New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has already lost 40 pounds since undergoing no-longer-secret lap-band stomach surgery in February. You can already see the difference — in the photo above at left, taken January 16, that's his familiar silhouette; above at right, taken April 30, he's clearly lost weight. Christie says it's about his family, not politics: "I know it sounds crazy to say that running for president is minor, but in the grand scheme of things, it was looking at Mary Pat and the kids and going, 'I have to do this for them, even if I don't give a crap about myself,'" he told the New York Post. But Christie's surgery is perfectly timed for a presidential run in 2016.
There will be an inevitable grand narrative of The Incredible Shrinking Chris Christie — the humanizing interviews, the many side-by-side photos — and it will play into one of Christie's recently acquired political strengths: women have started to like him.
And women love weight loss narratives. Don't believe me? At right is a tiny sampling of what is regularly offered in the drugstore checkout aisle. And women love shaming the fat-shamers. Some opinion journalists have tried to shame Christie as if his fatness is some kind of moral failing, as New York's Jonathan Chait pointed out in 2011. Christie's fatness disqualified him from being president, Eugene Robinson and Michael Kinsley argued, without pointing to any evidence that his weight has affected his job. (Sixty-four percent of New Jerseyans, on the other hand, are fine with having a fat governor.) "The only real reasoning I see here is that American elites view obesity with disgust, and they're repulsed at the notion that a very fat guy could rise to a position of symbolic leadership," Chait wrote. Even better for Christie! If there's one thing women can relate to, it's hearing men express absolute revulsion that someone they find unattractive would dare cross into their field of vision. Nobody ever really cared that he was fat — 64 percent of all New Jerseyeans said they were comfortable with an overweight governor, according to a March poll — but a male candidate getting skinnier and skinnier? That may still be disgusting to male pundits, but to female voters, it ought to be downright inspiring.
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In the Tea Party era of 2009 and 2010, Christie was mostly known for YouTube videos in which he yelled at teachers. Women didn't like him. In June 2009, Public Policy Polling found men favored Christie by 28 percentage points, while women favored his opponent for governeor, Jon Corzine, by 6 percentage points. The gender split held throughout the campaign. A November 2009 Monmouth University poll found men favored Christie 13 percentage points percent, while women favored Corzine by 11 points.
But now? Ladies love the post-Hurricane Sandy Chris Christie. In December 2012, 57 percent of women saw Christie favorably, while 53 percent of men did. "Will Chris Christie's popularity among women last?" The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan asked. It did. An April Monmouth poll found that 65 percent of female voters approved of the job Christie was doing, while 61 percent of men did. Women are more likely than men (57 percent to 52 percent) to describe Christie as "independent," an April Rutgers-Eagleton poll finds. This is especially important for Republicans in 2016. President Obama beat Mitt Romney in part thanks to an 18-point gender gap.
When women are made fun of for being fat, they become folk heroes. When men get called fat, they just keep getting called fat. "I'm the only guy in America who's fat," Fox News chief Roger Ailes said of his predictable detractors in 2011. "Will skinny Chris Christie have the same mix of regular dude appeal as the heavy one? Maybe he'll be just another Type A yeller," the Philadelphia Inquirer's Tom Fitzgerald tweets. Or maybe he'll become a beloved anti-fat shaming hero.