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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie‘s “Bridgegate” scandal has cemented Christie’s reputation as a bully. However, some folks are wondering whether being known as a bully could actually help Christie secure the 2016 Republican Party nomination for President.

Comedian and host of HBO’s “Real Time” Bill Maher, appearing on MSNBC’s “Hardball” with Chris Matthews last Tuesday night, had this to say regarding Christie and the Republican Party in 2016:

I also don’t think that this is going to be a scandal that’s going to affect him with the people in his own party. He keeps saying ‘I’m not a bully.’ Sure he’s a bully, and that’s what they like about him is that he’s a bully. If he’s not a bully, who is he? He’s just Lamar Alexander [mild-mannered U.S. Senator and former Governor from Tennessee]. They are always looking for a bully in that party. They loved Sarah Palin, remember? Sarah Palin was a bully.
Other Republicans, such as Mike Emanuel of Fox "News" (citing unnamed “experts”), similarly stated that Bridgegate could help Chris Christie. And sure enough, a new Public Policy poll out today shows that Christie is up 12 points among Republicans in New Hampshire since Bridgegate.

Bill Maher and these other Republicans recognize what linguistics professor and political messaging guru George Lakoff calls the “strict father” model for conservatives — the affinity among Republican voters for politicians who appear strict and authoritarian. This includes everything from banning abortions and the GOP War on Women to bashing those on SNAP and other government assistance programs as lazy. The “strict father” model also fits in with Republicans’ militarism as a way to appear “tough.” Ronald Reagan and John McCain improved their standing among Republicans by being pro-war in many cases. George H.W. Bush did it by invading Panama and kicking Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. George W. Bush called himself “the Decider” and a “War President,” and got a pretty good ride out of his “War on Terror” until he got distracted from al Qaeda and invaded Iraq, culminating in his Codpiece Carrier Landing.

Chris Christie clearly fits into the Republican “strict father” model with his long record of bullying against teachers, politicians, New Jersey boardwalk passers-by and others. However, aside from outright legal or political disqualification due to Bridgegate, there are several reasons why Bill Maher may be wrong about Christie’s bullying ultimately helping Christie with Republicans:

1. Christie won’t explicitly embrace his bully image. On the contrary, Christie said “I am not a bully” in response to a direct question at his recent Bridgegate press conference.

2. Bridgegate punished too broad a group of people. There must have been plenty of Republicans, along with truckers, commuters, schoolchildren and elderly people waiting for medical attention, stuck in horrendous traffic during the Bridgegate lane closings. As Bill Maher told Chris Matthews in his recent interview:

I never knew before of a scandal where an administration, maybe it wasn’t Christie himself but the administration, actually purposely inflicted pain on its own citizens to make a point to other politicians. I mean, [former President Richard] Nixon had an enemies list, but he carried out his vengeance directly against the people who were his enemies. He didn’t use the people of America as hostage shields.
3. Christie has a Willard Mitt Romney problem among many Republicans, who see him as another moderate Northeast Republican who doesn’t share the extreme religious and cultural views that drive the Republican Party base.

4. Chris Christie’s bullying, like Romney’s out-of-touch elitism, could be another case of a candidate who wins the Republican nomination, but then feeds his own stereotype and turns off the majority of voters in the general election.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters.]

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