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Politics

Chris Christie's Vanity Problem

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

(MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/GettyImages)

photo of Matt  Berman
January 13, 2014

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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