As governor, Chris Christie’s hostility toward the New Jersey Education Association always bubbled just beneath the surface, poised to burst out in flamethrower rhetoric scorching the organization leadership for its political activities or for opposing an Administration initiative.
At one time or another, Christie referred to the Association as “New Jersey’s version of the Coreleone family”; characterized the leaders as “political thugs”; asserted it “deserved a punch in the face”; called it “fat, rich and entitled”; and accused classroom teachers of using their pupils as “drug mules” to carry Association propaganda home to their parents.
And that’s just a sampling — a small one.
Now as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination for a second time — his first in 2016 ended after successive sixth place finishes in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary — he’s resurrected his favorite target but on a national level.
For many, though, he crossed the line of propriety when he suggested that President Biden’s education policies were influenced “because he’s sleeping with a member” of the National Education Association.
It was a gratuitous cheap shot at the president and First Lady who’s been a teacher for more than 30 years and continues in the profession while in the White House.
It smacks also of promoting the most demeaning stereotype of successful women who’ve risen in their chosen fields by suggesting their accomplishments came about not by hard work and initiative but by who they chose for companionship.
Jill Biden, according to Christie, is not an advocate for children; rather “a radical advocate for the worst in the teachers union.”
The remark, delivered at the presidential candidates debate in California last month, drew criticism for its misogynistic overtones, but faded in today’s lightning speed news cycle.
In response to the criticism, Christie shot back: “It’s the truth, isn’t it?” and claimed he welcomed the backlash from Democrats.
Even some Republicans were taken aback at Christie’s remarks, concerned that they would damage the party’s outreach efforts to women voters, a vital voting bloc nationally and one which Republicans have sought to make inroads.
It is vintage Christie; when criticized, strike back, attack the critics, double down on the original act and never apologize.
It fit neatly into the attack campaign strategy Christie has followed since entering the race in June, concentrating almost exclusively on former president Donald Trump.
The former governor has been relentless and increasingly harsh — often personally so — in his assault on Trump and has separated himself from the rest of the field as the quintessential anti-Trump, despite effectively closing off the possibility of any support from the committed Trump faction in the party.
It hasn’t paid off in any significant way, however. In the latest Real Clear Politics polling average, Christie remains mired in sixth place, a hair ahead of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and a mere 53 points behind Trump.
The RCP poll averages also starkly illustrate Christie’s failure to gain any traction, revealing that since his announcement four months ago, he has exceeded five percent only four times.
New Jerseyans grew accustomed to Christie’s style as he barreled his way through eight years in the governor’s office, insulting members of the Legislature, constituents at town hall events, and anyone he felt was impertinent in word or deed.
With slightly more than three months before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, a shift in strategy for Christie is out of the question. His attacks will likely increase in volume and intensity, but experience thus far indicates minimal progress ahead.
Public education has grown into a compelling issue in the nation’s politics, generating heated debates over allied issues like greater parental involvement in local school district matters, curriculum offering such as sex education, gender studies and critical race theory.
It is altogether proper and legitimate for Christie to take on the issue, spell out his vision and emphasize his differences with the Biden Administration. He and his competitors have an obligation to fulfill that responsibility.
Taking a cheap shot at the First Lady ignores that obligation.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.