Collins: Loud is a losing proposition in politics

New York TimesAugust 10, 2013 

Let’s talk about Gov. Chris Christie. Everybody is; he’s the politician of the hour. At the top of the latest poll of likely Republican presidential primary voters in New Hampshire. (Just 2 1/2 years to go until the Iowa caucuses!)

If he winds up running, it could be a fantastic test of my theory that women won’t vote for men who yell.

We don’t need to have a discussion about whether or not Christie is a yeller, right? You just have to call up that video of him pursuing a heckler down the boardwalk, waving an ice cream cone. And while Christie is probably not any more in love with himself than your average major league politician, he is a little less good about concealing it. Dan Balz of The Washington Post interviewed him for the newly released book, “Collision 2012,” in which Christie happily recounts the way the rich and powerful begged him to run for the White House. (Henry Kissinger, the governor reported, told him: “Being a successful president is about two things, courage and character: You have both, and your country needs you.”)

Also, we all remember the Christie keynote speech at the Republican convention, in which he told the crowd how wonderful he had made things in his home state and urged them to support whatshisname, who would carry out the New Jersey agenda in Washington. (Before which, Balz reports, the governor had a meltdown over plans to cut his introductory video in the interest of time and threatened to either walk away or go onstage and say the world’s most popular obscenity on live TV.)

On the other hand, he really, really likes Bruce Springsteen.

There’s a side to Christie that reminds women of their worst boyfriends. In his race for governor in 2009, he won male voters by a wide margin. But women went for his opponent, Gov. Jon Corzine, 50 percent to 45 percent. This is a particularly startling figure when you add in the fact that Corzine had the personal warmth and communication skills of an unconscious flounder.

Democrats were eyeing that gender gap when they chose Barbara Buono, a state senator, and Milly Silva, a labor leader, to run for governor and lieutenant governor this fall. They’re bucking long odds. Christie’s record has a lot of weak spots, but he was terrific when it came to the cardinal rule in politics, which is to show up for bad weather. Voters never forget good behavior in a storm, and Christie was pretty near pitch-perfect during Hurricane Sandy.

But let’s get back to that infant race for the Republican presidential nomination. The WMUR Granite State Poll, which had Christie on top in New Hampshire, put Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky in second. So it was kind of fascinating last week when they got into a fight, carried out long-distance at top volume.

Christie started it, when he laced into a “strain of libertarianism” that he termed “very dangerous” to national security. This was a garbled broadside against Paul’s recent campaign against the government’s mass collection of phone and email records. “I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans of 9/11 and have that conversation,” he concluded.

Terrible opening. You cannot win a serious argument by bopping your opponent with the widows and orphans of 9/11. That was a tactic well-honed by Rudy Giuliani, a person whose race for the presidency will be forever remembered in the annals of totally disastrous political campaigns.

Paul, in response, trotted off to Fox News and announced that if Christie “cared about protecting this country maybe he wouldn’t be in this gimme, gimme, gimme.” His garbled broadside was a suggestion that by demanding so much money for hurricane relief, Christie was depriving the country of funds for national defense.

Double error! First of all, you do not mess with weather-related disasters. Also, Paul left the door wide open for Christie’s next retort, which was to point out that New Jersey gets 61 cents back for every $1 its residents send to Washington, while Kentucky gets back $1.51.

So, in the battle for the incoherent defense of the indefensible, Christie won Round 2. There was further sniping, during which Paul called the governor “king of bacon,” then made a peace offering that Christie swatted down. (“I don’t really have time for that.”) And then life moved on.

In the end, the governor scored points only when the Yelling Guy was replaced by the rational politician with an actual point to make. What if it turns out that the most celebrated aspect of Chris Christie — his high-decibel tough-talking — is really his biggest handicap as a national candidate?

In that New Hampshire poll, Christie got 27 percent of the male vote and 14 percent of the women. All the other candidates mentioned were pretty much gender gapless. It’s just one little poll, but maybe we’re onto something. Maybe quiet and sane trumps loud and crazy, even in Republican primary politics.

Could be the start of something soft-spoken.

Email Ms. Collins at editorial@nytimes.com.

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service