Monday, January 05, 2015

"The Hug" - NJ Gov Chris Christie Embraces His Inner Cowboy

Cowboy's owner Jerry Jones, brother Stephen & Chris Christie embrace
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is catching some serious heat for of all things, a hug.

Most folks in the Garden State are a lot more familiar with Christie's tendency to angrily berate citizens or reporters who dare to question him in public, so the sight of Hizzoner hugging and smiling is in itself, an unusual event.

But it's the fact that he hugged Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, live on national TV last night that makes this big news in Jersey and elsewhere.
In the state of New Jersey, most people fall into two categories where it comes to professional football - Giants or Eagles. Jersey has a decent smattering of Jet's fans too.

There are of course, exceptions here and there, such as yours truly, a longtime Washington Redskins fan. But Dallas?

Rooting for the Cowboys (openly) will earn you "a look" in Jersey; and it's not a friendly kind of eye contact either.

There are some hardcore Dallas fans who live here, but Jersey tends to be a bit of a bandwagon state; so the ratio of people walking around wearing Cowboy's gear is directly proportional to how well Dallas is doing in the standings.

Seriously, if (God forbid) the Cowboys should win the Super Bowl, there will be an explosion of Jersey dudes wearing Stetsons or Cowboy boots; I've seen it happen before.    

Now there are a few different ways to see Christie's open embrace of the Cowboys.

CBS Sports NFL writer Will Brinson wrote a piece about "The Hug". He took a shot at Christie's fashion choice, noting that the governor's sweater choice made him look like Fat Albert.

Some people might admire Christie's "toughness" for being willing to stick to his guns and root for a team even though he knows he'll catch heat for it; my guess is a lot of Republicans fall into that category.

Others consider it a non-issue, after all, Christie has a right to root for whoever he wants to and there are probably worse things happening in the news than the NJ governor hanging out in the owner's box of the Dallas Cowboys during a playoff game.

Personally, you probably know where I stand on "The Hug". In the film "The Sixth Sense", Haley Joel Osment's character saw dead people; but I see political conspiracies. They're everywhere.

Hear me out.

We all know Chris Christie is still playing coy about whether or not he'll run for president in 2016, right?

Gov Chris Christie channeling his inner Scarlett O'Hara?
He's like Scarlett O'Hara (pictured left) at the Twelve Oaks barbecue in 'Gone With the Wind' teasing a retinue of drooling beaus tripping over each other for the honor of fetching her a plate of food.

Under different circumstances "The Hug" might be a small thing, but Christie is already facing the scrutiny of wary voters in the Garden State.

Over the past year Christie has been on an almost non-stop nationwide tour as the head of the Republican Governor's Association, raising funds for a slew of GOP candidates, stumping on the election trail and not-so-quietly wooing the big-money Republican donors who will christen the next GOP candidate for 2016.

In the next couple weeks the well-traveled Christie will fly down to the Sunshine State to attend the inauguration of Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott; whom Christie helped to get re-elected.

After his own inauguration, he'll be down in Maryland for the inauguration of Republican Governor Larry Hogan - then he heads back to the state of Iowa to attend (wait for it....) yet another national GOP event.

Even I can't blame Christie for going back to Iowa for the umpteenth time; with Jeb Bush carefully and publicly severing his corporate ties with the various boards on which he serves, Christie's under even more pressure to show the Koch Brothers he's got the right stuff.

But he's left an impression amongst folks in NJ that he doesn't really care all that much about the Garden State anymore; after all he won re-election to the governor's mansion in a landslide, technically speaking he doesn't need anyone's vote.

So I figure Christie's appearance in Jerry Jones' box during the Dallas game (and of course, the aforementioned "Hug") was part of a carefully calculated bit of political theater.

How do you "out-Bush" Jeb Bush? You make sure you're in the private box of the owner of the Dallas Cowboys during a nationally televised playoff game being watched by millions of potential voters!

Give him credit, it's a helluva a lot more effective way to show Southern white voters that you can "get your South on" than Mitt Romney's pathetic efforts to seem sincere while eating Southern foods he'd never heard of in 2012.

