Chris Christie: Not the New Breed of Politician the U.S. Needs

When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers the keynote address at the Republican National Convention, he’s likely to receive high praise from fellow Republicans who view him as a new breed of political leader whose bold policies have cut the size of government, curtailed spending and turned around the Garden State’s sagging economy.

Democrats are sure to disagree. The truth, however, is that Christie is in fact a new breed of politician – in a different sort of way. He is a politician who became a popular national figure as much for his personality as for his actual record as New Jersey’s governor.

When people learn I spent many years working in New Jersey politics, I often hear how much they like Christie and (until recently) that they’d like to see him on the national ticket with Mitt Romney. But when I ask why they like the New Jersey governor or challenge them to list some accomplishments that indicate he has the credentials to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, I’m met with awkward silence or vague generalities such as “I like his style.”

Such reactions are a result of Christie’s use of YouTube, sound bites and clever public relations strategies to build an image that resonates with large numbers of voters. Some of his most-viewed YouTube videos feature him ranting against journalists, government workers and other popular targets. He also is skilled at changing the conversation whenever information emerges that threatens to leave an unflattering impression about his administration. For example, when a clerical error cost New Jersey $400 million in federal education funding, he blamed Washington bureaucrats, and the focus of news coverage became a back-and-forth with the Obama administration, not how the loss of funds would affect the state’s school system.

Christie minces no words when talking about his critics and political opponents. He has called a U.S. Senator a partisan hack, a state assemblywoman a jerk, an openly gay legislator numbnuts, and a former Navy Seal an idiot. He once told reporters to “take the bat out on” a 76-year old state Senator and grandmother who was critical of his administration. Over the summer, he got into an angry confrontation with a heckler on a boardwalk at the New Jersey shore.

The targets of Christie’s harsh words usually respond in kind by saying he is arrogant and a bully – or worse. The public enjoys the spirited exchanges as evidenced by the thousands of hits they receive on YouTube. They also make great copy for the media.

Unfortunately, the result is an environment that is not conducive to the constructive debate and dialogue we need to address today’s public policy issues. Yes, Chris Christie is a new breed of politician, but we will need a different type of leader to successfully confront the challenges that lie ahead in the 21st Century.

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