Fat chance. Could Chris Christie become president?

Leon Emirali

One is the world’s most eligible bachelor with hoards of admirers screaming his name wherever he goes; the other is a heavily-set, 50-year old, career politician with a penchant for an outmoded fleece.

Despite their superficial differences, Prince Harry and Chris Christie were pictured all smiles this week as the Governor of New Jersey welcomed the Prince as part of his U.S. visit.

Prior to this coveted photo-op for Christie, the Governor, who is estimated to weigh around 350 pounds, underwent weight surgery and was fitted with a gastric band in April. News of his desire to lose weight fuelled chatter amongst political commentators, with many touting Christie as a potential 2016 Republican candidate for the presidency.

It’s not hard to see why Christie would be a popular choice, with many Democrats even taking a shine to the Republican governor. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, President Obama publicly supported the Republican’s spirit and leadership. Michelle Obama has recently said that Chris Christie was “terrific” after he announced his weight-loss surgery, and local Democrats were reported to break with the party-line to endorse the Governor in the upcoming blue-state New Jersey gubernatorial election in November. Democrats aren’t the only ones to warm to the GOP Governor. His swashbuckling, straight-talking style appeals to a chunk of Republican voters who may otherwise be put off by the perception of him as a ‘moderate conservative’.

Despite this, health clearly matters to U.S. voters as they choose their president. A widely accepted criticism of John McCain’s candidacy in 2008 was that his age could mean his presidency is cut-short or that he would somehow be restricted in fulfilling duty. Likewise, when Hilary Clinton suffered a blood clot this year, several commentators changed their previous assumption that she would be a shoe-in on the Democrat’s 2016 ballot paper.

Despite his popular politics, if Chris Christie is serious about contending for the White House it is his appearance and health that presents his greatest challenge if he wishes to gain credibility from the critical media in the U.S.

Former presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt and JFK placed tight management over public knowledge of their ailments. FDR’s long-term illness often left him in a wheelchair although he strictly limited pictures of this to surface. Likewise, JFK suffered chronic back pain leading him to find relief in amphetamine shots as well as having to wear a brace, although the public knew little of this at the time. However, Governor Christie will be less fortunate to control the media reporting on his health in the current age of relentless media scrutiny of public officials, as demonstrated in the reporting of his recent surgery.

As the famous myth of President William Taft becoming stuck in the White House bathtub on his inauguration day in 1909 still draws a chuckle today, rightly or wrongly, the sketch writers in Washington will be sharpening their pencils if Chris Christie does announce that he is running for the White House come 2016.

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