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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 12/20/2010

Chris Christie's Pepsi problem

By Ezra Klein

In 1975, Pepsi unleashed "the Pepsi Challenge," a blind taste test where subjects threw back an ounce of each beverage and reported back on their favorite. Their favorite was Pepsi.

You already know what happened next: Coca-Cola developed a more Pepsi-like product called "New Coke." America rejected New Coke. Coke came back with "Coca-Cola Classic." America celebrated the restoration of the country's carbonated identity, and Coca-Cola's disastrous decision ended up entrenching its original product.

Behind all this was a problem with the Pepsi Challenge. People liked Pepsi more in small increments. They liked Coca-Cola more when they had to drink a can of the stuff. And this, I think, is going to prove a problem for Chris Christie.

I've seen the videos of Christie berating constituents at town hall meetings. They make for a good YouTube clip. But it wasn't until I read Jason Zengerle's profile of the combative Garden Stater that I realized how calculated they were: "Almost everywhere Christie goes," Zengerle reports, "he is filmed by an aide who job it is to capture these 'moments,' as the governor's staff has come to call them."

And the aide isn't stuck hoping that fortune will smile on his FlipCam. Christie is hungry for these moments. He's looking for a citizen to smack down. Like a comic known for filleting hecklers, he pumps the audience up in anticipation of the beat-down. "This could happen right here," he excitedly told a crowd in Moorestown, N.J. "This guy at times has a tendency to annoy me. …If you have your own cameras, start rolling!"

Christie didn't end up hammering that guy. He went after a woman who asked about the Hudson River tunnel. "Look at me," he scolded her while answering.

I've tended to handicap 2012 like this: If the economy is improving and Obama looks relatively strong, the GOP's field is too weak to make a race out of it. But if he's looking weak, Christie will run, and for Obama, Christie is dangerous. He put parts of the Northeast in play, he's credible as an executive, and politically, he's everything Obama isn't: Hot where Obama is cold, homely where Obama is handsome, plainspoken where Obama is cerebral, confrontational where Obama is conciliatory, obese where Obama is athletic.

But for all Christie's celebrity, he's polling at 51 percent in New Jersey. That's lower than I would've anticipated. And I wonder if it's not a Pepsi Challenge effect. His YouTube strategy works in small doses, which is all that the national media and the Republican base see of it. But with too much of this out there, it just looks like bullying. The clip atop this post, for instance. And eventually the day will come when Christie bullies the wrong questioner, or gets shown up, or starts to face questions about whether it's really decent to repeatedly humiliate constituents and then post the evidence online.

I don't want to undersell Christie here: Zengerle's profile goes into more detail than I've previously seen on the way he's creatively leveraged the powers of the office to get his way, the success he's had befriending Democrats who could threaten him and his ability to hit more elevated rhetorical notes than his YouTube account might suggest. He's also got a moralistic economic story about the need for sacrifice and the anger we should feel about those who aren't sacrificing -- unions, in his telling -- that could play very well if the country remains economically stressed in 2012. But for now, I think I'm going to downgrade my estimation of Christie: It's too easy to see how the same traits making him famous could collude to make him infamous.

By Ezra Klein  | December 20, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  2012 Presidential  
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Comments

Christie is peaking too soon.

He is a bully.

His draconian ideas will backfire sooner or later.

The media will be on him like Palin, and people will eventually learn that he is very risky.

I hope. Otherwise, if we start electing the Bill O'Reilly's of the world, we are truly screwed.

Posted by: lauren2010 | December 20, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Well put, Ezra. Also, his style simply won't play well in the sticks. The middle of America won't help elect an a-hole, even if they agree with him.

Posted by: spekny | December 20, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Keep posting these videos Ezra and his poll numbers will surely rise. This guy is Great!
You liberals criticize conservatives for not being specific about what spending they would cut to balance budgets, but when the Governor of New Jersey is very specific and direct about cutting budgets, you criticize him for being too mean. Watching you liberals squirm as a tidal wave of conservatism sweeps across our country is great entertainment.

Posted by: cummije5 | December 20, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

You mention Christie's personality, without even for a moment mentioning his policy positions. In Christie's case, I think that those are genuinely going to hurt him -- his anti-education, anti-union crusade isn't going to stand up well to national scrutiny, and as another commentator here pointed out, the Republican "base" isn't going to vote for a northerner with a brusque personality.

In short, his policies won't fly in traditionally "blue" states, and his personality won't fly in traditionally "red" states. The fact that he "clicked" in NJ largely stems from having followed a series of mediocre Democratic governors. He built his reputation by criticizing the guys before him.

