The Spectacle Blog

Christie is No Dewey

By on 11.12.13 | 10:03PM

Jeff Lord makes the case that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a 21st Century version of the late New York Governor and two-time GOP presidential nominee Tom Dewey. Jeff writes:

What Christie is portraying of himself is precisely the same as Dewey did, the only difference being that Christie is re-running on the idea that seven decades of an obsession with the losing politics of GOP moderation is somehow this time a winner.

While there are certainly similarities between the two when I see and hear Christie, Tom Dewey is about the last Republican figure who comes to mind. Jeff makes reference to Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s quip that Dewey reminded her of the “little man on the wedding cake.” But her remark had nothing to do with Dewey’s politics, but rather his inability to resonate with people. Consider this passage from Zachary Karabell’s book The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000):

The crowds who listened to Dewey were respectful and engaged, but they could hardly be called excited. “Dewey had good enough crowds,” recalled Charles Greene of the New York Daily News, “good Republican crowds.” Wherever the train stopped, Greene talked to bartenders and cops and firemen and local newspapermen and cab drivers. He canvassed as many people as he could and he’ll talk you,” Greene liked to say. And after these conversations and sitting back and watching, Greene concluded that people “accepted Dewey, people thought, Well, he’s going to be elected so we might as well show the flag.” But there was no intensity, no sense of importance of the moment. Only with Truman did Greene feel that something was happening.

Chris Christie is no little man on a wedding cake, never mind a little man. When I say Christie isn’t a little man, I am referring to his larger than life personality. Christie is gregarious where Dewey was taciturn.

A few months ago, I heard an anecdote about Christie. The Garden State Governor was in a Boston hotel and saw a young man he had met briefly a few years earlier. Christie approached this man and not only remembered his name, but that of his parents. Any politician who can remember names of people he met for a few minutes a few years ago is a force with whom to be reckoned. If Dewey had been able to connect with voters in this way then he would have been a two-term President.

Unlike Dewey, Christie isn’t the odds on favorite to be elected President, and given the level of antipathy of conservative activists towards him, nor can he be considered to be the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. The closest thing there is to Thomas Dewey in contemporary American politics is Hillary Clinton. Like Dewey, the former First Lady won elected office in New York and was the odds on favorite to be elected President in 2008 and is again in 2016. We all know what happened five years ago and, given the sentiments towards Elizabeth Warren on the pages of The New Republic, Hillary could once again be relegated to being the little woman on a wedding cake.

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