He just about welled up. Yes, this bear of a man who doesn’t have much compunction about picking a fight with anyone got dangerously close to what politicians are never supposed to do: shed a tear.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's emotional display came Tuesday as he spoke about the devastation Superstorm Sandy has brought to his state. It came as he finished speaking about an incident where a tree fell on a vehicle killing the parents, but sparing the children.
But he caught himself and quickly pointed to a reporter for the next question, clearly hoping to deal with something more clinical, such as how many helicopters the state police have in action.
Over the next few days, there will continue to be heartbreaking shots of homes leveled and people speaking about lost loved ones. But, for those who caught Gov. Christie’s oh-so-brief moment of reflection in that press conference, it will be hard to find something so evocative of how horrible Sandy has been to New Jersey.
The story about the parents dying and kids surviving was heartbreaking. But the governor's emotional reaction really brought it home -- because nothing gets to Chris Christie, right? He’s the large man who will go full bore at teachers unions, social programs, the federal government, the cast of “Jersey Shore.” People want him to go to Washington and use his heft to shake things up, quite literally if need be.
Before the storm hit, Christie was Christie as he attacked the Atlantic City mayor for allegedly ignoring his mandatory evacuation order and suggesting residents could ride out the storm in city shelters. He tempered his barbs post-storm, but not by much.
But for that brief second when he almost let a tear slip, he was a parent, not a politician. He showed strength through weakness. It humanized the storm more than the stunning reports about how many homes have no power.
Hurricane coverage is full of reporters fighting the wind, wading through floods and pointing out downed power lines. But, press conferences aired live with no editing can yield some of the most compelling television. Christie’s have been interesting in part because they have been so unpredictable. The hardcore Romney supporter hasn’t just offered perfunctory comments about the federal government helping out. He could be mistaken for someone lobbying for a spot in President Obama’s cabinet. “I have confidence in the fact that we’ll have complete support from the President of the United States and federal authorities,” he said Monday.
(The Republican Christie offered even more effusive praise for the president on morning talk shows, saying he’s been “outstanding” and keeps calling Christie.)
Asked about how power outages might affect voting next week, he mentioned how some officials from various states had spoken about voting contingency plans, but said he was uninterested. “I don’t give a damn about election day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter a lick to me at the moment. I’ve got much bigger fish to fry than that. So do the people in the state of New Jersey.”
The story about the family tragedy wasn’t the only moment where the bulldozing Christie showed a human side. He spoke soberly about his personal sadness about what has happened to such a beloved part of his state, a place he’s visited his entire life.“The level of devastation at the Jersey shore is unthinkable,” he said.
Getting ready to take a helicopter ride over the damage with cameras in tow, he said he wanted to “prepare the public for what they’re going to see -- it is beyond anything I thought I’d ever see, terrible.”
He mentioned one of the reasons he would be taking the helicopter ride was to be able to give President Obama a first-hand account about the impact. Is it possible this people-first bipartisanship could continue after the waters ebb? Maybe a good cry would help.