At the very best, Christie is the GOP's Howard Dean. At least Bob McDonnell managed to balance his state's budget. For all his fiscal conservative rhetoric, Christie didn't even come close to doing that.

Posted by: orang55 | December 20, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I predict that the teachers' unions get bloodied with Obama's eager help in the next couple years, in part to make the Christie-style attack less effective in 2012.

Posted by: jacobh | December 20, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

I predict that the teachers' unions get bloodied with Obama's eager help in the next couple years, in part to make the Christie-style attack less effective in 2012.

Posted by: jacobh | December 20, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Chris Christie is a guy who would make a truly great vice presidential candidate for some Senator like John Thune or Lindsey Graham (fill in the blank with whomever you like, just two that came to mind).

I say this because he's built a brand and has a style that works in the zeitgeist, but not in detail. I think the public would like a fat guy who seems sort of pissed off, because a good deal of the American public is pissed off.

We've had house prices declining for now three years, along with unemployment and all the rest. So I wouldnt write off Christie as a VP choice, though I tend to agree that at the top of the ticket his bullying wont wear well over the life of a campaign. As Howard Dean learned, it makes a lot of us nervous having some hot head with the nuclear football in his clutches.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | December 20, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

lauren,

Please tell me what about his ideas are "draconian?" did you watch the video? Did you hear that even in the Great Recession teachers were getting 4.5% ANNUAL pay increases. Did you see that all he asked for was a pay freeze (not a cut, a freeze) and the requirement that they pay 1.5% of their salaries towards their healthcare benefits? Did you see that NJ pays 92% of the cost of healthcare for its employees and NY state pays 83% and the federal government pays 66%.

Do i agree totally with the way that he goes about it, no but the results speak for themselves. NJ is coming out of the recession even when teachers have been harmed so horribly by the Governor. He's received death threats that get no play here but if Rush Limbgaugh did it they'd get plenty of notice.

he's 100% right on most everything he does (notable exceptions the funding fiasco for Race to the Top) and the unwillingness to keep the Millionaire's tax in place in NJ but other than that (his tool kit for example) he's a fantastic governor and we're happy to have him. The country can't have him until we're done with him and fixing what McGreevey and Corzine worked so hard to destroy.


I really wish Ezra you would have spoken more of the below than taking the partisan approach to Christie. Cory Booker loves him (and Christie loves Booker) and they're working together more than apart.

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/12/on_meet_the_press_booker_talks.html

Posted by: visionbrkr | December 20, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Are you kidding, Klein? Christie is a staged politician? Your own newspaper has reported that the President has a videographer going around capturing "moments." And a teleprompter is brought even to events at elementary schools.

Posted by: truck1 | December 20, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

It sure is good that Democrats never stoop to such a level in an attempt to stage stunts for cameras to make themselves look heroic. You know, like Pelosi or Clyburn walking outside, down the steps, and through throngs of Tea Party protestors to go across the street and vote for the fiasco they called health care 'reform' ....instead of taking the underground tram between the buildings like they do every other day of the week.

I'm sure they weren't looking to incite the crowd, maybe draw some angry reactions for camera's to catch in an effort to whip up public sympathy for their 'heroic' vote. Good thing Democrats are above all that....

Posted by: dbw1 | December 20, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Finally, someone with the courage to shout down moderately informed citizens in a public setting. I'm tired of all of this "consider the other person's point of view" PC nonsense. When you are right, the best way to demonstrate it is to berate someone who disagrees with you. Merry CHRISTmas, Gov. Christie.

Posted by: willows1 | December 20, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

The conservative Alan Grayson?

If we need to sacrifice, how about... expiring the Bush tax cuts that preceded the great recession?

Posted by: birchbeer | December 20, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

@visionbrkr:
Some of Christie's decisions will be felt for decades and not in a good way. Common sense is a good thing and I don't get the impression that Christie is wildly partisan.
.
However, not looking long term at infrastructure is going to be a bad bad thing. Especially when it is a transportation link to a major source of income for NJ.
.
Christie's personality does get in the way. He's flat out lied on the stump, to the point that his state agency heads specifically told him not to say things because they weren't true and he went out and did it anyway because 'he got rolling' in his bravado speaking. That's not a good trait as you have to start wondering what else he's just 'rolling' with when he's speaking.
.
http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/expelled_in_jersey_SF8wRTjNvOzcE4Nj9zgtAK
.
http://blog.nj.com/njv_editorial_page/2010/08/schundlers_exit_embarassing_ep.html
.
It's certainly not cut and dry like Christie tries to spin things.

