Please put a muzzle on this guy

The largely basketball shop-talk interview President Obama had with Clark Kellogg, the NCAA Final Four commentator on CBS, was the second time (that we know of) recently that the president was heard to make public reference, unwittingly or otherwise, to a presumed second term in office. Earlier, his open-mike tete a tete with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about disarmament issues also referenced second-term action, drawing a predictably hyperbolical response from Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney. All of which might be interpreted as cockiness on Obama’s part. Or maybe it’s just the president, political savant that he is, eye-gaming the 2012 landscape and concluding, like many others, that Republicans have lots to be concerned about.

Assuming that there are at least some in the Republican hierarchy also making that deduction, heads conceivably will turn in the direction of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the star quality ascribed to him by conservative kingmakers anxious to anoint a bring-home-the-bacon prospect. Talk of Christie being pushed to challenge the current GOP presidential field, such as it is, is now perhaps permanently retired, supplanted by speculation about Christie occupying the second slot on a ticket headed by Romney. And of course should 2012 not produce a GOP winner, the flock looking to 2016 and deliverance a la Christie. The spirit-lifting possibilities of which may be understandable, provided they come up with some effective means of muzzling the governor.

Christie was elected in 2009, and perhaps the hard-charging ways of U.S. attorney for the New Jersey District, the position he previously held, have been difficult to dispense with or, in the governor’s estimation, an asset worth retaining. Whatever, Christie appears to have some difficulty subscribing to the notion that civility in the public square comes with elective office territory. Continuously, a propensity for arrogance and bullying looks to be a defining marker with which Christie seems quite comfortable. The governor’s latest broadside was the one leveled at Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey’s senior senator, who was dismissed as a “partisan hack” for raising questions, as have many others, about a Christie proposal to have Rutgers University Camden merged with Rowan University. Even given what is reportedly a no-love-lost relationship between the two, what’s with the inflated putdown of Lautenberg over a proposed move seen in many other quarters as controversial?

Back in 2010 Lautenberg had characterized Christie’s decision to scrap the Hudson River rail tunnel project, to which the state had already been committed and received federal funds, as “one of the biggest policy blunders in New Jersey’s history.” Surely an example there of the kind of opposition to a stand by Christie that’s guaranteed not to get the author on the governor’s good side. Ultimately, though, Christie’s sparring with Lautenberg or others in the public domain is par for the political course and hardly sufficient to unduly disturb John Public. With Christie, it doesn’t quite end there.

Christie has shown himself to be an equal opportunity hurler of bricks, average Joes as much fair game as anyone in the political glare. He made the headlines not too long ago when he called an Iraq war veteran, former navy SEAL and aspiring lawyer an idiot. The guy, off kilter perhaps (who knows whether his time in the military was a contributing factor?) as he interrupted the governor at a town hall meeting, also had issues with the planned university merger. Christie would later say he had nothing to apologize for. On a call-in broadcast, one woman dared to ask the governor where his kids went to school. That information was “none of your business,” Christie told the caller. The inquiry was likely prompted by a decidedly adversarial stance against the state’s public school teachers that Christie adopted early in his gubernatorial term.

One sensed that the governor likewise felt his actions were off limits to the public when a ruckus was raised over his use of a state helicopter to attend his son’s basketball game and to travel to a meeting with GOP donors anxious for him to enter this year’s presidential stakes. In that instance, after first sending signals that demands for him to reimburse the state’s coffers would go unheeded, good sense at some point prevailed and the money was repaid. But the episode was so troublingly demonstrative of classic Christie arrogance.

His take-no-prisoners attitude and avowed conservative values obviously resonating with right-flank Republicans, it’s a safe bet that at this stage Christie’s displays of overweening behavior don’t mean squat to that crowd. Although he formally excused himself from any interest in the presidency this year, he has not made any Shermanesque declaration about being a running mate. Should he wind up on a ticket with Romney and they happen to win in November, it might be the best turn of events for the limitless political ambitions Christie and his cheering section now entertain. If, however, fate has destined Christie to continue his stint as New Jersey’s leader, more of those eruptive snipes (come they will, one suspects), especially those aimed at common or garden citizens, could well be the bête noir in the grand Christie production now being busily designed. The orchestrators may well find that Christie’s toughness, his right fit with the right side and whatever his gubernatorial accomplishments turn out to be are all good for zilch, if that muzzle isn’t also in the mix.