Chris Christie: Profile of a Bully

Chris Christie's bullying worked beautifully—until now

Posted Jan 09, 2014

Don't challenge me!

Note 1. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie received unprecedented support across party lines as a Republican in a Blue State—he was re-elected over Democratic opponent Barbara Buono by more than 20 points. It is fair to say that the people of New Jersey love him. Christie is famous for his in-your-face style, for mocking and bullying anyone—reporters, politicians, the public—who asks even a mildly challenging question, or disagrees with him in the slightest way. 

Note 2. I have written for PT that bullying is a successful personal and political strategy, using the example of Donald Trump. Most people aren't secure enough to challenge bullies and bullshitters—people who define the situation, even the facts, to their advantage. In fact, it is "natural" for people to accept those who self-confidently assert their dominance and brook no opposition.

Note 3. I lived in New Jersey when Chris Christie was first elected governor of the state (I didn't vote for him or his Democratic opponent, Jon Corzine, but instead for a third-party candidate). I also lived in Morris County when Christie, an incumbent county freeholder, was defeated in a Republican primary election in which, as a Democrat, I didn't vote.

Note 4. Members of Christie's office and appointees of his to the Port Authority, which administers New York's bridges and tunnels, have been revealed in e-mails to have closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge in retribution against the Mayor of Fort Lee, a town next to the bridge. Christie had denied these charges, which seemed strange since the Mayor, a Democrat, would not ordinarily be expected to support a Republican, and since Christie was already assured a massive victory in his re-election as governor. The public and political commentators have been shocked by these events.

Note 5. Christie's "habit" of steamrolling opponents; of mocking the press and others who question him, his policies, or his actions; of punishing even trivial acts of rebellion or disagreement (as described here in the New York Times), is well-established.

So Christie proves that bullying is—or can be—a successful political and personal style. The public and political pundits like bullies; they enjoy seeing others put down by a powerful figure. On the flip side, people bask in the approval of a bully when he smiles on them, seemingly in direct proportion to how viciously he excoriates others, less fortunate than they.  So we don't need to ask why Christie is a bully (others can answer what in his life turned Christie into a bully) —bullying works. But then we shouldn't be surprised when, in its extremity, his bullying runs over the side of the cup, as it has in the George Washington Bridge situation.

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P.S.:  Chris Christie has now offered a serious press conference defense of his reputation, firing the one woman in his office already identified in the e-mails as the source for closing the lanes on the GWB.  I reserve judgment on how well he did and what follows.  However, I do have five criteria for assessing the value/validity of a public confession/apology.

1.  Did the confessor reveal any new offenses (his own or by his associates) not previously exposed?  (No)

2.  Does the confessor apologize for anything other than being too trusting or the flaws of others?  Does he say something genuine, like, "I have been thin-skinned and arrogant in the past reactions to complaints or disagreements -- I shouldn't have made fun of reporters' questions?"  (No -- tell sign: Christie continues to mock the media for their questions)

3.  Does the confessor express any greater openness or vulnerability than before for the problems that have occurred under his leadership? (No)

4.  When the confessor makes the typical declaration -- "I take full responsibility" -- is there any consequence that he personally suffers or takes on directly for the problems he has confessed to (e.g., I will do this differently in the future)? (No)

5.  Does the confessor support a process going forward whereby more misdeeds not yet revealed can be uncovered? (Not clear yet)

See my post at HuffPo on the press conference, "5 Things Christie Didn't Do at His Press Conference"

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