With just one word, former Obama adviser David Axelrod summed up what could be the most potent attack against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) in 2016: "Sopranos."
“This has always been the fatal flaw of Chris Christie’s presidential campaign,” Axelrod said Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" after watching a video of Christie in a heated confrontation with a heckler. “I’ve been through a few presidential races, and I’ve got to tell you, every day is filled with aggravations and provocations, and if that’s the way he’s going to react, he has no future in this.”
He added, “I think he thinks that this kind of ‘Sopranos’ approach to politics marks him as a strong leader. I think it marks him as an angry man.”
If you're the executive producer of a TV show, being compared to the HBO drama about a the life of a New Jersey mob boss is a good thing. (It won 21 Emmys!) But if you're a New Jersey politician thinking about running for president, it's not so good.
Christie's off-the-cuff, call-it-like-I-see-it, I'm-not-afraid-to-tell-anyone-off-or-get-angry style is the defining feature of his persona. It's a big reason why he became so popular in New Jersey and caught on nationally. You're not going to find a blunter statewide politician.
But it's also an emerging liability because it could feed attacks that he is a strong-arming bully. The reason why the "Bridgegate" scandal was so devastating for Christie, even though he has not been directly tied to it, is that it enabled the bully label to stick.
Polling conducted in the immediate wake of the bridge sandal in which former aides and appointees snarled traffic in an apparent act of political retribution showed an uptick in the percentage of New Jersey voters who viewed him as a bully.
And that was in New Jersey, where a rough-and-tumble political style is the norm. That's not necessarily the case in the early nominating states of Iowa and South Carolina.
Typically, the pejorative labels that stick in politics are the ones that are easily digestible and recognizable. People know who the Sopranos are. They are familiar with the New Jersey mob boss stereotype. It doesn't mater that Christie has no ties on organized crime and was in fact on the opposite side of the criminal world as a U.S. attorney.
What matters is that opponents -- Democrats and Republicans -- will try to tag him as a bully before he defines himself to voters who don't know him. And that should worry Christie and his team as he gears up for a potential White House run.