I suppose it only fitting in a nation plagued by obesity that a modern-day potential candidate for president should match if not exceed the girth of President William Howard Taft, who was easily the heaviest person to occupy the White House.
But a growing number of Republicans disenchanted with the current crop of presidential wannabes apparently believe that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie might just be the answer to their prayers, superwaist and all, which, in all fairness, hasn’t seemed to slow him down as he stumps around trying to make up his mind whether to make a run at the GOP nomination.
In an age when TV defines the image expected of a candidate, slim or at least trim has been the model. And the two GOP front-runners, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, epitomize that movie star handsomeness has been considered an important ingredient for success since Jack Kennedy, particularly among the young. But there seems to be lingering doubt whether either is heavyweight enough in the philosophical sense to take advantage of an increasingly vulnerable Barack Obama.
Christie, his advocates contend, is more than qualified for the assignment in both categories. On the physical side, the occupant of the New Jersey statehouse is a very big man, approaching if not having overtaken the 300-pound mark. In fact, there looks to be enough of him to make two presidents. He doesn’t seem self-conscious about appearing more like an escapee from the “Biggest Loser” television show than a politician, admitting in an interview with ABC anchor Diane Sawyer, who ranks at the very top of the beauty scale, that he probably should do something about his weight. You think? What, and lose the fast-food vote?
All that flesh also doesn’t seem to bother those urging him to cannonball into the midst of the nominee race with the expectation of splashing the lightweights out of the pond. They find his blunt calls for swift action on a variety of fronts with no holds barred just the kind of “hit ’em where they live” candidacy presently missing. No doubt about the weight of his brain either.
Where does Christie stand on the idea of plowing into the race? He said in April he wouldn’t, but he left the door open. In his case it has to be more than just a crack, and in the last month or so that has been what it has become as the decibel level of pleading has increased dramatically. That’s especially true since Perry, the previous darling of the tea party conservatives, has slipped recently because of a couple of uneven performances.
It seems amazing to me that all the normal models for picking nominees for the highest office in the land have disappeared. When I began covering national politics all those years ago, a candidate with Perry’s views of political sacred cows like Social Security and Medicare and the Federal Reserve had no prayer of success. This guy makes Barry Goldwater look like a liberal. Then there is the sex thing. Bill Clinton survived one scandal after another and probably could be elected again now. There was a time a divorce was enough to end a candidacy.
Now suddenly the glamour-puss image seems not to be a factor, which is probably a good idea. At the time Taft was elected, Americans saw a comfortable figure as a sign of a prosperous man and the menus of his day, for his class included great quantities of the richest foods, morning, noon and night. Taft certainly was a man of his time.
He had to have a special bathtub to hold him, for Pete’s sake.
Whether or not Christie enters the race, he can be expected to throw around some of his considerable heft influencing the nominating process just as a much-smaller Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has done already after deciding not to run. He has written a book that all the candidates should read.
In the meantime, I’ll have a Taft-Christie Combo, two dozen oysters and a double cheeseburger, Falstaff.
Dan K. Thomasson is a former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.