Posted by: rpixley220 | December 20, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Finally, someone with the courage to shout down moderately informed citizens in a public setting. I'm tired of all of this "consider the other person's point of view" PC nonsense. When you are right, the best way to demonstrate it is to berate someone who disagrees with you. Merry CHRISTmas, Gov. Christie.

Posted by: willows1 | December 20, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

@visionbrkr:
Some of Christie's decisions will be felt for decades and not in a good way. Common sense is a good thing and I don't get the impression that Christie is wildly partisan.
.
However, not looking long term at infrastructure is going to be a bad bad thing. Especially when it is a transportation link to a major source of income for NJ.
.
Christie's personality does get in the way. He's flat out lied on the stump, to the point that his state agency heads specifically told him not to say things because they weren't true and he went out and did it anyway because 'he got rolling' in his bravado speaking. That's not a good trait as you have to start wondering what else he's just 'rolling' with when he's speaking.
.
http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/expelled_in_jersey_SF8wRTjNvOzcE4Nj9zgtAK
.
http://blog.nj.com/njv_editorial_page/2010/08/schundlers_exit_embarassing_ep.html
.
It's certainly not cut and dry like Christie tries to spin things.

Posted by: rpixley220 | December 20, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

rpixley,

you know I could turn that around and say you sound like a tea partier worrying about the "death panels" from Obamacare. NJ Infrastructure is just fine. Roads that are in fine condition are getting paved over again just like always. Don't worry. Union thugs will continue to get what they always expect. This is still NJ after all. But now maybe there will be a little accountability and that's fantastic. Something sorely needed.

Exactly what infrastructure are you speaking of? The ARC project that's been scrapped because of wild cost over-runs? So you don't think people will find ways to get to work in Manhattan? Talk about your death panels. Try selling that crap to someone who doesn't live in the highest taxed state in the land.

Posted by: visionbrkr | December 20, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

FACT: Mike Huckabee would crush Christie in 80% of America during the primary.

Every debate, every ad, every appearance. Christie's confrontational style would clash horribly with Huckabee's genuine, aw-shucks ministerial approach. Huckabee would take every angry outburst, wait patiently and then calmly tear him down.

It could even split the primary field enough to let someone more moderate in both temperament and policy to clench it.

Posted by: punkiedrewster | December 20, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Christie must be doing something right if the Left and the likes of the delightfully predictable Ezra Klein already have their long knives out for him. And the assertion that The Huckster Elmer Gantry/Gomer Pyle person would "crush" Christie is just laughable.

Posted by: LaLydia | December 20, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

I think he is almost perfect Vice Presidential material.
VP's main job on campaign should be to play attack dog while the presidential candidate stays above the fray and remains likeable.
Christie would be brilliant in this role, but I have no idea if he would accept the diminished authority to help the party win.

Posted by: gfive | December 20, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Good analogy, but it's also possible that Gladwell was right in "Blink". When Pepsi and Coke were presented in bottles, Coke won the taste test. It turns out that that packaging and branding affect consumer preference, perhaps as much as the product.
Looking at that aspect, it is a question of whether "brand Christie" will "taste" better than "brand Obama". The result is the same. If brand Christie is in an ugly bottle, the voters may not choose it. Obama's brand needs polishing ("New! Now with extra strength courage of his convictions!"). Christie's bottle is probably as unappealing nationally as Pepsi's.
I think we can see that substance, in this case, has nothing to do with it. The brochure says "cut debt and deficit" but the product delivers the opposite. Voters don't notice.

Posted by: GreenDreams | December 20, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

American have this love affair with Italian Godfather or Raging Bull who is straight talker even thought he maybe wrong on the issues. Being a Italian American there is something noble and good about straight talkers from either party. Often they are wrong on the issues yet people love those straight talker without a filter aka Sarah Palin. Christie often neglects to say that we are in this economic mess due to his friends on Wall Street and not to greedy teachers. They are an easy target for him and the general public. It is sad that the middle class in this country will blame a $ 45,000 teacher rather than a $45, 000, 000 executive from Wall Street. It will take a street tough Democrat to take on Christie rather than a latte loving , cerebral Democrat if they are to win back the NJ Governorship. Corzine never had the heart for the street level of politics. President Obamo seems clueless about this concept.

Posted by: Donnie3 | December 20, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

"Christie often neglects to say that we are in this economic mess due to his friends on Wall Street and not to greedy teachers."

