The ‘I’ of the storm
The dramatic homestretch ad for President Barack Obama, running on every network and in all media markets, is a home run, devastating for Mitt Romney.
And, best of all, the president didn’t have to pay for it, or even say, “I approve this message.” It was a total gift — and from a Republican and top Romney surrogate.
Gov. Chris Christie, the fleece-wearing, order-barking Neptune of the Jersey Shore, was all over TV on Tuesday, effusively praising the president for his luminous leadership on Hurricane Sandy, the same president he mocked last week at a Romney rally in Virginia as a naif groping to find “the light switch of leadership.”
As Romney roams the Midwest and Florida struggling to stay relevant, miming coordinating storm response with GOP governors and collecting canned goods to send East, his fair-weather pal Christie failed to give Mittens any disaster relief.
On ABC, CBS and NBC, Christie hailed Obama as “outstanding.” On MSNBC, he said the president “has been all over this,” and on CNN, he called Obama “incredibly supportive.” The big guy even tweeted his thanks to the slender one.
Most astonishing of all, the New Jersey governor went on Fox News and spoke words rarely heard on that network: “I have to give the president great credit.”
“I spoke to the president three times yesterday,” Christie gushed. “He called me for the last time at midnight last night, asking what he could do.”
Christie also extolled FEMA, even though Romney has said it is “immoral” to spend money on federal disaster relief when the deficit is so big.
“Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy must have forgotten Christie’s self-regarding keynote speech at Romney’s convention, which had more “I” than “he” in it. Doocy asked Christie if there was “any possibility that Gov. Romney may go to New Jersey to tour some of the damage with you?” The governor replied dismissively: “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested,” adding: “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”
White House officials seemed a bit flummoxed by Christie’s bearhug. “It’s unnerving,” one laughed, noting how odd it is that a Romney big gun might help break the stubborn tie in the electorate in Obama’s favor.
They speculate that Christie, who always puts Christie first, has decided that it’s better for his presidential ambitions to be a maverick blue-state governor with a Democratic chief executive exiting in 2016 than to have President Romney and tea-party Republicans in Congress pulling him over to the extreme right for the next eight years. He also knows he’ll need a boatload of federal cash to make his state whole again.
Christie was in full “Sopranos”-at-the-shore mode in his blue fleece pullover. When Irene hit last year, he yelled at lingering frolickers, “Get the hell off the beach!” This time, the governor blistered the Atlantic City mayor for sending what he called “mixed messages” on evacuation orders and warned stranded residents: “We will not be able to come and help you until daylight tomorrow.”
The president is still overcompensating for his first-debate pout, determined not to be a loser. He made a false start and erred on the side of politics, wasting a round trip to Florida. He wanted to squeeze in one more rally before the storm, so he risked flying to Orlando on Sunday night for a campaign event Monday morning with Bill Clinton. Told that Air Force One pilots said he needed to leave before the rally or he might get stuck outside Washington — where sun and palms would be an unfortunate backdrop — he went back to the White House.
Just about the only criticism the president got on his storm stewardship was, amazingly enough, from “Heck of a Job, Brownie” Michael Brown, the FEMA chief during Katrina, who naturally thought Obama acted too quickly and efficiently.
With Obama forced off the trail, Clinton and Joe Biden could fulfill their shared fantasy: to be the presidential candidate. In Youngstown, Ohio, the two “Last Hurrah” pols plunged into a thrilled throng to shake hands, pose for pictures, bounce babies and sign books. Biden employed his classic move of holding the cheeks of a delighted older woman, then reaching around her in a full body hug to grab the hands of a woman behind. As “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher” blared, the prolix, snowy-haired pair scanned for anyone to schmooze or squeeze as the arena emptied out. The Big Dog lingered even longer than C-SPAN cameras.
Rather than campaigning, which he finds draining, the president was in the Oval calling a Republican to work things out. But this time, unlike with John Boehner at a fateful moment, a flattered Christie took Obama’s calls. While Romney campaigns in Florida on Wednesday, Christie and Obama plan to tour storm damage in New Jersey, a picture of bipartisanship, putting distressed people above dirt-slinging politics.
And that’s a grand bargain for both of them.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.