Shortly before launching his presidential bid, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delivered a speech in which he struck an inclusive tone. The Republican said his experiences have taught him “that if we change the way that we hear each other, if you treat each other with respect, even when we disagree, we can bring people together.”
It’s an important part of the broader Christie message. He not only routinely blasts President Obama for being “divisive,” Christie also pushes the narrative that his unique political skills can have a uniting effect. It’s intended to send a subtle reminder to the GOP base: Christie sees himself as a strong general-election contender, with appeals beyond the far-right.
But we’re occasionally reminded that Christie’s rhetoric about “respect” and “bringing people together” comes with a few questions about the governor’s sincerity. Politico reported yesterday:
Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said Sunday the national teachers union deserved a punch in the face.Repeating a line of attack that he has frequently used in New Jersey, the governor told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that the national teachers union – presumably, the American Federation of Teachers – wasn’t interested in teaching America’s children.
The context, as always, matters. The CNN host said to Christie, “During your first term as governor, you were fond of saying that you can treat bullies in one of two ways – quote – ‘You can either sidle up to them or you can punch them in the face.’ You said, ‘I like to punch them in the face.’ At the national level, who deserves a punch in the face?”
“The national teachers union,” the Republican replied.
So, when Christie tells voters, “We can bring people together,” it would appear he’s prepared to leave school teachers out of the group hug.
Obviously, I don’t seriously believe Chris Christie intends to commit acts of physical violence against school teachers he doesn’t like, and the point here is not to be overly literal.
But I am curious what the reaction from the political world would be if national Democratic leaders spoke this way. If President Obama were asked who deserves a punch in the face, and he replied, “Wall Street executives and coal plant operators,” is there any doubt we’d never hear the end of it?
If Hillary Clinton spoke this way, how many columns would we see about her negative, divisive platform, pitting Americans against each other?
As for the Republican field, Christie’s face-punching fantasy adds to quite a colorful mosaic. When he’s not making repulsive Holocaust comparisons, Mike Huckabee is thinking about dispatching U.S. troops to block women from exercising their reproductive rights. Jeb Bush wants to “phase out” Medicare. Rick Perry wants guns in movie theaters. Scott Walker isn’t altogether sure President Obama is a Christian. Rand Paul is playing with chainsaws.
And Christie is comfortable talking about unionized school teachers needing a punch in the face.
As we talked about last week, for all the hand-wringing about Donald Trump’s antics, let’s not pretend the rest of the Republican field is setting a high bar for mature and responsible campaigning.