The never-shy, always controversial Donald Trump has been sucking up nearly all the 2016 oxygen over the last few weeks – and in the process, he’s drawn more than a few comparisons with another big-talking presidential candidate: Chris Christie.
They’re both northeastern Republicans. They’re known for a bold and unfiltered style. It’s not hard to see how they might be duking it out for the title of the true “tell it like it is” 2016 presidential candidate.There have been op-eds about how the billionaire real estate mogul stole the New Jersey governor’s brand; declarations that with Trump’s controversial remarks about immigrants being “rapists” and “killers,” Christie “suddenly seems more palatable” to voters; and a political cartoon depicting Christie battling Trump for the biggest bully mantle. Even comedian Jon Stewart recently joked on “The Daily Show” that the two are competing in the “loud Northeastern egomaniac primary,” asking “How far must Christie have fallen to be a two-term governor unfavorably compared to a perfume-selling escalateur like Donald Trump?”
But is “The Apprentice” host really stealing the Garden State governor’s thunder? Not really.
“It’s the difference of telling it like it is in Christie’s case and literally blowing your brains out on the sidewalk with no filter in the case of Donald Trump,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist and former John McCain campaign adviser. “For Christie it’s about him looking for footing in a very crowded field, a campaign tactic. For Trump, that’s the way his ego runs.”
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Christie also trumps Trump in this regard: He has years of public service under his belt as a twice-elected governor and as a U.S. attorney of New Jersey. He’s also served as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. The same can’t be said of Trump, perhaps better known for hosting a reality television show, demanding President Obama’s birth certificate, and seemingly writing off Mexican immigrants as criminals.
“There’s a difference between being a straight talker and being able to operate in a political environment as a public official,” said Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political science at Iona College and of political campaign management at New York University.
And that’s the thing, analysts say: There’s a big difference in telling a teacher to shut up or calling someone an idiot, as Christie has, and making sweeping generalizations about immigrants, to the point where your own party is begging you to tone it down, as RNC committee chairman Reince Priebus reportedly told Trump, a claim the business magnate disputes.
Of course, Christie has 2016 problems of his own, facing low approval ratings at home, trying to stick out in the crowded GOP field where former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker lead in several early surveys, appealing to the far right in early voting states like Iowa and South Carolina and yes, his periodic flare-ups of temper. (He recently told NBC’s “Today” that those outbursts are “controlled anger” and tried to argue it demonstrated his passion for the big issues.)
All of those hurdles, however, have nothing to do with Trump, whose vanity candidacy is taken seriously by almost no one among Washington’s professional political class, despite the fact that he’s polling solidly.
There may be one big downside for Christie – along with much of the rest of the GOP field – with so much attention being given to Trump, however.
“He’s sucking the oxygen out of the room for the GOP field. Many candidates have impressive messages but they just can’t get it out there. If your name isn’t Jeb Bush or Donald Trump, no one’s talking about you,” said O’Connell.
Christie, like several in 2016 candidates, has also sought to distance himself from Trump’s controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants. The governor – who has called Trump a friend – told Fox News this week that “on this one we disagree. I think those comments are inappropriate.”
Teams Christie and Trump did not respond to requests for comment.