July 5, 2015
By Tom Moran
Gov. Christie speaks to supporters at Livingston High School to announce he is running for President of the United States. Livingston, NJ 6/20/15 (Andre Malok | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
One of Gov. Chris Christie’s core tasks in New Hampshire is to make sure voters don’t see the beast within, the bully who loses his temper and belittles people with less power.
We’ve seen this act over and over in New Jersey, and it’s one reason that the governor is now about as popular as a blistering skin rash. It’s not just because the state is a mess; it’s personal.
For evidence, look to the latest FDU poll, which showed 39 percent of New Jerseyans “dislike everything” about the governor, as opposed to the added 23 percent who just hate his policies.
It’s as if Jersey stuffed a bad clam in its mouth and wants to spit it out fast.
Christie reads polls, and knows it’s time to deliver a kinder and gentler version of himself, or at least to dress up the anger as something more noble than pounding the geeky kid in the playground.
His debut spin of this personality problem came on Tuesday morning when NBC’s Matt Lauer asked him about it on the Today show.
“It’s an absolute controlled anger,” he told Lauer. “I’m angry about the fact that taxpayers were being ripped off in New Jersey. I’m angry about the fact that our urban kids can’t get a good education. I’m angry about those things, darn right I am. And I think America wants someone who’s willing to fight for that.”
Take note, students of politics. This is spin of the highest order, the top-shelf stuff. And it could actually work if the governor has the discipline to stick with it.
In Christie’s telling, his anger is a righteous thing, evidence of his passion to bring justice to the world. He is the good knight, swinging his mighty sword to protect the defenseless peasants.
He better hope that New Hampshire hasn’t discovered Google. Because when Christie bares his teeth it doesn’t look controlled. More like unchecked belligerence, the sort of thing that gets children placed in time-outs.
“He berates people — that’s what he did to me,” says one of his targets, Bill Brown, who served in Iraq as a Navy SEAL. “It was probably one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.”
Brown had confronted Christie over his plans for higher education. After a short back-and-forth, Christie told Brown to stop talking and listen. When Brown refused, the governor had state troopers haul him out.
“Let me tell you something,” Christie thundered at him. “After you graduate from law school you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end is going to be thrown in jail – idiot!”
James Keady, the man who earned fame for being told “Sit down and shut up” after heckling Christie about Sandy relief snafus is now running for Assembly as a Democrat.
“That anger was not controlled at all,” he says. “Is he going to pull that act with Putin? Is he going to tell him to sit down and shut up?”
One hopes not. But I doubt I’m the only one who worries about the combustible potential of an angry man with no experience in foreign policy taking charge of the world’s dominant military machine.
Bad things could happen. It’s like a nuclear-powered version of a child running with scissors.
As for the campaign, the question is whether Christie can keep the beast hidden. It’ll be a challenge, but I think he’ll manage it.
I saw that in April during a town hall meeting at Shooter’s Bar in Exeter, N.H., when Christie was interrupted over and over by a grouchy old veteran who didn’t like Christie’s Social Security plan.
Members of the Jersey press perked up, preparing to cover our ears as we waited for a verbal body slam.
But it didn’t come. Christie must have been silently reciting the 12 steps of anger management. He put his free hand in a pocket, and waited for the guy finish his rant.
That told me that Christie knows the angry man routine is getting tired.
Of course, a presidential campaign is exhausting, and the stress will make it tempting to cast aside the 12 steps. Plus, he faces a Google problem. Like a teen-age girl who posts racy photos on Facebook, he can’t escape the digital record.
Google “numbnuts” or “take a bat to her” or “jerk” or “liar” with Christie’s name and you’ll tap into the trove. The worst of it is a video of his mouth-foaming rant on the boardwalk at Seaside Heights, when he basically picks a fight with another man while gripping a melting ice cream cone.
It’s just not presidential in too many ways to count.
Christie’s first promise to the nation during his campaign announcement last week was that he would not offer any spin at all.
But if what we saw on the boardwalk was “controlled anger” then I’d hate to see what happens when the man loses it altogether.