Oh, dear. After issuing all but Shermanesque statements about not running for president – “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected,” as Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman put it back in 1884 – it looks like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie still may enter the rocky race for the Republican nomination.
That, at least, is what “several people close to the governor with knowledge of his thinking” tell the Associated Press.
Christie reportedly is being urged by senior establishment Republicans (including George H.W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, and Nancy Reagan) who see him as the best bet to beat President Obama in 2012. Former New York governor George Pataki has just endorsed him.
“He’s definitely our strongest candidate in November,” US Rep. Peter King (R) of New York told the New York Post. “He’s the closest we have to putting together the old Reagan Democratic coalition.”
Of course, no one close to Christie says anything definitive on the record. Who’d want to get out front of a man of Christie’s Falstaffian heft?
Speaking of which, columnists (including the Monitor’s) have felt free in recent days to comment on Christie’s ample (and perhaps unhealthy) girth as a factor in whether he’s qualified to be president. Christie himself has spoken of his weight problem.
But there’s been pushback to that line of thinking.
Writing in New York magazine (under the headline “Chris Christie Is Fat. So What?”) Jonathan Chait argues that “the American overclass prizes thinness to a degree that is actually unhealthy, and the disgust privileged Americans feel toward fat people, who are more likely to be poor and middle-class, dresses itself up as medical advice.”
“Why does his weight matter at all?” Chait asks. “The only real reasoning I see here is that American elites view obesity with disgust, and they’re repulsed at the notion that a very fat guy could rise to a position of symbolic leadership. It’s not a very attractive sentiment.”
Believe it or not, some see the issue as one of civil rights. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (whose slogan is “We come in all sizes”), for example.
Peggy Howell, the organization’s public relations director, is quoted as saying, "I see it as a tactic to try and take attention away from his accomplishments and instead focus on his body size.”
"Do people have a bias against President Obama because he smokes?” she asks. “Why should there be any difference in supporting a leader who smokes cigarettes or a leader who has a little extra weight on his body? Neither are perceived to be healthy choices."
“It's precisely because of Christie's husky stature – combined with his blunt-talking, Jersey-guy attitude – that makes him such an appealing candidate to those in the GOP who have been begging him to get in the race,” he writes. “Why? His size, style and every-guy persona are the perfect contrast to President Obama. Where Obama is slim, Christie is beefy. Obama is reflective and Christie shoots from the hip.”
No, it won’t be Christie’s weight but his less-than-tea-party background that could make it hard for him to win the GOP nomination.
Dan Amira, who writes on politics for New York magazine, has a recent article titled “Five Things Conservative Voters Would Hate About Chris Christie.”Among them:
He’s said there needs to be “a clear path to citizenship” for immigrants (what hardliners call “amnesty”).
He’s for “common sense” guns laws “to make sure that we don't have an abundance of guns out there” – the kind of position that makes National Rifle Association members double-bolt their gun cabinets.
He’s said that "climate change is real" and "human activity plays a role in these changes." (Among the declared GOP candidates, only former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has not waffled on or denied global warming.)
New Jersey under Christie’s leadership is participating in the Race to the Top federal education program, and he’s called Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan “a great ally to try to reform education for kids across America … an extraordinary leader on this issue.” (Most of the declared GOP candidates would can Race to the Top.)
While most conservatives were decrying plans for an Islamic mosque and cultural center near 9/11’s ground zero, Christie said both supporters and critics were using it as a political football.
So if Christie does get into the race, it won’t be his physical size but the nature and dimension of his record that tips the political scale.