Thinking about thos spikes
Photo: Matt Rourke (AP Photo)

There are no circumstances under which you should feel bad for Chris Christie, but here’s the one that seems closest. Heading into the primary campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Christie had a brand that worked for him. He wasn’t a great or even terribly good governor of New Jersey—he was cheesily corrupt and checked-out and venal in all the ways that bad governors are, and quick to pick dickweed posturing over actual governance in the way that aspirants to higher office tend to be—and by the time the primary started most residents of his state disliked him intensely. But the guy had a brand, and in a field of otherwise indistinguishable white guys in suits, Christie was easy to identify—he was the big bellowing oaf aggressively pointing his finger at people and gradually turning the color of uncooked steak. He had that all going for him, and then Donald Trump entered the race and was so effortlessly better at all those things—which is to say even worse and dumber, but you understand—and it was over before it began. Call this the Greater Asshole Theory.

Christie is now in the part of his career where he provides quotes to people writing stories about how Trump wound up nominating two raccoons in a sweatshirt to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican or whatever, but other Republican candidates have learned something from his failure in the primaries, if not quite enough. They noticed, as everyone has noticed, that Trump has won the hearts of a distressingly large segment of the electorate by reliably being a Big Dumb Asshole all the time, every day, as loudly as he can. They think it’s “real” and in the sense that Trump truly is a Big Dumb Asshole, it is.

Christie came by being a Big Dumb Asshole naturally, if not as naturally as Trump, and he fell short. All the mashed potato sculptures that failed to stop Trump couldn’t even do the act convincingly for short periods of time. They’d been pretending to be something else for too long to pivot on the fly. People that run for office as Republicans have, in the past, tended to pretend to be those sorts of things, too—A Rich Pink Man With Results or The Godly Husband Who Hoards Guns or whatever—but were now confronted with the fact that those pretenses didn’t work anymore. If they wanted to win Trump’s voters, they would have to be Big Dumb Assholes, too.

It’s not really to Scott Wagner’s credit that he is bad at this. He’s a different type of guy—a self-made waste management magnate who made millions and racked up a bunch of EPA citations and who succeeded and succeeded until the only thing left to do was run for office as a Republican so that he could cut his own taxes. He’s running for governor of Pennsylvania and, if the video below is any indication, kind of struggling with the whole Big Dumb Asshole thing. Not the being-one part, but the expression of it.

What Wagner is going for, here, is the political equivalent of a WWE wrestler cutting a promo—“I’m here to tell you Roman Reigns that [and a bunch of guttural lorem ipsum macho shit goes here].” What he is landing on is tonally something more like Suburban Grandfather Flips Out At Ruth’s Chris Valet Station and visually more like the videos you sometimes see on YouTube of seething dudes getting increasingly upset and increasingly incomprehensible about politics while speaking into a dashboard-mounted camera while sitting in the parking lot of a Michaels. There is a reason why the WWE does not let people in vests with multiple country club memberships cut promos, and this is it. This bit, particularly, is it.

This part, I mean:

“Governor Wolf lemme tell ya, between now and November 6, you better put a catcher’s mask on your face. Because I’m gonna stomp all over your face, with golf spikes, because I’m gonna win this for the state of Pennsylvania, and we’re throwing you out of office.”

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That’s the part I meant.

There is nothing to feel good about here, really, but I have settled on one thin thread and am clinging to it. Yes, the country is dumber in crueler ways and crueler in dumber ways than it has been in some time, and not improving; yes, our politics are now a theater of bellowing idiot grievance and dominance presided over entirely by odious elderly goblins. Sure, sure. But: it can still be funny sometimes when they talk.