New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is so popular among conservatives that he simply cannot shake off their entreaties to seek the Republican presidential nomination (he swears he's not running). His YouTube harangues against his enemies — notably, New Jersey's teachers union — have gone viral. His popularity rating has remained above 50 percent in a blue state. What's his secret? Matt Bai takes a thorough look in a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile. Here are the five key talking points:
1. Christie is an accidental governor
There is "something astonishing about the ascent of Chris Christie," says Bai, and even the governor now admits to being surprised he unseated Democrat Jon Corzine in 2009. Christie is "about as slick as sandpaper," and offered no real platform during the campaign, relying instead on "conservative platitudes" and Corzine's unpopularity. When he won, he had "little notion of what he was going to do next."
2. He uses his weight as a political weapon
"Christie is fat," Bai states bluntly, but he uses his weight to his advantage. People look at him and assume, "consciously or not," that he is "undisciplined and impulsive," like a bull in a china shop. He exploits that assumption to say some pretty mean and uncomfortable things, but also lets it lull opponents into underestimating his sharp, almost "preternatural" political skills.
3. Christie found an "ideal adversary" in public-employee unions
Christie knows that "every story has both a protagonist and an antagonist," and he's found his "ideal adversary": Public-employee unions, and specifically, New Jersey's powerful teachers union. He mercilessly attacks the union over its pension and benefits, and the union plays into his hands by seeming inflexible at this time of "economic vertigo," when the public wants to see shared sacrifice. There's some risk in vilifying teachers, but so far, "Christie seems to be winning at every turn."
4. But it might not last
This year will tell us a lot about Christie's "staying power," Bai says. The Democratic legislature has only passed a few of his key agenda items so far, and political observers in New Jersey and nationwide are watching to see "whether Christie's argument will begin to lose its resonance as voters inevitably grow weary of the hostility and the rhetorical smack downs." Christie is an undisputed master at the genre, but "sooner or later, most people tend to tire of the boorish guy at the party, even if he's entertaining, and even if he has a point."
5. Democrats are seeking his advice, too
It's hard to dispute that Christie does, in fact, have a point, Bai says. As the prolonged recession ravages state budgets, governors from both parties are having to face the hard fact that their states have over-promised on pensions. Christie says that several newly elected governors, even Democrats, have called "to seek his counsel" on tackling their budget woes.