THE STUMP DECEMBER 7, 2011
Okay, folks, I'm going to make a concession. After repeatedly defending in this space my current cover story arguing that Mitt Romney is more temperamental than his robotic reputation suggests, I am going to admit that Mitt-frontations, as his sons call his flare-ups, are relatively mild stuff on the Richter scale of angry politicians. What makes me say this? This new video clip from the Star Ledger, showing Chris Christie verbally dismantling a white-haired man at a West New York town hall meeting who dared to ask a pointed question suggesting that Christie's staff was planting friendly questions in audiences. Watch it to the end -- it's well worth the three minutes. But be warned: it's almost painful to take in, as Christie's bullying tone mounts and the man's hands gripping the microphone shake ever harder under the assault. (There's also some comic relief for fans of the Daily Show, who will appreciate an "all due respect" utterance that would make Jon Stewart proud.)
But my concession goes only so far, for the fact is, my piece addressed the contrast between Romney's flare-ups and the explosions of truly angry politicians like Christie. When Romney gets riled up, as he did at this recent New Hamsphire town hall, there's a visible conflictedness to it, whereas Christie's temper, while undoubtedly rising out of his genuine belligerence, seems more deliberate and willed, calculated to rally supporters and intimidate critics. "This would help explain the odd tension in display in [Romney's flare-ups], which lack the self-assured flair of, say, Chris Christie's slaps at those who get in his way," I write. "Perhaps when Romney wants to exert control over a situation and restore order, he is at the same time struggling not to lose control over himself. 'He's a very polite person and expects people around him to be polite,' says [Jamie] Burnett, [Romney's] New Hampshire political director. 'He's trying to be polite, but he's also trying not to get walked all over....I've never seen it as a weakness with him -- though sometimes it can be awkward.'"
Maybe the next time Christie is stumping with Romney, he can give him lessons in flaring up at voters without the awkwardness. If so, watch out, white-haired gents of Iowa and New Hampshire.