Most elected officials face hecklers. They generally acknowledge the person’s right to speak and try to patiently deal with him or her in an unflappable manner. For most politicians, it is an opportunity to show their ability to handle a difficult situation in a measured way. That is not the Christie way. For him, they are opportunities to employ what David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Obama, has described as his “‘Sopranos’ approach to politics.”

Hecklers are opportunities for Christie to show that “if you give it, you’re going to get it back” and to say whatever is on his mind. They are opportunities to unload a verbal barrage that includes using terms that, if uttered by any other politician, would be grounds for questioning his or her mental stability – “idiot,” “jerk,” “dope” and “numb nuts.” This is how Christie has built and reinforced his national reputation as a tough guy who pulls no punches.

For quite a while, I attributed what I perceived as his obnoxious over-the-top verbal behavior to his lack of self-control. I thought he was simply unable to respond to criticism in an even-tempered manner and unable to avoid confrontation with anyone who questions him. I’ve changed my mind. For months after the Bridgegate fiasco, the governor toned down his bombastic bravado, but with the matter apparently behind him, he’s back to “telling it like it is.”

What we are seeing is a calculated campaign strategy by the governor to separate himself from other politicians. Just as Gov. Brendan Byrne was “the man who could not be bought,” Christie is “the man who says what he believes.” It is a strategy designed to take advantage of a widely held public perception that politicians will tell you anything they think you want to hear. It is a tactic that could resonate, given the widely held belief that President Obama has failed the “leadership test” and has been too wishy-washy.

According to columnist Maureen Dowd, Christie supporters are “intrigued by [his] unpolished, unvarnished, impolitic, knock-some-heads-together” persona. Polls reveal that a segment of voters are attracted to the governor’s in-your-face “Jersey style.” They see the governor as a man of action who is the antithesis of the preponderance of “blow-dry,” artificial, elected officials who will say anything to win voter support.

More and more, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christie is a masterful politician who recognizes that the only pathway for him to be the Republican nominee for president is for him to run as a rare politician who is unwilling to temper his views, no matter the consequences.

There is little doubt our governor will increasingly move to the right ideologically during the upcoming presidential primary season. It is not, however, likely that we will be seeing much movement on his part in terms of his combative demeanor – he’s not going to change. He will keep looking for situations in which he can reinforce his blunt, bombastic image — as someone who is not afraid to say what’s on his mind. He’s going to bank on the fact that, in the end, toughness and authenticity will be what Republican voters want over all else in their presidential nominee.

Political reporter Dan Balz of the Washington Post has said, “You can never predict what people are going to be like on the [campaign] trail.” I’m not sure how being a tough guy will play in Iowa. The Iowa caucuses are all about retail, one-on-one politics – talking to voters in small groups, looking them in the eye and humbly asking them for their votes. Iowa is not necessarily the ideal venue for a Jersey tough guy.

A key to Christie’s presidential aspirations may well be how he does in New Hampshire, the nation’s second primary. It’s a place where plain-speaking candidates such as John McCain and Pat Buchanan have won. Another key will be how well Christie fares in multi-candidate debates, especially if one of the lesser candidates asks him what he perceives to be an impertinent question. Can he reinforce his “tell it like it is” persona without coming across as browbeating or showing contempt for his fellow competitors? We’ll see — nuance is not Gov. Christie’s strong suit.