A desperately unpopular governor with historically low approval ratings auditioned for a new job Monday, but he couldn’t leave his old one behind.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie toted his 15 percent approval rating into Manhattan to host four and a half hours of drive time sports talk on the biggest sports station in the New York metro area Monday. (We can only hope he crossed the George Washington Bridge to get there).
It could have been a momentary break from what has been a heroically bad week that featured holiday pics from hell. Christie was caught sunning himself on a public beach closed to his constituents over July 4, precipitating Monday’s gut-punch of a poll. A lame duck, facing the end of his eight-year tenure in Trenton in January, Monday was in many ways his first big job interview for his next act.WFAN has confirmed that Christie is a candidate to take over the afternoon timeslot of the legendary Mike Francesa, fondly known as the Sports Pope, who is leaving the station after this year.
But New Jersey couldn’t let go of Christie just yet, and neither could Christie get his head out of Jersey, Montclair specifically. The afternoon’s most memorable moments—the most riveting radio—were not discussions of New York’s scuffling baseball teams. They were all about politics, specifically Christie’s brand of it and why its so toxic in his home state.
About an hour into the show, “John from Montclair,” a famously liberal town that voted against Christie twice, called. Ostensibly John wanted to talk about the Yankees, but the screener did not catch his real intent, which was to tell Christie he had done a “horrible job.”
“That’s good,” Christie replied. “You lost twice, John. That shows how much you matter. You went 0-2.” So that was sort of sportsy.
John wanted to know how Christie could root for Donald Trump, which was a center-cut softball, easy pickings for Christie: “I’m enormously relieved we don’t have a criminal in the White House, like Hillary Clinton,” he crowed as he slow-trotted the bases.
“Michael from Montclair,” who hits cleanup in the call-in batting order, dialed in a little later to make sure Christie knew where he stood on the whole Beachgate thing. Christie, who once called an assemblyman “numb nuts” was ready with some chin music. “I love getting calls from communists in Montclair.”
“Communists in Montclair? You’re a bully governor!” sputtered Mike. Score that round for the Bully.
They were only two calls during a full afternoon of radio. There was plenty of sports talk, from the Yankees to the woeful Mets and Knicks. Other callers were Christie fans, too. “You’re my favorite politician,” one gushed. But Christie predicted, correctly, that his squabbles with the two gentlemen from Montclair would be the headline of his audition.
He was right and for good reason. On a day Christie was supposed to talk sports, he was most animated, most energetic and most compelling when talking politics. His constituents confronting him over the beach fiasco was, in fact, good radio. As was when Christie’s co-host Evan Roberts called his Twitter feed boring, unlike Trump’s. Christie responded cheekily, “Is that what you really want my role model to be?” Christie’s sports takes had all the heat of a guy throwing batting practice; there just wasn’t much sizzle. “The Yankees need pitching, which is the hardest thing in the major leagues to get," he said at one point.
The tabloid speculation that Christie really could be a sports shock jock has gained steam because the governor, unlike many front-running politicians, is a tried and true sports guy. He was a catcher on his high school state championship baseball team, and the die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan has been a visible presence in owner Jerry Jones’ box in recent seasons. (Christie took another dig at Hillary Clinton Monday when he called her a lifelong Cubs fan who put on a Yankees hat when she ran for the Senate there.)
Then there is Christie’s personality. In the Monmouth poll released Monday, respondents called Chrtistie arrogant, pompous and crazy as part of a word association game. The qualities sometimes suit politicians, but they often suit radio hosts. Francesa, himself, has certainly been called all three. Indeed, Christie seemed to genuinely enjoy jousting with his political antagonists, particularly when he got to hang up on them.
In Christie’s favor, the reviews of his sports radio performances have been mostly positive. “He’s got the personality for it,” said Newsday‘s Neil Best. "And his sports knowledge is good for a guy who doesn’t do this full-time."
I found Christie’s sports opinions to be relevant, if not deeply insightful. He told a nice story about taking his seven-year-old son to the 2000 World Series, and talked about falling in love with Roger Staubach and the Cowboys as a kid in New Jersey. He blamed owner James Dolan for the Knicks’ woes, and knew the rosters of the Mets and Yankees. And he flashed some of his trademark wit: When Christie was asked how he can devote so much time to his fantasy baseball team given his commitments as governor, Christie deadpanned, “I’m mailing it in.”
But the draw of Monday’s show was the novelty of an in-the news governor talking sports on the radio. It wasn’t the sports conversation, which, from Christie, didn’t get any more brazen than a prediction for the Washington Nationals: “They’re going to suck in the playoffs.”
That doesn’t bode well for Christie’s chances at a permanent gig, yacking for 20 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. And that assumes he wants this job instead of a cushy, high-paid gig at a private sector law firm. As Mike Vaccaro, a sports columnist at the New York Post told me, “The ratings would be great for a week, two weeks, but New Yorkers won’t turn into a novelty act.” Though Keith Olbermann told me in an email that Christie is ideal for WFAN. “For 30 years, WFAN has been a home for uninformed, unintelligible, unlikeable hosts—so Christie would fit right in,” he wrote.
On a scale of 1-10, I’d give Christie’s performance a 6.5 out of 10. There’s no doubt he cares about New York’s sports teams, but I can’t imagine him building a show around his encyclopedic sports knowledge. Based on Monday (he’s got another shot at it Tuesday afternoon), he strikes me as better suited as a political talking head, where there is already a proven market for what Christie does best: Call liberals communists and Hillary Clinton a criminal.