Quick, say the first thing that comes to your mind when I say "Chris Christie." If you are like most people -- and by that I mean the kind of person who has thoughts about Chris Christie in February 2015 -- you likely said "Bridgegate," "tough," "bully" or "straight talking." Put aside Bridgegate for the moment (yes, I know it's hard). The last three adjectives describing Christie all speak to the persona he has built during his five-plus years as governor of New Jersey: Unafraid of confrontation -- whether that's with his allies, his enemies or the media.
The Christie creation story -- tough guy, no bull -- is rooted, in fact, in a back and forth he had with Tom Moran, a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger back in 2010.
"This is who I am, and this is who the people elected," Christie told Moran.
True enough. Christie got elected -- and re-elected, convincingly, in no small part on the force of that personality -- on the idea that he, like most New Jerseyans, won't take any guff. The problem for Christie is that he's not running in New Jersey anymore. He's (going to be) running for president in 2016. And the I-make-the-rules-and-the-media-follows-them mentality won't work in that race nearly as well as they have to date in his political career.
Exhibit number one comes to us from today, the final day of Christie's
presidential trip trade mission to England:
Before I go any further, let me acknowledge a few things: 1. I am a reporter. 2. I work for The Washington Post. 3. Phil Rucker is a colleague who I respect and admire. So, caveats.
Okay. Now here's the thing: When you are a potential candidate for president, you don't get to dictate when you answer questions. You are on a trade mission that is, it seems to me, a thinly veiled attempt to bolster your foreign policy credentials ahead of a likely presidential bid in 2016. And it's not as though Phil yelled, "Hey Governor, what do you think about the results of the Royal Rumble?" ISIS's beheadings -- and today's burning alive of a Jordanian pilot -- have captured the world's attention. It's just the sort of thing that someone who wants to be the leader of the free world should have an opinion on -- and be willing to share with reporters. Let me remind you: A HUGE part of the reason Christie is on this trip is to burnish the idea that someone whose totality of elected experience is as a governor can be a thoughtful leader on foreign policy.
So there's that. But the dismissiveness of Christie to even the idea of taking questions is what's really problematic. Answering questions on all sorts of things is what you do when you run for president. Many of the questions are from people in places like Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire. Others are from local reporters. Lots are from the national media. The point is that Christie needs to get a lot more comfortable with answering the occasional shouted -- or unplanned -- question. (You don't get to totally ignore reporters until you get to be president. That's one of the few things presidents of both parties agree on.) Ask Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton, circa 2008, how running a campaign openly disdainful of those who sought answers to questions went.
Best-case scenario for Christie: Stung by the national hubbub his comments on vaccinations in a press gaggle earlier this week created, he was a little sensitive to questions from reporters when, in theory, it was not a designated time to ask questions. That would be a) understandable and b) a passing phase. But Christie would do well to remember that this is the kick-the-tires phase of the campaign. If you don't like how people kick the tires, you need to find a new profession.