Frank Sinatra was wrong about New York. It’s not whether you can make it there, but whether you can survive once you’ve made it. And his fellow New Jerseyan, Chris Christie, is learning that the city that never sleeps can get tired of you pretty fast.
New Jersey’s governor is a fascinating person, if only for how different he looks and sounds from typical politicians. Endomorphic and blunt, he is the extreme outlier in a universe of national politicians who strive to be as slender as the substance of their public statements. Seeing and hearing Christie amid his Democratic and Republican peers – all coiffed, toned and talking-pointed – is as initially jarring as it would be to see a raccoon ride a bicycle.
And this ringtail can really ride, too. He’s quick and funny. He says things that are unexpected and has managed to govern a state that should have already joined Illinois into the category of fiscal basket cases, awaiting the inevitable bailout plea.
This unusualness, efficacy and a gift for constant self-promotion made Christie the darling of the New York press, and, by extension, the darling of the national media. In addition to being unusual and available, Christie also has a gift for doing what always gives the establishment press the vapors when it comes to Republicans: knocking his own party.
But proximity to the brightest media bulb in the world has been the main ingredient. If Christie was governing in the South or Midwest, we might barely know him. Not only can Christie pop over the George Washington Bridge to make appearances on national outlets, he’s covered in the local news consumed every day by national tastemakers.
If Gov. Susana Martinez was in Connecticut instead of New Mexico, how much better would her 2016 chances be? If Gov. Mike Pence was in Trenton instead of Indianapolis, how much more would his every controversy and initiative ripple into the national consciousness? Florida has twice as many residents as New Jersey, but how is Gov. Rick Scott’s name identification compared to Christie’s?
Remember, it took mass protests and the flight from justice of every Democratic member of Wisconsin’s Senate to get anybody to dial in on Gov. Scott Walker.
For all that we talk about the magnificent of interconnectivity in the age of social media, the story on drive time radio or what’s leading the local news still carries the most clout. And since New Yorkers are pretty well convinced that the reports of human habitation beyond the Alleghenies remain suspect, they also believe that what happens in their city and its suburbs ought to matter far more. It’s their commute. It’s their taxes. It’s their blizzard. But they’re the ones programming network evening news and laying out the home page of the first news sites millions of Americans visit every day.
Christie may be very remarkable, but he’d be a heckuva lot less remarkable if he was doing it away from the nation’s largest media market.
The governor’s many admirers in the Tri-State area turned him into the Blue Collar Churchill of Mendham Township. As Christie galloped toward re-election last year, the press helped make him into the 2016 GOP frontrunner. He had been designated as the person who Republicans would have to nominate if they wanted to not embarrass themselves. While it was in part ideological (a liberal press likes more moderate Republicans) and in part a symptom of unimaginative thinking (simple narratives are easier to cover and this narrative dates back at least to the 1930s), it’s also a lot about regional chauvinism.
Christie is a power player within the known confines of New York metro area, and everyone else is from, well, somewhere else. Some big, square state where people listen to country music and eat at chain restaurants. Gross.
So Christie got the fast track to national stardom. But it’s not a free ride by any measure. Ask the athletes who shot forward to stardom but were then wrecked by the New York press. Roger Maris surely wished he was playing for the Cardinals not the Yankees in 1961 and Eli Manning has no doubt often envied his brother’s medium-market media perches. Or Mark Sanchez, who went from media darling to goat in the span of just four quarters of football.
Christie may have staved off disaster with his marathon press conference on Thursday and if he is being forthright about the corruption in his administration – he did not know and did not even tacitly encourage such misconduct – he will fight on. But now is the moment when those contenders beyond the glare of the New York media market start to have an advantage.
Christie will live under the microscope every day. The New York press that made him will continue to dismantle him for not living up to the expectations that it created for him. And after all, it’s not like New Yorkers want to see him actually beat their former Senator, Hillary.