August 27, 2013
Chris Christie (John Gress/Reuters)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (John Gress/Reuters)

It’s August, I know, a time of the year when almost anything can make the front page of the newspapers, but what New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the other day really is worthy of attention. Christie called a reporter for the New York Daily News “an idiot” for asking some tough questions of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. Christie and Ryan, former fat fellows both, apparently are friends.

The Daily News, being very August, played the story on Page One with the banner headline, “Who you calling an Idiot, fatso!” Its star columnist, the always readable Mike Lupica, went after Christie, eviscerating him with choice adjectives, “thin-skinned” being the most pertinent. The New Jersey governor certainly is that, sometimes entertainingly so — as when he told some dim constituents to get off the beach in advance of Hurricane Sandy — and sometimes not so entertainingly so, as when he called Manish Mehta, the News reporter, an idiot.

But he did not stop there. Appearing on a sports show as substitute co-host, he served up a cornucopia of colorful quotes: “The guy’s a complete idiot. Self-consumed, underpaid reporter. The only reason he’s empowered is we’re spending all this time this morning talking about Manish Mehta, who, by the way, I couldn’t pick out of a police lineup.”

Things being what they are, the average person is not about to feel sorry for a journalist, “underpaid” though he may be. (Underpaid journalist is a redundancy, anyway.) But Republicans across the country might pay attention because Christie is on the short list of presidential candidates. He is very popular in his own state, usually as blue as they come, and is likely to win reelection by a healthy margin. He has even turned out to be less partisan than expected and certainly less conservative than many Republicans would like. He is also extremely volatile.

Americans in general like their presidents to appear presidential. Christie not only does not cut a svelte figure, but he sometimes comes across as too much of a brawler. Understand: He made his most recent remarks while sitting in a studio. He was not on the road, dog-tired after a month of Holiday Inns and chicken dinners. A similar remark, uttered in the heat of the campaign, would surely derail it, break any momentum and become a running story for two or so news cycles. If he did it during a televised debate, it would be the story of the evening. Christie has the capacity to step on his own message.

As I said, it’s August — the month for silly stories. Not many people are paying attention anyway. This morning, though, a lot of New York and New Jersey residents could not help but pay attention. There was Christie, splashed across the front page of the Daily News with his foot in his mouth.

It’s no way to the White House.

 

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post.