Chris Christie’s Wrong Foot

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Chris Christie’s Wrong Foot on Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took his first formal step today into the highly crowded and challenging competition to be the Republican Party candidate for president, he was off on the wrong foot.

His announcement, at a high school in Livingston, New Jersey, was staged as an event that was a carbon copy of his competitors’ events: the candidate, surrounded by his adoring family and cheering supporters waving colorful banners, spoke enthusiastically about his background, his cause and his intentions. But one moment in his 20-minute speech was pure Chris Christie. When he said, “there is one thing you will know for sure. I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” he was defining one of his recurring—and controversial—characteristics: the bluntness that has weighted him, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, with a 55% disapproval rating among Republican voters.

During his two terms as governor, Mr. Christie’s contentiousness has erupted repeatedly in hostile put downs to hecklers, challengers and reporters alike. He did it again last week—during the run up to his presidential announcement—in a press conference at the state house in Trenton. When a reporter asked him why he hadn’t held more press conferences, the governor said, “There are times when I feel like talking to you people and there are times when I don’t. Get over it. You know, it’s not all about you, it really isn’t.”

The hard, cold fact of the matter is that it is indeed all about “you people,” because reporters are representatives of the electorate and they have every right to be able to ask questions of candidates. Mr. Christie was defaulting to a practice many politicians exercise of not answering questions. The practice, which has become de rigueur not just in politics but in any Q&A session, was originated by Vietnam era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who said: “Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you.” 

Consider the source. According to the New York Times obituary, the Vietnam War became Mr. McNamara’s “personal nightmare.”

Mr. Christie, according to the NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, is ranked 13th among 16 potential candidates. He would do well take all questions from all comers at all times.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Chris Christie’s Wrong Foot on Tuesday, June 30, 2015.