One of the tweets after the earthquake in August was about a certain hefty New Jersey governor and object of Republican presidential fantasies:
“I think Chris Christie just jumped into the race.”
Bada-bum. Christie’s size has been the butt of jokes, with puns always intended, since his own campaign against Jon Corzine. His bulk is the gift that keeps on giving for late-night comics. And though it never feels right to mock someone’s physical appearance, this is politics.
It’s also PR. Optics matter here. Pundits claim the turning point in the 1960 presidential race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was the first televised debate. JFK was cool, suave and handsome, while Nixon, who rejected makeup, looked shifty and nervous as he sweated through his five o’clock shadow. A little face powder might have changed the course of history.
Of course, obesity carries the added baggage of health implications. It’s an easy metaphor for self-control, which has been a huge topic of interest among journalists and bloggers. The irony that Christie, a fiscal conservative, made his reputation on cutting consumption, is red meat for the media.
Recently, Michael Kinsley weighed in with a harsh post stating Christie is unfit to be president, which invited an op/ed feeding frenzy about his size. Many pundits were less strident, and still others have leaped to Christie’s defense, but the fact is, the governor’s girth is a central issue in his non-campaign. Talk about piling on.
Here’s my take: the press has overblown the issue. If I were advising the Governor, I’d probably tell him to kick up his exercise regimen in private, wear his suit jacket in public, and to be photographed showing vigor and vibrant good health. But I wouldn’t lose sleep over the Governor’s gains.
Part of his appeal is that he looks and speaks like a regular guy, and his size hearkens back to a simpler time, when girth suggested strength and authority, not heart disease. And if mediagenic looks were the most important criteria for political charisma, Mitt Romney would be cruising to an easy nomination instead of looking over his shoulder.
One thing’s certain; if Christie does choose to jump into the race, after all the public speculation, he’s sure to make a big splash. One way or another, the guy’s gonna be huge.