Prospective Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie is known for his confrontational style. Unlike most politicians, Christie has no problem telling-off hecklers and giving candid responses to questions. For example, during a town hall meeting, Christie told a heckler: "Sit down and shut up!" He publicly said of New York Daily News sportswriter Manish Mehta, who had criticized New York Jets coach Rex Ryan: "When reporters act like jerks, you need to treat them that way. This guy's a complete idiot, self-consumed, underpaid reporter." In another instance, Christie responded to a protester holding a sign that read: "Do Your Job" with: "You do yours, buddy!"
Christie's unfiltered, candid style runs contrary to most contemporaneous politicians. In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, and where campaigns hire trackers to follow opponents on the campaign trail waiting for them to make a faux pas that they can then use against them, politicians have become near robotic. They appear to be in a hypnotically induced trance during public events. The politician may walk into a room and greet people with the familiar: "Hi, how are you? Nice to see you. Thank you for being here." The politician tries to saunter to the next person without having an actual conversation for fear of being asked his position on a controversial issue.
Some of the most entertaining and memorable moments in American politics occur from these unscripted moments when politicians speak off-the-cuff and mince no words. While Christie is a good example of this, President Harry S. Truman also spoke quite bluntly in public. While on the campaign trail in 1948, Truman was a sharp contrast to his ultra-scripted Republican opponent, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey tried to sit onto his electoral lead by avoiding any controversial statements. At his campaign rallies, Dewey would often bellow platitudes. Truman capitalized on one such platitude. In an address in Phoenix, Dewey asserted: "America's future, like yours in Arizona, is still ahead of us." Truman responded by telling a crowd in Yonkers, N.Y.: "Well I hope the future will last a long time for all of you, and I hope it will be a very happy future -- and I hope it won't be a future under Republicans, either."
At a campaign stop in Spokane, Wis., a supporter shouted that Truman should throw eggs at his chief U.S. Senate critic Robert A. Taft (R-OH). Truman candidly retorted: "I wouldn't throw fresh eggs at Taft. You've got the worst Congress you've ever had. If you [referring to the audience] send another Republican Congress to Washington, you're a bigger bunch of suckers than I think you are."
That year, voters chose the candid Truman over the robotic Dewey in arguably the greatest upset in American Presidential election history. After winning the election, Truman continued his candid style. During a 1951 ceremony observing National Music Week, President Truman told the assembled crowd of musicians: "There is usually one aria or one song in nearly every great opera that is worth listening to -- most opera music is boring. I don't want you to say that out loud. It might hurt the Metropolitan Opera."
In 1960, former President Truman spoke at a rally for Democratic Presidential nominee John F. Kennedy and made no effort to hide his true feelings toward Republican Presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon: "Nixon has never told the truth in his life... He is against the small farmer. He is against small business, agriculture, and public power. I don't know what the hell he's for, and that bird has the nerve to come to Texas and ask you to vote for him. If you do, you ought to go to Hell." In response, Kennedy joked: "I've asked President Truman to please not bring up the religious issue in this campaign."
Similar to Truman, the 1940 Republican Presidential nominee Wendell Willkie, who had never before run for public office, was often unfiltered. His vice presidential running mate, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles L. McNary (R-OR), offered Willkie the following advice: "In politics you'll never get into trouble by not saying too much." Contrary to this advice, Willkie put his foot in his mouth during the campaign by appearing to suggest that he did not care if voters chose him. Willkie told a crowd in Kansas City, Mo.: "I'm the cockiest fellow you ever met. If you want to vote for me, fine. If you don't, go jump in the lake." Willkie lost the election to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When a member of the U.S. Congress holds a town hall meeting, they subject themselves to moments of acute criticism. Most politicians stay above the fray, usually answering the hostile constituent with preformulated talking points. They then try assiduously to move on to the next constituent. Occasionally, however, a member of Congress will fire right back at the constituent, usually drawing thunderous applause from their supporters in the audience.
In 2009, U.S. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) was asked by constituent Rachel Brown (who came to the meeting holding a sign depicting Barack Obama with an Adolf Hitler-style mustache): "Why do you continue supporting the Nazi [Heath Care] policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?" Frank Responded: "On what planet do you spend most of your time... Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table: I have no interest in doing it." Ironically, Frank landed up having nearly a one-hour conversation with Brown, as she ran against him for the Democratic nomination for re-election. The two candidates also participated in a debate.
In 2010, many members of Congress who supported the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, were receiving hostile receptions at town hall meetings. This prompted U.S. Representative Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) to tell WILK Radio that he would supplant traditional town hall meetings with teleconferences. Kanjorski candidly asserted: "We're going to do everything we can to get opinions from people, to meet with people. But I'm not going to set myself up for, you know, nuts to hit me with a camera and ask stupid questions." Kanjorski lost his re-election bid that year.
Indignant constituents often write their legislators, criticizing their job performance. Most politicians take this criticism in stride, and sometimes send impersonal form letters back to the constituent. However, there have been a few politicians who have written back to the constituent, telling him/her exactly how they feel. John S. McGroarty (D-CA 1935-1939) once wrote back to a constituent who had sent him a critical letter lambasting him for not fulfilling a campaign promise regarding the reforestation of the Sierra Madre Mountain chain. McGroarty wrote back: "One of the countless drawbacks of being in Congress is that I am compelled to receive impertinent letters from a jackass like you in which you say I promised to have the Sierra Madre Mountains reforested and I have been in Congress two months and haven't done it. Will you please take two running jumps and go to Hell?"
Similarly, U.S. Senator Stephen M. Young (D-OH 1959-1971) had little patience for critics. One of Young's critics wrote a letter to Young that ended with the following phrase: "I would welcome the opportunity to have intercourse with you." Young responded: "You sir, can have intercourse with yourself."
Of course, it is common for politicians to become candid the day they lose office. After losing a Democratic primary for a State Senate seat in California, Dick Tuck quipped to supporters: "The people have spoken, the bastards." Similarly, after losing a re-election bid in 1834, U.S. Representative Davy Crocket (Whig-TN) exclaimed: "I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not... you may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas." He did go to Texas and died at the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836.
Should Christie publicly deride liberal critics to their face, he would win plaudits from some conservatives, yet this may not play well with the more moderate establishment bloodline of the Republican Party who would view this behavior as unpresidential. They might worry about how Christie would conduct himself should he garner the nomination. For that reason, members of the establishment bloodline of the party might lend their support to the more measured establishment candidate, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Christie is a rare breed of a politician who is not afraid to excoriate critics publicly to their face. The question is: How this will play in the 2016 Presidential sweepstakes?