One Less Lonely Gov
BY Nick Judd | Thursday, November 18 2010
Not sure how I missed this last Friday, but Slate's David Weigel suggests that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's new media savvy makes him the Justin Bieber of the political world:
He makes news less for his specific accomplishments, more for viral videos of himself taking names, which are rebroadcast on conservative sites, talk radio, and cable news. [Outgoing Minnesota Gov. Tim] Pawlenty's communications team tried, and partly succeeded, in drawing national attention to a win he pulled out on the 2010 state budget, but there was no visual excitement. A single video of him taking on critics at a town hall would have made more of an impression with national Tea Party activists than what he got from that, a Politico cover story on his tricky political win. Christie's team realize that winning fame as a national politician is not altogether different than winning fame as a budding Canadian pop star.
Weigel also suggests that no other governor has a similar grasp of new media or online video. That's an interesting assertion and it'll be worth watching to see if it's true even after the three dozen governors elected or re-elected this year take office in January, armed with new-media practices tested on the campaign trail. But there's another difference at play here. Christie's strategy is not just one that uses new media to get his face out there, but one of, as Weigel observes, direct engagement. He's trading off of his interactivity. (Sidenote: There's another New Jersey politician who does that very well — Christie's favorite partner-from-across-the-aisle, Newark Mayor Cory Booker.)
Is this just the way a potential presidential contender behaves? Well, not really, is one subtext of Weigel's juxtaposition of Christie with Pawlenty — the Minnesota governor's name is also out there as a Republican presidential possibility in 2012.
Christie is even more of an outlier by dint of the number of videos on his YouTube channel that are television appearances. This election year was notable for the sheer number of candidates who avoided the national stage, who refused to engage, who stayed away from mediated public forums like debates or editorial board interviews. The suggestion was that candidates were avoiding forums where they might make a mistake, might not find a friendly audience, or would be interacting with the public in a situation where they did not make the rules. On a Facebook fan page, message discipline is one delete button away (UPDATE: As Slate well knows, natch) — but an appearance on "Meet the Press" could really throw you off your talking points, if you're not careful.
Maybe the difference here is not that Christie's team knows how to use new media to capitalize on the way their boss engages with people, especially ones who don't agree with him, and especially in situations he does not control. Maybe the difference here is that their boss engages with people who disagree with him in the first place.