Did Time magazine call New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, um, rotund? That’s a question rattling around media sites Friday, given that this week’s Time cover features a silhouette of the non-svelte but newly reelected Mr. Christie, and the title “The Elephant in the Room."
Time itself demurs. “He’s obviously a big Republican. But he’s also done a really huge thing here this week,” said Time Executive Editor Michael Duffy on MSNBC Thursday night.
Mr. Duffy went on to say that Christie had now established himself as a serious 2016 presidential contender and a cultural phenomenon on the level of Sarah Palin or maybe even Bill Clinton.
“He’s lifted himself beyond politics,” said Duffy.
Pshaw. Not to the phenomenon part – Christie has indeed vaulted to the front ranks of US politicians by winning big in a blue state. But as to the obese-shaming denial, that’s a crock. Any journalist who has ever been in a page one or cover story meeting would know otherwise. Editors spend huge amounts of time shuffling through photos and asking about their impact, and whether we should crop here, and if maybe this would be improved by a puppy. If you think they didn’t see the “fat” connection, you probably still believe Joe Biden dials his own phone calls.
Look, that’s perfectly legitimate. Christie talks publicly about his struggle with his weight. Generally speaking, political science shows that voters prefer attractive candidates. Think about hair – the last bald person to win a presidential election was Dwight Eisenhower. And he’d won World War II.
Also, using the “elephant in the room” phrase in connection with Christie isn’t new. We did it ourselves, two years ago, writing that if he runs his size will be the “large gray mammal with a trunk” in the etc, etc.
Lots of other media types have said way, way sharper things about Christie’s girth. David Letterman has made it a running gag. It was even the subject of a “Top Ten” list on the ways the nation would be different if Chris Christie were president. (Our favorite: “No. 9: Goodbye, White House vegetable garden.")
But Christie defuses these attacks well. He went on Letterman and stuffed a doughnut in his mouth as Dave was talking to him. Letterman cracked up and hasn’t been as hard on him since.
Voters like candidates who are comfortable with who they are. In that sense, Christie’s weight could be a plus. He’s a big guy, with a big personality, and big ambitions. His size is distinctive, like Ronald Reagan’s hair, or President Obama’s ears. There’s nobody who looks like him in US politics.
In the end, his physical presence will just become one part of the total package voters weigh. (See how hard it is to avoid double entendres?) He’s indeed the elephant in the room. What remains to be seen is if he becomes the elephant in the Oval Office.