Christie's Wall Street friends? I always thought Corzine was the one with all the Wall Street friends...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Corzine

"It is sad that the middle class in this country will blame a $ 45,000 teacher rather than a $45, 000, 000 executive from Wall Street."

I don't think Christie picks on teachers earning $45,000. It's the ones earning $85,000 who can't take a pay freeze (when inflation since mid 2008 has been 0%) that he slams.

http://www.nationalreview.com/media-blog/56087/blogosphere-strikes-again/guy-benson

Oh, and the middle class hates Wall Street too.

Posted by: justin84 | December 20, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I love Chris Christie. As a New Jersey resdident, I saw my property increase from $10,000 in 2001 to $16,000 in 2007. After we moved, I saw my taxes increase again from $10,000 in 2008 to $11,000 in 2009. This is the 1st year they haven't gone up. If you use 2001 as a base, I have paid more than $21,000 in additional taxes.

Posted by: mlbmedia | December 20, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I love Chris Christie. As a New Jersey resident, I saw my property increase from $10,000 in 2001 to $16,000 in 2007. After we moved, I saw my taxes increase again from $10,000 in 2008 to $11,000 in 2009. This is the 1st year they haven't gone up. If you use 2001 as a base, I have paid more than $21,000 in additional taxes.

Posted by: mlbmedia | December 20, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Very interesting. At first I was thinking that since a liberal like Ezra is writing about Christie shows he fears him as a national candidate.

I have seen the videos and they are catnip to the GOP base, libertarians and Tea Partiers. However, if he decides to go for the Oval office the tactics that he's using (and that New Jersey sorely needs) may not translate well on a national stage.

Besides 2012 is way too early for him. Let him complete a full term and get reelected as Governor before having him on the presidential radar.

Posted by: bbface21 | December 20, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Score another one for Ezra. Put it another way...McLuhan said Radio was a hot medium, TV a cool one. He probably would have said short YOU TUBE clips constitute a hot medium, and therefore much more friendly to Chris Christie than prolonged exposure on the big tube.

Posted by: kevinyc | December 20, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Obama can't exactly go after Christie for freezing the pay of state workers, since he did precisely that at the federal level. He doesn't really have room to call Christie a moralizing scold, either.

Posted by: tomtildrum | December 20, 2010 9:24 PM | Report abuse

basically on the money, but I people like the IDEA of an archetypical Coke that generations of kids in small towns grew up, even if they preferred sweeter, fizzier Pepsi when the label was unseen. Similarly, people like the IDEA of the tough plainspoken governor kicking ass and taking names, but prefer leaders who actually govern instead of berating local schoolteachers and constituents who disagree with them. I suspect that the GOP primary voter may not quite be up to such subtle distinctions.

Posted by: curmudgeonlytroll | December 20, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

"You mention Christie's personality, without even for a moment mentioning his policy positions. In Christie's case, I think that those are genuinely going to hurt him -- his anti-education, anti-union crusade isn't going to stand up well to national scrutiny, and as another commentator here pointed out, the Republican "base" isn't going to vote for a northerner with a brusque personality."


Liberal morons confuse being anti-education with anti-union.

There is nothing more anti-education than the unions who defend the tenure of horrid teachers and demand billions of dollars in excessive retirement benefits that diverts money from the people who actually would use it.

Posted by: krazen1211 | December 20, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

"Some of Christie's decisions will be felt for decades and not in a good way. Common sense is a good thing and I don't get the impression that Christie is wildly partisan."

Actually, you have it completely backwards.

It's the decisions of utter buttons like Christie Whitman, James McGreevey and John Corzine that will be felt for decades and not in a good way.

Why? Because they expanded the size of government far beyond the rate of inflation, and of course, promised hundreds of billions of future dollars to a bunch of union leeches.

Posted by: krazen1211 | December 20, 2010 11:47 PM | Report abuse

"The conservative Alan Grayson?

If we need to sacrifice, how about... expiring the Bush tax cuts that preceded the great recession?"

No, not really.

Christie doesn't make ludicrous contradictory claims like Grayson, who talks about the liberal rhetoric how the rich will 'save' their tax cuts by buying stock in companies like GM, then goes and rambles about how they are going to 'spend' their tax cuts on luxury automobiles constructed by companies like Ford and Toyota.

Posted by: krazen1211 | December 21, 2010 12:08 AM | Report abuse

To continue the comparison in the original post, one of them can speak extemporaneously and give fluents answers on the spot to questions, and the other one needs to have a teleprompter feed him a script of what to say. Yet he's the cerebral one.

Posted by: truck1 | December 21, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

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