Well, it’s not that drastic, but Christie’s recent decision to use a police helicopter to attend his son’s baseball games may be the clearest evidence yet that the New Jersey governor means what he says.
The story goes like this: Christie used the helicopter to go to two of his son’s games as well as a dinner with a group of Iowa donors who came to the Garden State to talk him into running for president.
Called on the seeming extravagance, Christie initially refused to reimburse the state for the cost of the helicopter rides — insisting that there was no additional expense to taxpayers from the trips. He reversed course, however, on Thursday and cut a check for $2,100 to cover the costs.
“I want to make sure the public understands that I’m doing this because of the duty I feel to them to have my attention and everyone else’s attention focused 100 percent on the real problems of this state,” Christie said of the reimbursement, adding that he made no apologies for doing his best to be a good father.
Whatever Christie’s motivations, it’s clear that how this would look in the context of a presidential race was the furthest thing from his mind.
No politician planning a presidential bid in the near future would hop a helicopter to do almost anything, fearing that it would cast them as entitled — the very thing that voters seem to dislike more than any other single trait in politicians.
Think the image of Christie getting off the helicopter wouldn’t matter in the swirl of presidential politics?
Newt Gingrich’s Tiffany’s account, John McCain’s inability to name how many houses he owned, John Edwards’ expensive haircuts and John Kerry’s love of windsurfing all argue otherwise. The simple fact is that single events can be turned into broader symbolic arguments against a candidate in the context of a campaign.
These incidents —up to and including Christie’s helicopter trip — create an image of an out-of-touch politician, someone who just doesn’t get it.
Especially in a presidential race, the “get it” factor is very high for voters. People want to believe that the candidate they are electing to be the leader of the country has some basic understanding of their lives.
The more distance — whether real or imagined — that exists between a politician and the people who decide whether he (or she) win or lose, the less successful the candidate is likely to be.
Christie, who has crafted a decidedly appealing public persona as a straight talking anti-politician, knows that reality as well as anyone operating in the political space these days.
So, in getting on that helicopter, Christie — whether intentionally or not — seems to sending a very clear message: I’m out and I’m staying out. (For 2012, that is.)