Can the Tough Guy Kill ‘Em At the Pizza Ranch?

In a meditation today on Chris Christie’s famously unfriendly demeanor, Paul Waldman makes a distinction that really could matter if the New Jersey Guv does decide to run for president:

[W]hat separates Christie from someone like Representative Don Young of Alaska, who has a strong case to win biggest jerk in Congress, a title for which there is no shortage of competition? The key lies in who find themselves targets of Christie’s outbursts. Don Young grabs, threatens, or insults pretty much anybody who gets in his way. But Christie usually has some kind of substantive policy disagreement with the person he’s lashing out at. Most of us would think that’s not nearly enough justification for behavior that looks a lot like simple bullying (particularly given the power imbalance between Christie and whoever he’s yelling at), but it does allow him to claim that he’s not just an asshole, he’s an asshole with purpose. If you stand up at a town meeting and ask him an impertinent question about something like the state budget, he’ll shout you down (to the cheers of his supporters)….

But you know where you don’t get too many chances to show what a tough guy you are? Iowa. Campaigning for the caucuses is an interminable process of trooping from living room to senior center to VFW hall, meeting people in small groups, looking them in the eye and asking them for their votes. Christie is a pretty good retail politician, so it isn’t that he can’t perform in those settings. But being tough just isn’t part of that show, and if the biggest part of Christie’s appeal is that he can talk like an extra from Goodfellas when somebody challenges him, he isn’t going to get very far.

That makes sense. You may recall that the last two GOP presidential candidates who made a living baiting liberals were Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and Newt Gingrich in 2012. Neither of them did real well in Iowa. And Christie starts in a real hole there anyway: the first Bloomberg/Register poll of likely 2016 Caucus-goers showed Christie running eighth at 6%, but more importantly, with far worse approval/disapproval ratings (39/45) than any other prospective candidate.

If Chris Christie does run for president, he should definitely skip Iowa. He’s not likely to do well there, and the last thing he needs is to risk blowing up at some RTL activist at a Pizza Ranch in Sioux City.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.