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
Add to Briefcase
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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