Chris Christie and the Average American Joe

6 August 2013

Jonathan Bernstein objects to the notion that it’s Chris Christie’s supposed ability to speak like an “average Joe” than makes him a strong candidate to win the Republican party’s 2016 presidential nomination. Specifically he objects to a Chris Cilizza post in which he writes that:

Christie has one thing that no other candidate — not Marco Rubio, not Jeb Bush, not Rand Paul, not Scott Walker — who is thinking about running for the GOP nod in 2016 does: An ability to talk like a normal person.

As Mitt Romney, John Kerry and Al Gore can attest — and not in a good way — being, or at least seeming, like an average Joe is critically important to your chances of winning.

But as Bernstein observes, Romney, Kerry and Gore each won their party’s nominations! So, for that matter, did Michael Dukakis! And George HW Bush! GHWB even managed to be elected president (albeit in a contest unfair types might label the Battle of the Dweebs). As failures go these guys were actually pretty successful even though none of them were credible impersonators of the “average Joe”. I mean, only one person gets to be President of the United States but Dukakis, Romney, Kerry et al made it to the final round. That being so and considering their distinct lack of Average Joeness you might think that being – or seeming – like an Average Joe is an over-rated skill or quality.

Because it is! What matters is something slightly different. Voters need to be able to imagine the candidate sitting behind that big desk in the Oval Office. Can they picture the candidate addressing the nation? Are they comfortable with that picture?

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And those questions are situational too. Democratic voters in 2004 were, in the end, more comfortable with the idea of President Kerry than they were with the notion of President Edwards or President Dean or President Clark. That does not mean Kerry was more or less likeable than his rivals, merely that he convinced a greater share of primary voters that he a) could be a plausible president and b) he had the best chance of defeating George W Bush. And because of a) then b). You could make the same argument about Mitt Romney in 2012.

Which is one reason why Christie is a stronger candidate for 2016 than, say, Rand Paul. Presidentialism is a tough thing to define but it is something that, like grace, you know when you see it. Paul’s growing band of admirers will want for nothing in the motivation stakes but I suspect the Kentucky Senator lacks the ability to reassure voters or make them feel comfortable. He’s too passionate and too passionate about causes tangential to most American lives to give off the air of grounded competence many voters look for.

That’s a significant problem. When pundits talk about likeability they really mean to talk about comfort level. The ability to communicate clearly and in language that does not seem politically-scripted certainly helps; so does some measure of empathy for “ordinary” and “hard-working” American families. But it is not enough on its own.

In any case for many Republicans, Christie’s appeal – at present – lies less in his ability to speak Average Joe and more in his willingness to take a conservative baseball bat to a liberal cocktail party.  He’s no pointy-headed smoothie! Yay! Christie’s winning brand of blue-collar conservatism in a blue state gives him credibility already and gives him the “authenticity” pundits seem to crave. It makes him stand out from the rest of the nascent Republican field and that’s a definite plus for Christie at this stage of the cycle. But it’s too soon to declare him the presumptive favourite for the nomination not least because campaigning on the national stage – as Rick Perry might remind you – is a different ballgame.

Being likeable is one thing but it’s more important for a candidate to be respected. That means they need to project some brand of presidentialism which is not quite the same thing as being able to talk Average Joe even if that quality may also be extremely useful. We don’t know if Christie can do that yet.

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Show comments
  • AsYouSay

    The tabloid AN Wilson.

  • AsYouSay

    Old, illiterate man.

  • AsYouSay

    God, you are such a wanker. Really. What is the point of you?

  • Jupiter

    He’s too fat, he could be dead by 2016.

    And the Republicans will never forgive him for sucking up to Barry after that hurricane last year.

  • gavin

    I think its far too early to say how things will be in 2016, or earlier when the “beauty contests” for the Party tickets will be run.
    It used to be that you could rely on certain funding models for each party. Big business, union affiliates, mafia money etc. These days are long gone. Now its billionaires with a grudge, or a vision ( which may not be relevant to the US), or special interests with lots of money and few scruples who matter.
    It would be nice if an ” average joe” gets a run. I really like Americans, but in my lifetime no ordinary person has run, or won. I cannot think that will change.

  • pramod kumar

    I love
    the candle idea- very clever little mind.

  • C. Gee

    Speaking Average Joe, likeability, authenticity, presidentiality, charisma are all brands of electability – which is what preelection popularity polls predict and election results prove. I’m confident that, with a good hairdresser, Mrs. Clinton will be the next unelectable, unpresidential, uncharismatic, unlikeable, and inauthentic American president.

  • george

    What the h ll does Alex Massie know about ‘the average American Joe’ (whoever he is?). — Signed: An American

  • boxsterb123t

    It’s curious, to say the least, how so many people seem to be saying, basically: the facts are lying!!!

    “…Gov. Christie was rated more favorably than Mrs. Clinton by independent voters, receiving a net +34 personal rating (53% to 19%) compared to her +10 rating (48% to 38%). None of the other potential GOP candidates had a net positive rating from independent voters.”


    Seriously, the GOP better wise up.

    Polls don’t lie.

    But, hey, it’s a free country.

    Rationalize all you want.

    After almost a year of 2016 head-to-head polling, Christie is by far the only Republican that is close to being consistently competitive against Hillary.

    You don’t have to like Christie.

    And you can call him names all the live long day.

    But if you actually care about winning, you cannot just say…”He can’t win…he won’t win”.

    Either suggest some other Republican who you think would be a strong candidate, AND back it up with actual facts, polling, etc…

    Or, oh well.

  • Augustus

    “…makes him a strong candidate to win the Republican party’s 2016 presidential nomination.”

    Republican In Name Only-RINO.

  • Austin Barry

    As a morbidly obese man, Chris would likely attract the votes of the huge ‘waddle constituency’ visible throughout the United States. These wheezing forehead wipers have been largely without a voice since the porcine Ted Kennedy popped his winged Oxfords a few years ago.

    It’s not enough to sound like Joe Sixpack, you must look like him.

    • george

      You Brits ain’t as thin as you used to be either, are you? Sometimes I really wish the rest of the world would phouck off and leave the U. S. alone: you didn’t achieve what we achieved, you were never free as we are free, and you have nothing else to say about it. Cheers.

      • Wessex Man

        Come now george, even in the fog of rage, you just can’t make a comment like that, did Iraq scream at you and your puppy Blair come get me big boys or Afghanistan? the USA just won’t leave the world alone, as one of your military chaps said to me “where would the world be if we weren’t there to police it?” where indeed?

        Going on to our fatties, the didn’t use to be until your fast food outlets invaded Europe, matter of fact I can’t remember many fatties at School. as to being free, well everything you do seems to be listened to by your very own big brother. Cheers.

      • Austin Barry

        Thanks for the donut store philosophy, George. Hope you’re recovering from the heart operation.

        • george

          If you want my finer writing you’re going to have to pay for it. What heart operation?

      • Keith D

        George,having lived in the States for years through choice I’m very pro America.But you do get a bad rep and your comment illuminates why.The rest of the world sometimes wishes you would phouck off.
        And how could y’all vote twice for that mess Obama? Really.

        • george

          Don’t blame me: I voted for McCain and Romney.

  • therealguyfaux

    There’s this to be said for Chris Christie– if he ever became president, Steven R. Schirripa (Baccala from The Sopranos) will not lack for work for the following four-to-eight years, unless CC’s inevitable fatal heart attack occurs in that time frame. (I mean, the guy’s like five-and-a-half ft tall and 30+ stone, FFS!) Which reminds me, when is checkout time for Eric Pickles/Tom Watson/Lord Prezza et al?

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