Propelled by both media-bestowed celebrity power and his own skillful political gamesmanship, Chris Christie steamrolled his way to another term as governor of New Jersey last night. For a self-professed conservative Republican, winning reelection in a generally liberal state is no small feat. But to win by a greater than 22-point margin is, I would say, staggering. He won the Hispanic vote. He won the women vote (against a woman opponent). And he somehow managed to win Mercer County, home to the Democratic cities, Trenton and Princeton. I could go on.
So here come the flurry of theories for Christie’s success from journalists eager to unleash their pent-up chatter about his presumed White House bid (“The real race is just beginning,” announcedThe Hill). Any number of explanations tell at least part of the story. Yes: Christie bludgeoned the NJ Democrats into submission, since his leadership after Superstorm Sandy made him near-unstoppable. I submit, however, that there exists a grand unifying theory which has thus far eluded the commentariat—Chris Christie is the candidate of the Bro.
Let me illustrate this with a tale. It was Memorial Day 2013 at the Jersey Shore and Christie was touring select locales to inaugurate the summer. His gubernatorial motorcade had barely touched down at a family-style brunch establishment in Surf City before one young man, sporting a backwards cap and a certain kind of attitude, called out with glee—“Christie For President Let’s Go!” An arena-style chant would have easily broken out if additional Bros had been present, but the assembled well-wishers skewed decidedly middle-aged. “We’ll see!” the governor hollered back, grinning, a confident glint in his eye.
Attitude is of paramount importance to the Bro, who disdains “politics,” even as he relishes the opportunity to root for strong leaders. (Bros believe a “leadership” deficiency ails America, though they have trouble identifying precisely what proper “leadership” might entail.) The triumph of Christie’s persona—his refusal to “mince words” or “tolerate any crap,” with a wisecrack-y edge, and yet win elections, represents a political victory for the Bro more than passing any legislation.
That morning at the shore was Christie’s to bask in. He offered endless high-fives and all those desiring a signature bearhug received one. Elderly women wearing oversized sweatshirts sometimes prolonged their embraces for a chance to whisper in the governor’s ear—he’d nod solemnly and rub their shoulders before moving on. “We need you in the White House,” onlookers pleaded. Virtually no one at any of the three beachside visits I monitored had policy on their minds, which largely limited the discourse to tales of conquering Sandy-related adversity, sports banter, and avowals of Jersey Pride.
It should be clarified that the appeal of Bro-politics is by no mean limited to males, but back in January 2012, when he snickered “You know, something may go down tonight, but it ain’t gonna be jobs, sweetheart” at a woman who was concerned about New Jersey’s economic trajectory, the governor cemented his predilection to stoke more...masculine-oriented passions. (Christie won the male by 43 percent.)
Besides unlimited bearhugs, nothing titillates the Bro like a good, crisp, super-shoutable catchphrase. Once ownership of a catchphrase is established, it can be used as a right of passage as well as a bargaining chip for Bro camaraderie. (Better still if the catchphrase is easily convertible into a fiery chant.) On the campaign trail, Christie specializes in extemporaneously reprising his repertoire of memorable catchphrases from over the years. Much to the delight of boardwalk-goers, whenever somebody tried to elicit a classic zinger, he’d happily oblige. For instance, in Ocean City, a Bro within ear-shot chortled about defying evacuation orders during the first “once-in-a-lifetime storm” of Christie’s tenure, Hurricane Irene in August 2011. “I told you to get the hell off the beach and you didn’t listen!” the governor retorted good-naturedly, harking back to one of his marquee YouTube soundbites. The Bro appeared satisfied with the exchange, high-fiving an associate.
At the climax of his keynote address to the 2012 Republican National Convention, Christie proclaimed, "Tonight, we choose respect over love.” The meaning of this exhortation has become clearer since then: Good order is best maintained when everyone knows their proper place, and when leaders aren’t afraid to remind them of where they belong. In fact, lots of folks long for this reminder, especially if it can be communicated with a little humor. “People want leaders, not lawyers,” Christie declared yesterday, postulating that his victory signified an “affirmation of leadership.” My patently untestable theory holds that he won at least 95 percent of the Bro vote.
Christie’s genius lies in his exudation of apolitical “common sense” while pursuing highly ambitious, ideologically-driven political initiatives, as he did throughout his first term in office. He may have spearheaded the most far-reaching cuts to social services in state history, but in the public imagination, Christie is primarily your straight-talking, Shore-restoring, bear-hugging pal who stars in cutesy web videos with Bon Jovi and Alec Baldwin. Just as the Bro prefers it.
During a lull on the boardwalk tour, I asked the governor for comment on an issue that was then of national importance: the Justice Department’s secret seizure of AP phone records, widely denounced as an unprecedented assault on press freedoms. "I’m concerned...the President should be aggressive on all those things," Christie said.
This puzzled me, given that the predominant criticism at the time had been that Obama was overly aggressive in prosecuting national security leaks to journalists, so I asked for clarification. “Listen, listen, listen!” Christie complained. “I said I’m concerned the president should’ve been more aggressive on those things.” My confusion persisted.
“Now I’m going to start to get aggravated,” he warned. “And you know what happens then—it’s not good!”
On cue, a nearby Bro hooted, and away bounced the governor.