In the guessing game about Mitt Romney’s choice for a running mate, received wisdom is that the sun no longer shines on Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor in a perennial huff. We on this side of the Hudson River could have seen it coming. We on this side of the Hudson have experience with someone cut from the same fabric bolt. His name is Rudolph W. Giuliani, our former mayor. His act didn’t play so well on the national political stage, either.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
Mr. Christie and Mr. Giuliani have an important detail in common besides being Republicans and besides sharing an inability to suffer not only fools but also wise people gladly. Both are former prosecutors: United States attorneys, in fact.
Prosecutors, especially the showboats, are in the habit of flexing their muscles and getting their way. That can lend them an aura of strength. But the line between being strong and being abusive is a fine one, and it is easily erased. Something about these prosecutors, particularly from the rough-and-tumble New York region, might make them unappealing to the American general public, no matter what their successes at the local level.
“Part of the prosecutorial method is bullying,” said Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. “Cross-examinations are some of the most brutal things a person can undergo, especially at the hands of a trained prosecutor. Basically, it amounts to psychological waterboarding. I think there’s a tendency on the part of prosecutors to adopt a bullying and intimidating tone to get what they achieve.”
Nor is the aggression limited to dealings with political equals. Once in elective office, both Mr. Christie and Mr. Giuliani often violated a cardinal rule of the schoolyard: You don’t pick on someone weaker than you.
Each has been known to call people “idiots” for committing the sin of expressing disagreement. A notable gust of Christie hostility was his run-in this month with a man on the Jersey Shore, an encounter caught on video.
Mr. Giuliani regularly lashed out at New Yorkers who called in to his weekly radio show with complaints, like a man in 1999 who was unhappy with a municipal ban on pet ferrets. Granted, this fellow’s preoccupation with ferrets was unusual. But rather than shrug it off, the mayor told him on the air that “there is something deranged about you,” and advised him to see a shrink.
That form of bullying, said Douglas A. Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, ultimately “doesn’t play in Iowa.”
“It’s a certain violation of the cultural norms — that you don’t violate people’s psychological and physical space the way Christie does,” Professor Muzzio said. “He violates their sense of space.”
Troubles for prosecutors-turned-politicians go at least as far back as Thomas E. Dewey, who before he became New York governor and then a thruway was a federal prosecutor and Manhattan district attorney. As the Republican nominee in the presidential elections of 1944 and 1948, he lost both times.
“And Tom Dewey was genteel compared to Chris Christie,” Professor Baker said. “He was much more buttoned-up. Christie is out there in full flower. So is Rudy.”
Professor Muzzio cast the net even wider, to include recent New York State attorneys general nurturing national ambitions. “If you look at the Cuomos and the Spitzers, there’s a certain type,” he said. “They may manifest their behavior differently but, man, they’re in your face — fastball at the head, Roger Clemens. At least Andrew could do a changeup and a curve, where Eliot was just a fastball pitcher. You could look at those guys as examples.”
You could, for that matter, also look at actors who merely pretended to be New York prosecutors, like Fred Dalton Thompson. For several years, Mr. Thompson played the Manhattan district attorney in the “Law & Order” series, then entered the sweepstakes for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. He washed out in nothing flat.
Maybe the only one who’d stand half a chance, Professor Baker suggested, is Sam Waterston, another “Law & Order” alumnus. He, at least, is someone “who probably gives the most benign portrayal of a prosecutor.”
E-mail Clyde Haberman: [email protected]