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No Campaigns for Manly Men

Kena Betancur/Getty Images

With two close allies indicted in the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal, and former Port Authority head David Wilstein pleading guilty to two counts of conspiracy and agreeing to testify, Christie's presidential prospects don't look great. Christie's former deupty chief of staff said at a press conference that it was "ludicrous" to think she was the only one in the Christie administration who knew about the plot. Wildstein's lawyer claimed evidence exists that shows Christie knew about it. 

In a series of tweets, Christie said, “Today's charges make clear that what I've said from day one is true, I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act. The moment I first learned of this unacceptable behavior I took action, firing staff believed to be accountable... calling for an outside investigation and agreeing to fully cooperate with all appropriate investigations, which I have done. Now 15 months later it is time to let the justice system do its job.” Earlier this month, Christie's visit to New Hampshire went relatively well, and he plans on doing monthly town halls in the state. “Strong, decisive, honest leadership matters for America,” he said in a speech there. “I will not pander, I will not flip-flop, and I’ll tell you the truth whether you like it or not.” But it's looking less and less likely he'll pull up from his long decline in the GOP primary polls. Which is a pity, because Chris Christie was the last manly man maybe-candidate in the 2016 presidential race. 


The New Jersey governor's persona is kind of like an elephant seal. That is not a fat joke (okay it sort of is). He is a bully who would emit low gutteral vocalizations at anyone who challenged him in public, whether it was reporters or public school teachers. At a campaign event in 2012, Christie, standing on stage next to prim and proper Mitt Romney, made a blow job joke about a female heckler. (“You know, sumthin’ may go down tonight, but it aint gonna be jobs, sweetheart!”). He claimed Vladimir Putin would be scared of him: "I don’t believe, given who I am, that he would make the same judgment... Let’s leave it at that."

On Friday, Christie looked a little less bold, speaking from behind the safety of his social media interface.  

Even before the downfall of his presidential ambitions, Christie's brand had already quietly gone out of style. I noticed this a while back, while reading a profile of Glenn Greenwald in The Advocate in 2013. Greenwald explained that his father had idolized manly conservatives: 

“He had pictures of Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, and John Wayne in his office,” Greenwald recalls. “It didn’t really have anything to do with politics — he just idealized this fake machismo, which is something he lacked.”

Who plays that role now? Who’s the manly man’s man of the right? It’s not a politician like Ted Cruz, who exudes “televangelist” more than “cowboy.” It’s not a pundit like Glenn Beck, who cries over the Constitution and sells premium dad jeans. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal—they’re all kind of cute, and certainly non-threatening. Jeb Bush is selling himself as the Smart Bush.

I recently spoke to Geoff Nunburg, the linguistics contributor to NPR’s “Fresh Air,” about the voices of the likely 2016 presidential candidates. In writing that story, I didn’t include Christie, as he barely counts as a presidential contender anymore. (He recently went to New Hampshire to test the waters. It didn't go well.) “It’s hard to think of manly men,” Nunberg mused. Guys like Jim Webb of Virginia. “Christie was going to be that but Christie’s a joke.” Or at least, people are starting to see him as one, Nunberg said. He could only think of the manly man’s cousin: the asshole. Nunberg explained:

Assholes do very well on the right in particular. I wrote a book about assholes, I feel like an expert on the subject. And they do very well on the right. I mean there was a period in which Donald Trump was leading the Republican polls. And it isn’t as if there is anybody in America who doesn’t think Donald Trump’s an asshole. But he’s like, our asshole. ...

So characters like Cruz who’s also clearly an asshole, can do very well in that first part of the cycle I think. That’s going to be Rubio’s problem I think—he doesn’t really come off as an asshole. Nor does Jeb Bush.

Christie once seemed like such a strong candidate that this article, from National Journal's Ron Fouriner, counted as counterintuitive: "7 Ways Clinton and Christie Could Bungle 2016." "Friends getting indicted" was not on on the list.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Jon Tester of Montana had  left the Senate. He is still a senator.