Remember Romney's cringe-worthy quote ahead of the Mississippi and Alabama primaries in 2012?

"I'm learning to say 'y'all' and I like grits,” Romney told a crowd in Pascagoula, Mississippi, last Wednesday. A day later, he told his audience in Jackson, Mississippi, “I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits. ... Delicious.”

Really Mitt?  

'The Atlantic Wire' rightly called it "Southern pander" and Mittens looked just as phony saying it as he sounded when he said it.

Chris Christie surely never forgot Romeny's campaign Faux Paux De Jour.

For Sunday's Dallas game Christie wore an orange sweater for Pete's sake!

Granted he was photographed walking on the field next to Jerry Jones trying to rock a blue Dallas Cowboys scarf, but it clashed with the sweater and seemed forced and insincere.

Like something a sharp-eyed aide handed him to wear before he walked onto the turf so he didn't seem totally lame in the burnt orange sweater.

On WFAN this morning he defended his hug by insisting he's been a Dallas Cowboy's fan since he was seven years-old; you've been a fan since you were seven and still wear an orange sweater to a Dallas playoff game? Really?

Look at him in that photo above! He made sure to get a good firm grip on Jerry Jones. Do you know how much money Christie's campaign would've had to spend on commercials to get that kind of press in Dallas?

Christie's "Hug" was worth millions. Political genius!

While his brash bro-hug may have scored him some points amongst the all-important Southern white Republican male demographic, it's really not making him immune to criticism back home here in Jersey. Or the news that Jerry Jones paid for Christie's trip to Big D; including a private plane.
Today a large group of NJ mayors, state reps and even a US Senator (mostly Democrats) gathered together in the Grove Street PATH train station in Jersey City to rally against Christie's controversial support to cut overnight PATH train service that runs back and forth between New York and New Jersey; enabling thousands of commuters to get to work.

Christie insists the cuts (co-authored by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo by the way...) to overnight PATH train service will save the Port Authority of NY & NJ an estimated $10 million a year; but when you consider the Port Authority's annual budget is somewhere around $8 billion, $10 million is a symbolic drop in the bucket.

Ras Baraka, the newly elected mayor of Newark, NJ called the proposed cuts "a disgrace".

Politically speaking it was klutzy of Christie to support the cuts considering an estimated 73 million people per year use PATH service to commute between NY and NJ.

But then again, when Chris Christie needs to fly back from Dallas to New Jersey at 1am, a limo takes him to a private plane paid for by a gazillionaire like Jerry Jones.

When he needs to fly off to one of his many GOP fundraisers, it's on a private plane paid for by wealthy GOP donors.

With all due respect to Chris Christie, he doesn't know what it's like to stand on the platform waiting for a PATH train at 11:30pm at night, or 2am in the morning on a cold winter night when you're trying to get home to see your kids, or feed the cat, or catch some sleep.

So it makes sense to him to cut overnight train service that average poor, working class and middle class folks depend on.

Maybe Christie would have been better off standing on a PATH platform on Sunday night hugging an average NJ commuter stepping off the train and assuring him or her the state of New Jersey supports transportation infrastructure - rather than hugging a billionaire NFL owner in a luxury box.

Regardless, "The Hug" gives you a snapshot of the kind of president he'd be.

Maybe the smart NJ politician who loves the Cowboys and wants to be president stays home, stocks the bar, puts out a nice spread and invites some friends over to watch the playoff game on a 52" wide-screen television in private.

Not to deny his personal choices, but simply because he's mature enough to understand that many of his constituents might misinterpret his rooting for a football team they don't like.

Because perception is everything, and as Christie is learning, one of the prices of being the leader of the free world is that you have to think twice about how even the most seemingly mundane decisions will play in the age of a voracious 24-7 media news cycle fueled by social media.

Maybe one of the most basic and ironic lessons about wanting to be president eludes Christie; that being the most powerful man in the modern industrialized world means that you don't get to do anything you want to.

Hug-Gate? Maybe not, but close.

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