The 2016 Republican presidential trail is already filled with candidates playing the ”I’m the toughest” game. There’s union-bashing Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. There’s war hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. There’s give-me-any-bomb-and-I’ll-toss-it Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
And now, as of Tuesday, there’s a new contender for the title of the biggest GOP-nomination-aspiring jerk of all—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who formally announced his campaign and is offering America some Jersey Shore in-your-face attitude combined with an incredible track record of thuggish cronyism.
It’s not just that Christie claims he didn’t know anything about the political revenge plot by his top aides that all but closed the George Washington Bridge in 2013 the first week of school; it’s his judgment about who he surrounds himself with in high office. It's his Wall Street giveaways, such as tripling pension fund fees paid to Wall Street friends after going after state worker retirements. It's his seemingly endless delight in bullying any voter who dares question his priorities in town meetings.
“I am not here to be bullied,” declared a former New Jersey teacher of the year at one forum, where she asked why he didn’t get more money from a big legal settlement with Exxon that could have been used to fortify teacher pensions. Christie replied, “You are not being bullied, because you are asking me questions. I get to ask you questions back.”
Reporters in New Jersey who have covered Christie for years have many lists of what they dislike about the latest man who would be president. In fairness, they also say it can be refreshing to have a plainspoken politician who says what he thinks, even if it comes wrapped in self-serving blather. What follows are a mix of eight of the jerkiest things about Christie.
1. One angry guy. As NJ.com reported midway through his first term (he was re-elected in 2013), Christie’s temper is very real and a driving force in his personality. “While many outside New Jersey believe the governor’s Jersey-style directness is refreshing, it’s often mean-spirited and vicious. Challenge him at your own risk. He’s a bully,” they wrote.
2. He takes revenge. This aspect of Christie’s character was well known before the so-called Bridgegate scandal where his aides used their muscle to intimidate a small-city mayor who didn’t jump when Christie snapped his fingers. That scandal has led to an ongoing FBI investigation where those who have been questioned have told reporters they’ve been interviewed about other political firings. As NJ.com wrote before then, “He’s vengeful: Christie went after sexually abused kids, heartlessly cutting the funding to a facility that nurtures these vulnerable children in a heated budget battle with Democrats. And he killed a college internship program after the founder sided with Democrats in a redistricting fight.”
3. He likes rough play. Christie absurdly sees himself as a “uniter,” to use a cliché from the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush. But take a look at any recent YouTube video where Christie is being challenged by an audience member and what you’ll see is he believes that nobody who disagrees with him—or his analysis—is capable of thinking for themselves. There’s this exchange with a former New Jersey teacher of the year, who he called a liar. There’s this exchange from New Hampshire with a man who didn’t like Christie calling his lifetime of paying into Social Security “an entitlement.” And NJ.com has said, he holds this same attitude towards state Democratic leaders and New Jersey’s U.S. senators.
4. A street fighter—for Wall Street. NJ.com called Christie a “class warrior for the rich,” saying that by the second year of his first gubernatorial term he’d “vetoed higher taxes on millionaires, but raised the tax burden on poor families by cutting the earned income tax credit. (He has also been blind to the needs of the poor, targeted seniors with his cuts and slashed women’s health programs.)” If anything, that pattern has only deepened. As David Sirota reported for International Business Times, under his watch the annual fees paid to New Jersey’s pension managers leapt from $200 million in 2012 to $600 million in 2014.
5. He’s blind to own ethical lapses. Christie isn’t very concerned about the appearance of corruption when it comes to being treated in the style he believes he deserves. One recent example of that narcissism was a series of ritzy overseas junkets uncovered by the New York Times. Christie was flown on private planes and feted by executives with pending business before his state, such as Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who helped out as Christie opposed expansion plans by some competing casinos. Adelson’s jet was just one of several examples.
6. Political opportunist, not civil servant. There are many examples of Christie putting his political future ahead of the public interest. As NY.com wrote, “Christie always has his eye on the next (better) job. As freeholder, he wanted a seat in Trenton. As U.S. attorney, he wanted to be governor. Now he’s been tempted to run for president.” That was before he was re-elected governor in 2013 and started planning a presidential campaign. Earlier this year, when he went to Europe, Christie said it was to drum up business, not boost his presidential profile. But a state-based poll found almost no one believed that excuse; New Jersey residents know he wants to be president, even if he says otherwise.
7. Claims he doesn’t pander until he does. This is another side of his vanity and political egoism. Christie likes to think he’s a Republican who isn’t afraid to do unpopular things if it’s the right thing—such as welcoming President Obama’s help after Hurricane Sandy during the last presidential campaign. But then he embraces some of the looniest right-wing causes to make a play for evangelical votes. Remember him saying in February that parents should have the final word on vaccinating their children against measles, as health officials were trying to contain a 14-state outbreak? Early in his term, he killed a years-in-the-planning new Hudson River commuter tunnel to show fiscal conservatives he could toe their line. Christie, needless to say, never admits he’s pandering—but then again he’s made a career out of never having to say he’s sorry, NJ.com said .
8. His contempt for women. Christie’s self-centered, combative personality doesn’t do well under criticism from women. There’s nothing new here. As NJ.com wrote, he “treats women with contempt: Sheila Oliver? A liar. Loretta Weinberg? Someone should take a bat to her. Valerie Vainieri Huttle? A jerk. When a female caller on a TV show asked about his kids attending private school, he sneered and told her it was none of her business.” And these are not even the latest examples. Just consider his smarmy exchange with this career teacher from Kenilworth Town Hall, when she dared tell him he was taking sides with the wealthy against lifelong teachers and he said anyone entrusted to teach children the truth needed to get their facts straight.
The 2016 GOP Field
Nobody who runs for president lacks a big ego or grandiose visions for themselves and the country. But Christie’s addition to the still-growing 2016 Republican field is notable in that he stands out as a especially abrasive jerk among more self-satisfied narcissists. It will be a really weird spectacle to see him tough it out against Wisconsin’s Walker and others for the GOP nomination to be the candidate for bully-in-chief.
On the other hand, the Republicans might be doing the country a great favor with their crowded nominating contest. By the time it is over, each of the candidates will have made so much noise to get would-be voters’ attention that Americans will see them for who they truly are. In Christie’s case, that won’t take very long—of that, you can be sure.
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).