Chait asks why the GOP would “nominate a candidate who looks and sounds like a right-wing ogre but actually isn’t?”
Voters in a general election judge candidates by a combination of personal and ideological characteristics. George W. Bush deflected on his unpopular, regressive tax cut by acting like a gentle, normal guy. The nicer and gentler you seem, the more room you have for an election platform that’s neither nice nor gentle. That’s Paul Ryan’s formula — match a radical program with a soft-spoken persona. Eventually, the contradiction between Ryan’s persona and his agenda became too great to sustain, but Ryan is trying to patch up the problem using the same method. He’s talking about poverty all the time. What he’s not doing is changing his proposals to eviscerate funding for programs for the poor.
Ryan’s method makes sense. As a party, you want to spend your “frighten swing voters” budget on real policies. Spending it on personality is a total waste. Ryan himself may go so far on policy that no amount of aw-shucks Midwestern wholesome I’ve-never-heard-of-foreign-beer-I-drink-Miller-Lite charm can make up for it. But he has the general idea. Christie is the anti–Paul Ryan.
Chait is confusing his reaction to Christie’s combative style with the way that Christie is perceived outside his home state.Any discussion of polling on whether most Americans like Christie is notably absent from Chait’s post. If he were viewed as “unbearably obnoxious,” his favorability ratings wouldn’t be so good. 52% favorability nationwide for a politician who has only been in state office for one term is quite high. Other national Republican figures would love to be so “unbearably obnoxious” that a majority of Americans across party lines likes them.
Massie recently argued that, above all, voters “need to be able to imagine the candidate sitting behind that big desk in the Oval Office”
Being likeable is one thing but it’s more important for a candidate to be respected. That means they need to project some brand of presidentialism which is not quite the same thing as being able to talk Average Joe even if that quality may also be extremely useful. We don’t know if Christie can do that yet.