WASHINGTON -- Midway through New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) press conference in Trenton, N.J., on Thursday, Mo Elleithee, a top official at the Democratic National Committee, tweeted a message out to his followers. It simply stated the word "me" 47 times.
me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me
— Mo Elleithee (@MoElleithee) January 9, 2014
Elleithee's point was that Christie was talking about himself too much. Christie has received a number of positive reviews for his performance in addressing a scandal over some of his top aides ordering the closing of several traffic lanes of the George Washington Bridge -- even from former Obama adviser David Axelrod. But he did struggle with explaining what angered him more -- the fact that his aides lied to him, or that New Jersey residents were made to wait in horrendous traffic because of the whims of those government officials -- and ultimately seemed to stress that he was more upset by the former.
Elleithee harped on this in a statement released after the press conference. "The fireable offense should not be that his team lied to him -- it’s that they took actions that hurt the people of New Jersey," he said. "Chris Christie needs to focus less on his ego, and more on the people of NJ."
The DNC blasted out a piece by The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart soon thereafter, mocking Christie for giving a "me-me-mea culpa."
The Democratic strategy here appears to be aimed beyond Bridgegate. We are seeing some of the first real attempts by national Democrats -- since they gave him something of a free pass during his road to a reelection romp over a Democratic opponent last fall -- to tell the story of Christie that they want the nation's voters to hear, absorb, digest and hereafter assume as part of who he is, if and when he runs for president in 2016. (This is assuming that the governor told the truth on Thursday and was not involved in causing massive traffic delays to punish a New Jersey mayor.) It is the fight for the early narrative that is now embedded in electoral politics, one that Democrats have been far better at than Republicans.
Democrats have made this critique of Christie before, but the focus and intensity they will put behind it now in the context of 2016 will be new. They want to frame Christie as a self-absorbed egomaniac who likes to talk about himself too much, thinks about himself too highly and puts himself before others. It builds on some of the major criticisms that many in Christie's own party leveled at him during the 2012 election, when they felt he put his own political fortunes ahead of helping the Republican ticket (many are still bitter). And it is a strike at Christie's character, an insinuation that there is something wrong with him in his core. For previous victims of this strategy, see Romney, Mitt, presidential candidate, 2012.
And Democrats are hitting on what has been something of a weak spot for Christie. He does like to talk about himself a lot. He has no compunction about sounding off at length about who he is, what he's like, what his strengths are, etc. He did it during Thursday's press conference when asked if he is a "bully."
"I feel passionately about issues. And I don't hide my emotions from people. I am not a focus-group tested, blow-dried candidate or governor," Christie said. "Now, that has always made some people, as you know, uneasy. Some people like that style, some people don't."
"I think you asked me the question day after the election, 'Are you willing to change your style in order to appeal to a broader audience?'" he said to a reporter. "And I think I said no because I am who I am. But I am not a bully."
Part of this is the apparent candor that has helped Christie rise to political fame and be considered, until now at least, as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2016. Democrats know that Christie's plain-spokenness and his enthusiasm for holding long back-and-forth sessions with the press -- he spoke publicly for nearly an hour in 2011 about every last aspect of his decision not to run for president then, and for almost two hours Thursday about the current scandal -- are some of his biggest strengths.
But by raising questions about whether loquaciousness equals egomania, Democrats are looking for a way to insert doubt and hesitation about the governor into the mind of observers, and even Christie himself.