New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s strengths and weaknesses shown through in reports on his speech at the Chamber of Commerce. It is interesting to see how the same lines may sound different in the context of a presidential campaign.


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in June 2013. (REUTERS/John Gress)

“I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage. I really am. I don’t think there’s a mother or a father sitting around the kitchen table tonight in America saying, ‘You know, honey, if our son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all of our dreams would be realized.'” He is right that there are serious drawbacks to raising the minimum wage.

In a report earlier this year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found: “Increasing the minimum wage would have two principal effects on low-wage workers. Most of them would receive higher pay that would increase their family’s income, and some of those families would see their income rise above the federal poverty threshold. But some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated, the income of most workers who became jobless would fall substantially, and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly.” So his point on policy is well taken but the tone arguably is not.

A bit harsh, perhaps? Maybe distorting the message of minimum-wage supporters by assuming it is the only measure to help working class families?

Consider how much better the message would be and how much more empathetic it would sound if he started by explaining, as Bill Gates did, that when unemployment is higher you don’t want to in effect tax wages; you want to lower the cost for hiring new workers. (It is one reason to repeal and replace Obamacare.) He could then explain a better idea that wouldn’t deter hiring and would serve the needs of the working poor, expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

As Michael Strain explained, “The EITC is one of the most successful anti-poverty and pro-work programs we have. It functions as an earnings subsidy for low-income households. In order to qualify for the refundable tax credit, you have to have a job, and the size of the credit increases with earnings over a sizeable range. Given its design, it is no surprise that the EITC has increased the number of people who enter the labor force. In addition to drawing people into the workforce by increasing the rewards to working, it is also very well targeted to working-class households — it has lifted millions of people out of poverty.”

Christie is certainly colorful, but those hearing him for the first time might conclude he doesn’t care about the working poor, or that he only wants them to aspire to greatness, not a solid middle-class life. The remarks are easily turned against him.

The difficulty is that scripting Christie isn’t easy, nor is he at his best when reading from a text. With the funny, irreverent and candid Christie you are also going to get remarks that are off-putting and damaging. He often says that in New Jersey his blustery language is well understood and taken as straight talk. Candidates aspiring to the presidency, however, need to talk to multiple audiences and reach voters wary of them. The self-discipline needed is extraordinary.

Should Christie run, he may be one of the most entertaining and provocative candidates. But he may also be the most vulnerable to self-inflicted wounds. In the gotcha environment of Twitter and YouTube, that can be deadly.