Chris Christie’s stomach surgery could help address one nagging question about his political future – can a man that big really be president? But other difficult political work awaits him if he hopes to be the GOP’s nominee in 2016.
With one 40-minute outpatient lap-band procedure in February, Christie legitimized concerns about his weight – while also showing a measure of humility for a governor not known for that emotion, as he talked about wanting to live for the sake of his four children.
Analysts said shedding the pounds was almost a prerequisite for a potential Christie-for-president campaign. But even after he sheds the pounds, he’ll still have a lot has of repair work to do with conservatives – who remain angry about his late-campaign Hurricane Sandy embrace of President Barack Obama and some of his centrist impulses – if he plans on seeking the presidency.
“Frankly, in a crass political way, this brings him into [an area where people will say] this is a guy with four kids who cares about his family,” said Rick Wilson, a Florida-based political strategist who has never been a Christie admirer.
His obesity “clearly [went] beyond just [a lack of] discipline, it was metabolic and that I think is a significant step for people to say, ‘Look, he tried,'” Wilson said.
Yet the reality of Christie’s girth didn’t relate simply to his family. It was widely seen as an impediment to higher office, prompting nonstop jokes by late-night hosts and, more seriously, raising questions about whether voters would entrust the White House to someone so physically unfit. The words “William Howard Taft” were frequently used in connection with the New Jersey Republican by political reporters and Christie critics alike.
“This is a win-win for Governor Christie – on the one hand, health and family concerns take precedence over everything, and on the other, he’s also addressing a potential political issue should he seek higher office,” said Brian Walsh, a GOP operative who was recently the communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
“Setting aside the physical toll that a national race takes on anyone, we also live in a world where these sorts of issues aren’t always treated fairly, either in the media or by opposing campaigns,” he said. “So for any number of reasons, it’s both smart and admirable that he’s addressing this.”
The timing is also key, other operatives said. If Christie drops and keeps off the weight, it could be a powerful demonstration to voters of a politician overcoming personal adversity.
“If he ignores the process noise on 2016 and opens up on this, this can help him get a closer connection to people,” predicted New Hampshire Republican strategist Rich Killion, who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2008 president run. “People will understand about someone doing anything possible to ensure they’ll be around to dance with their daughters at their weddings.”
Most people believe there was no way Christie – who is expected to win reelection to a second gubernatorial term in November – could run for president without making a serious effort to ditch the pounds.
Yet the surgery also legitimizes a topic Christie has long denounced observers for raising. When a former White House doctor earlier this year expressed concern that Christie could die in office if he became president, he said on CNN that she should “shut up” and even called her personally to berate her.
It’s a sea change for a politician who declared himself one of the “healthiest fat guys” anyone had ever met just a few months ago, as he poked fun of himself by munching on a donut on David Letterman’s couch.
It will be much harder for Christie to now declare the topic off-limits. What’s more, his progress will be closely monitored.
Read more at POLITICO.