Chris Christie’s Vanity Problem

The scandals swirling around the New Jersey governor have a unifying theme: an obsession with self-image.

A giant screen shows Chris Christie at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, on August 28, 2012 during the Republican National Convention.
National Journal
Matt Berman
Jan. 13, 2014, 7:23 a.m.

New Jer­sey Gov­ernor Chris Christie is really in­to New Jer­sey Gov­ernor Chris Christie.

At least that’s the im­pres­sion you get when you look at the latest scan­dal em­broil­ing the gov­ernor: The feds are in­vest­ig­at­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion for spend­ing mil­lions of ex­tra tax­pay­er dol­lars on a post-Hur­ricane Sandy tour­ism ad cam­paign that — un­like a com­pet­ing, cheap­er op­tion — fea­tured him and his fam­ily.

You also get that idea when you look at the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge scan­dal, wherein the Demo­crat­ic may­or of Fort Lee, N.J., was seem­ingly pun­ished by the Christie ad­min­is­tra­tion for not en­dors­ing the gov­ernor for reelec­tion. That en­dorse­ment would have done vir­tu­ally noth­ing to im­pact Christie’s odds of win­ning his reelec­tion (which were al­ways high), but it would have mar­gin­ally ad­ded to Christie’s bi­par­tis­an cre­den­tials.

There is, right now, no evid­ence dir­ectly ty­ing Chris Christie to either of those de­cisions. But, in con­cert with his past, it’s in­creas­ingly easy to get the idea that the New Jer­sey gov­ernor puts a high premi­um on self-pro­mo­tion, even when it comes at an ob­vi­ous cost.

This, after all, is the same guy who threatened to drop the f-word on live, prime-time TV dur­ing the 2012 Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion if con­ven­tion or­gan­izers cut short his three-minute in­tro­duc­tion video. The video ran.

It’s also the same guy who is fol­lowed al­most every­where by an aide with a video cam­era, whose job is to catch every mo­ment where the gov­ernor goes off on someone to make sure the clip can be blas­ted out on You­Tube.

It’s the guy who turned a fleece, which he wore throughout his gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to Sandy, in­to a na­tion­al news story.

Even if Christie isn’t dir­ectly im­plic­ated in the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge or ad scan­dals, at a min­im­um they leave the im­pres­sion that Christie’s staff is fiercly pro­tect­ive of the gov­ernor’s im­age. Why else would a top aide work to cause a traffic jam in ap­par­ent re­tali­ation for a Demo­crat­ic may­or not en­dors­ing the gov­ernor? The same ques­tion could be asked by fed­er­al in­vest­ig­at­ors look­ing in­to the Sandy tour­ism ad, where the head of the pan­el in charge of se­lect­ing the mar­ket­ing firm was a former aide to Christie, and had once re­ceived a $46,000 loan from him.

By no means is Christie the first politi­cian to ever be ob­sessed with and pro­tect­ive of his self-im­age (see our cur­rent pres­id­ent). But the lengths his ad­min­is­tra­tion has gone to are, at best, unique. Now, that care­fully whittled bi­par­tis­an, an­tipoliti­cian im­age is ser­i­ously dam­aged. And as the gov­ernor weighs a 2016 pres­id­en­tial run, he’s got at least one already de­clared op­pon­ent: a per­cep­tion of self-de­feat­ing nar­ciss­ism.

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