ABC The Drum
Both the greatest asset and the greatest liability for Chris Christie securing the Republican presidential nomination is Chris Christie himself. Is he a breath of fresh air, or just hot air?
New Jersey governor Chris Christie may end up proving just how important timing is in politics.
In 2012 he was urged by many influential Republican Party backers to run for the GOP's presidential nomination, but he declined, helping clear the way for Mitt Romney.
Governor Romney also seriously considered the brash and feisty New Jerseyan as his vice-presidential running mate, but balked when his vetting team uncovered a number of potential controversies, including Christie's rather enthusiastic use of his expense account as district attorney.
There were significant questions over Christie's health. He was morbidly obese prior to lap-band surgery in early 2013 and remains severely overweight today. The prospect of a president or vice-president whose girth represents a life-shortening (if not life-threatening) health issue must have given pause for thought.
Nevertheless, Christie emerged from 2012 as a frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2016, his status elevated for some by his response to Superstorm Sandy, which saw him pictured hugging Democratic president Barack Obama just weeks before the Democrat was re-elected for a second four-year term. Some saw Christie as a traitor to the Republican cause — how could he put politics aside when there was an election to win?
But the next controversy to hit Christie was pure, petty politics. In retribution for a local mayor not supporting Christie's re-election, senior members of the governor's staff orchestrated a major traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan by closing two lanes for a bogus "traffic study".
Thousands were caught up in the chaos that ensued, including emergency "first responders" and people with serious illnesses.
While there has been no proof Christie endorsed what has come to be known as "Bridgegate", his popularity in New Jersey has since gone into freefall. Christies' former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, was indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; another Christie appointee at the Port Authority pleaded guilty to federal charges over the bridge closure in May; and a third Christie ally is facing a similar indictment.
Christie's run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 is looking like an uphill battle. His heart-on-sleeve approach could still woo back plenty of voters, many of whom previously found him refreshingly frank. The whiff of scandal may not deter too many voters, but it may erode his potential financial donor base.
Launching his campaign, governor Christie vowed to tell it like it is and not to just tell Americans what they want to hear. He also showed he is keen to dispel the perception of a "bro-mance" with Barack Obama:
After seven years of a weak and feckless foreign policy run by Barack Obama, we better not turn it over to his second mate, Hillary Clinton.
He also outlined his pitch to Republicans as a governor who has run a government, rather than a former senator like Obama or rivals like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham or Ted Cruz.
While his economic record has soured, Christie can also claim to have worked across the aisle to get things done in the democratic-leaning state of New Jersey — although to some Republicans that marks him as ideologically unsound rather than constructively pragmatic.
Both the greatest asset and the greatest liability Christie has is Chris Christie himself. His personality is as big as his waistline, he can't help being himself, nor should he even try.
Voters will probably be disappointed if he doesn't take on hecklers with such memorable rejoinders as "sit down and shut up!". But supporters will worry he has a tendency to not just go off-the-cuff but off the reservation as well — for example, when earlier this year he seemed to support the right of parents to refuse to vaccinate their child.
Bellicose language on foreign policy, or just a lack of scripted nuance could also be a pitfall for Christie as he makes his way along the campaign trail — and once a candidate is tagged as "gaffe prone" they seem to appear out of thin air.
Above all else, Christie comes across as authentic. He is who he is, for better or for worse. And in the tightly stage-managed world of presidential campaign politics there is a chance, just a chance, that he will shine through as a breath of fresh air. He is real enough that others will look like phonies beside him.
But it is more likely that the novelty that is Christie has worn off, and his best chance of being president may have been back in 2012 after all.
This article was originally published at ABC The Drum