FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2009 file photo, then-New Jersey Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie greets supporters on election night at his headquarters in Parsippany, N.J. The Republican Party was in shambles, and Barack Obama's throngs of emboldened Democrats filled the November air with chants of "Yes we can!" "Change has come to America," Obama declared in Chicago on Election Night 2008, certain that with large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, he could deliver. (AP Photo/Christopher Barth, File) (AP)

The right's favorite 300-pound (plus) porn star

One YouTube hit at a time, Chris Christie has worked himself into the 2012 GOP White House mix


Steve Kornacki
November 13, 2010 12:29AM (UTC)

Slate's Dave Weigel, taking note of the latest Chris Christie video to hit YouTube, is puzzled that no other aspiring national GOP star is exploiting the viral (and free) nature of online video the way the New Jersey governor is:

And that's where Christie's fame has come from! He makes news less for his specific accomplishments, more for viral videos of himself taking names, which are rebroadcast on conservative sites, talk radio, and cable news. [Tim] Pawlenty's communications team tried, and partly succeeded, in drawing national attention to a win he pulled out on the 2010 state budget, but there was no visual excitement. A single video of him taking on critics at a town hall would have made more of an impression with national Tea Party activists than what he got from that, a Politico cover story on his tricky political win. Christie's team realize that winning fame as a national politician is not altogether different than winning fame as a budding Canadian pop star.

It's a very good point, but there's more to Christie's emergence as an online phenomenon than the fact that, among 2012 GOP dark horses, he's the only show in town on YouTube. Videos of Christie speaking to and interacting with journalists, politicians and regular citizens wouldn't spread the way they do if Christie himself didn't have such commanding stage presence and a performer's flair. He is a smooth, compelling speaker who can charm with self-deprecation in one moment, then turn up the heat for maximum impact the next. And he has a Clinton-ish knack for reducing policy arguments to digestible, common sense-seeming sound bites. Say what you will about Christie's politics, but his off-the-cuff interactions can be ... mesmerizing.

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They are also impossible to fake. Simply saying the right words and capturing it on film will only get you so far; Mike Pence demonstrated this recently when he appropriated one of Ronald Reagan's better-known lines and twisted it into a shot at Nancy Pelosi ("Recession is when your neighbor loses his job; depression is when you lose yours; and recovery is when Nancy Pelosi loses hers!"). Pence's words were virtually the same as Reagan's, but he lacked the Gipper's presence. From Pence's lips, the line sounded like an average bit of rhetoric being delivered by an average politician who was trying just a little too hard. I doubt Tim Pawlenty (or Mitch Daniels or Rick Santorum any other longer-shot '12 aspirant) could become anything like the sensation Christie now is by posting video clips.

The question, of course, is what Christie intends to do with his new status. His theatrics this year already prompted Rush Limbaugh to exclaim, "Is it wrong to love another man? Because I love Chris Christie," and led Glenn Beck to express his desire to make clips of "Chris Christie common-sense porn" a regular feature on his show. The affection that some of the right's most influential opinion-shapers have for him puts Christie in a unique spot among potential '12 dark horses.

In a terrific and well-reported piece at Capital New York, Mitch Blumenthal suggested this week that Christie is positioning himself for the No. 2 slot on the GOP ticket. This has the ring of plausibility. Publicly, Christie sniffs at the veep talk, but as Richard Codey, New Jersey's former acting governor, told Blumenthal, "If they offered him the vice presidential spot on the ticket he’d be thrilled." New Jersey's last Republican governor, Christine Todd Whitman, played this game too, hoping to land a spot on the 1996 ticket. Her response to President Clinton's 1995 State of Union address was seen as something of a tryout, but her pro-choice views probably doomed her from the start and she never got a serious look from Bob Dole. But Christie meets the GOP's abortion litmus test.

It is also not impossible that Christie will run for the White House himself in '12. It's unlikely that he will, mainly because running and losing would severely complicate his reelection prospects in New Jersey for 2013. The odds of success would have to be strong for Christie to walk back his public denials and jump into the '12 race. Right now, they're not. But maybe with a few more YouTube hits ...


Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki is an MSNBC host and political correspondent. Previously, he hosted “Up with Steve Kornacki” on Saturday and Sunday 8-10 a.m. ET and was a co-host on MSNBC’s ensemble show “The Cycle.” He has written for the New York Observer, covered Congress for Roll Call, and was the politics editor for Salon. His book, which focuses on the political history of the 1990s, is due out in 2017.

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