Get ready for Chris “9/11” Christie, the candidate who, if his surge in New Hampshire continues, will soon move onto ramming his 9/11 experience down the throats of voters in other early primary states. If you’re unsure that you can listen to somber reminisces turn into generic, self-absorbed bragging about a resume for the presidency, you may want to ask your doctor if Chris Christie is right for you.
Christie has been on this kick for a while, but it will be getting new attention thanks to the uptick in his fortunes this week. These included earning the allegedly important endorsement of the New Hampshire Union-Leader, the state’s largest newspaper, and a new PPP poll showing him moving from ninth place in mid-October to fourth place six weeks later. The poll also showed Christie with the highest overall favorability rating of any candidate, at 61 percent.
The New Jersey governor has made this dramatic turnaround in two ways. One, he has focused on New Hampshire like a lion stalking a zebra, bombarding the residents with calls, texts, and his own lumbering presence. He has spent 50 days there this year, more than any other candidate besides Lindsey Graham. The residents of the state, naturally, have been flattered and responded accordingly. (Whether flattering this mostly white 1/300th of the population of America into giving your campaign the illusion of momentum, resulting in the press and the national party declaring you a new favorite to win the nomination, is a healthy way to pick the next leader of the free world is a debate for another day.)
But Christie’s more cynical strategy to win hearts and minds has been to cast himself, like a late-career Clint Eastwood, as the hard-bitten, seen-it-all former federal prosecutor whose awful experiences on 9/11 gives him unique insight into what a president must do to Keep Us Safe. In this, he separates himself from the callow Marco Rubio, who when talking about foreign policy always sounds like a half-bright student who spent his study hall last period cramming for a test; the cynical incantation of the magic words “radical Islam” that is the only distinguishing feature of Ted Cruz’s platform; and the over-the-top bullshit of Donald Trump.
This experience gives Christie license, as he exercised during a speech to the Republican Jewish Council on Thursday, to ludicrously claim that he has “done nothing but protect our country for 13 years,” a statement that probably has a few members of New Jersey’s public employee unions tearing their hair out with one hand while holding their reduced pension statements in the other. It allows him to claim in all seriousness that when, as president, he gets his first national security briefing, the FBI director won’t have to worry “whether I understand all the acronyms he’s using.” (“Vote Christie: He Knows Acronyms!”) It allowed him to cast as “false” the idea that Bush-era anti-terrorist tools such as the National Security Agency’s metadata collection program that was finally shut down just this week were in any way unconstitutional, a conclusion with which a federal court has already disagreed.
A cynic could say, then that this week’s horrific shooting in San Bernardino and the recent terrorist attack in Paris could not come along at a better time for Christie. He can spin a tale about how he has been in the trenches, unlike his opponents or that (you can almost hear the sneer) law professor currently occupying the Oval Office. He can claim to be the law-and-order, national-security mandarin that the country needs at this dangerous juncture, an overstuffed Sam Waterston stepped whole and breathing from the pages of Dick Wolf’s next series.
Of course, Rudy Giuliani tried wrapping himself in the dust and terror of 9/11 back in 2008, as if being in the vicinity of the World Trade Center bestowed magical powers on him. That didn’t work out so well for the former New York City mayor, who finished fourth in New Hampshire with nine percent of the vote and dropped out of the race after a poor showing in Florida three weeks later. But like everything else in this year’s meth-fueled demolition derby of a GOP primary, all bets for past elections offering a model for future predictions are off.