To be fair, the national media has also focused on the big picture optics and they should—the taking on the teachers union, his fight with public employees and his successful ability to win back rollbacks in health and pension benefits. They also focus a lot on his combative style, which is carefully marketed on YouTube.
Who in the national media covers him well?
I’ve seen some good profiles and some good stuff. Matt Bai’s profile in The New York Times Magazine, for example, was superb. I don’t want to make a broad stoke indictment of the national press, but there is a fair amount of stuff that makes me want to gag.
Have you observed any differences in the way Christie represents his persona and policies on a national levels versus in New Jersey?
No. He’s been consistent.
How are the people of New Jersey reacting to the speculation?
His job approval ratings have climbed to over 50%. A lot of that is attributed to his well-received handling of Hurricane Irene, which he did deserve a lot of credit for. But some of the hype might also be reflected in the rebound of his poll numbers.
Has the speculation caused any complications with his ability to govern or in relationships with other legislators or interest groups?
I don’t think so. This spring he was able to negotiate the health pension benefit rollback and that was concluded in June. He simultaneously passed his second budget, and the hype was in the air back then. The legislature, which is part time, has been out of session for the summer and won’t really come back until after the election. So it hasn’t really interfered.
Any sense how Christie’s campaign skills would translate to the national stage?
I don’t know. He’s a very nimble, powerful speaker in settings like town halls, but they are packed with mostly Republicans and admirers that applaud and hang on his every word. He doesn’t face that many audiences that dislike him.
He’s a really colorful guy, and he puts on the whole jersey schtick—the “I’m going to get in your grill if you get in my grill,” Jersey-shore kind of attitude. It really connects with people. He also portrays himself as someone who tells it straight. And it is straight. To the conventional political wisdom and logic, he’ll just say, “that’s crap,” or “that just doesn’t make sense,” and come up with arguments to demonstrate how ludicrous the case is. A lot of it is self-serving, but he’s tremendous at it.
He’s also gotten into these well-publicized confrontations with teachers and union people, and he has given them the verbal back of his hand. This has made him kind of a rock star with conservative activists around the country: “Yeah, you give ’em hell, don’t take their crap, Chris!” That plays well with a certain audience, but when you get into middle America, in Iowa and Wisconsin, and with average Americans, I’m not so sure the Jersey smash mouth approach will translate so well.
What have been his biggest successes and failures as governor?
The pension and health benefits were clearly one of his biggest successes—you can’t take that away from him. He’s also been very successful in demonstrating to the political class that he’s in charge; that he has the levers of power and he intends to use them aggressively. In Trenton, everything flows from him. He’s been very successful at that.
In terms of failures, the state lost out on the ability to win $400 million in Race to the Top funds because of a bureaucratic error in the application and that led to the firing of his education commissioner. That was a big failure. There was an opportunity for the state to really shine in that process and they dropped the ball on that.