Chris Christie electability: Would his girth be a campaign issue?

Chris Christie hasn't even entered the GOP presidential race, but pundits (and comedians) are already suggesting his weight would be the, um, large gray big-eared mammal in the room.

Jae C. Hong/AP
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) speaks Tuesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

If Chris Christie does run for president, would his weight become a campaign issue?

Don’t blame us for bringing this up – if anything, we’re behind the bend on this one. Political columnists and late-night comedians have been poking at the subject for days. David Letterman’s Top 10 list on Tuesday was “Ways the Country Would Be Different if Chris Christie Were President,” and it was basically a list of 10 hefty jokes.

We’ll only quote one of the milder ones, No. 9: “Goodbye, White House vegetable garden.”

In the past, Governor Christie himself has handled this subject with equanimity, saying only that the political implications of his imposing physical presence vary according to voter and day. But appearance matters in politics, and especially in presidential politics, which depends so much on television ads and other images. Think about it: When was the last time a bald person won the White House? Not since the 1950s. And the bald president in question was Dwight Eisenhower, who’d helped win World War II.

(Yes, Gerald Ford was folliclely challenged, but he never won an election.)

Thus we believe that if Christie decides to run, which is a very, um, big if, his weight will be the, the, (let’s think here) large gray mammal with a trunk in the room. Republicans are kidding themselves if they don’t think Democrats will see the subject as a target that even they can hit.

Columnist Michael Kinsley, newly employed by Bloomberg View, made the point in a recent piece that Christie’s size will be employed as a symbol by opponents. [Editor's note: The original version misstated Mr. Kinsley's affiliation.]

“And it’s not just symbolism. We don’t yet know much about Chris Christie. He certainly makes all the right noises about fiscal discipline and seems to have done well so far as governor of New Jersey. Perhaps Christie is the only to help us get our national appetites under control. But it would help if he got his own under control first,” Mr. Kinsley writes.

In the Washington Post, long-time columnist Eugene Robinson argues that Christie’s weight would become a public issue if he ran because elected officials perform best when in optimal health, and that Christie is not.

“Obesity is a national epidemic whose costs are measured not just in dollars and cents but also in lives. Christie’s weight is as legitimate an issue as the smoking habit that President Obama says he has finally kicked,” writes Mr. Robinson.

Of course, the cake knife cuts both ways here: It is possible many ordinary voters will identify with Christie’s struggle with the fork. He speaks candidly about this, in a manner that even the non-plus-sized might find moving and authentic.

“I know it would be better for my kids if I got it more under control, and so I do feel a sense of guilt at times about that,” Christie said in a CNN interview earlier this year.

This is a moot point if Christie doesn’t run, of course. Politico has a thorough story out Friday exploring the many obstacles remaining in his way, from a collapsed primary timeline to the need to raise lots of money fast.

D.C.’s conventional wisdom remains that Christie has really meant it in the past when he said he doesn’t think he’s ready to run, and so he won’t. But Republican establishment figures continue to plead with the New Jersey governor to get into the race, and given the unpredictability of the campaign season so far, it wouldn’t be surprising if the nation gets its first presidential candidate of size since William Howard Taft. He was also a Republican, and he, in 1908, won.

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