Shirley Paulson showed up to 50-cent wing night at Lab ’n Lager in downtown Keene not for a cheap dozen of the highly addictive garlic jalapeno wings but because she wanted a crack at New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
The 83-year-old Boston transplant raised four kids, outlasted three husbands, and spent 30 years making pitches to “businessmen a lot smarter than me,” as she sold radio ads in this gritty old manufacturing town. So, no, she wasn’t intimidated at the prospect of a confrontation with the sometimes-caustic presidential candidate.
During the two-hour town hall here on July 27, Christie fielded questions on topics ranging from the obvious (Obamacare, veterans’ affairs, illegal immigration, Iran) to the odd (whether he had, in fact, dozed off at a Bruce Springsteen concert last spring). Christie reported that he opposes Obamacare, favors better care for veterans, wants tighter border security, and thinks the Iran deal is the worst thing Barack Obama has done as president. And since you’re curious, no, he had not fallen asleep; he was simply caught having a “spiritual” moment at his “124th” Springsteen show.
Paulson was here for another reason. She wanted to ask her second-favorite candidate about her favorite. “I have a question for you,” she began, noting in her preamble that America is a “capitalistic society” struggling to match its historical success. “Why do you and all the other presidential candidates think you can do better than a gentleman named Donald Trump, who has been extremely successful and understands what capitalism is about and has done extremely well? And,” she said, picking up steam, “don’t tell me it’s because you have political experience. . . . I don’t really want to hear that.”
“Well, I love the fact that you asked the question and tell me what I can answer,” Christie replied to audience laughter.
“I’m like that,” Paulson responded, resolutely. “That’s the way I am.”
“Now I understand exactly why you like Donald.”
Christie, who said he’s been a friend of Trump for 13 years, offered a long explanation of why Trump’s business skills are not “transferable” to government. It’s not possible to shout “You’re fired!” at a congressional leader who tells you he doesn’t have the votes, Christie explained. “You can do that on a reality TV show but you cannot fire the speaker of the House or the Senate majority leader because you don’t get what you want.”
Paulson wasn’t satisfied. “In other words, you’re saying that you have to be a politician?”
“No, what I’m saying is you have to have some experience in knowing how to deal with people in that way. And he has not shown that over the course of his career.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“Then we have a fundamental disagreement about—”
“That’s okay,” Christie said with a smile. “Then vote for Donald Trump. It’s fine. It’s a free country. You can vote for whoever you want who’s on the ballot here on February 9.”
Christie then mocked a popular Trump talking point. “When he says that he’s going to build a wall across the entire 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico, and he’s going to make Mexico pay for it—that’s a great line, right? Everybody loves that! Great! We’re going to get the wall and we don’t have to pay for it!”
“He got a lot of attention for it,” Paulson interjected.
“If the goal here is to find the person to be president of the United States who can get the most attention—he’s gonna win hands-down. If it is the person who can most effectively govern our nation and deal with the world, I’d suggest to you that I’m in this race because I’d be better than him. You have a different opinion? Then vote for him. That’s fine by me. I don’t need to get every vote. I just gotta get more than anybody else.”
It wasn’t the kind of testy Christie exchange that would become an instant YouTube classic, but Paulson appreciated his candor. “That was a damn good answer,” she said to a friend as she sat down.
Christie spoke to her after the town hall. “You’re voting for me in February,” he said, as he threw his arm around her shoulder. “You know it and I know it. You’re not voting for him, you’re voting for me.”
If he’s right, she doesn’t know it yet. “Before Trump came on the scene, Christie was my favorite,” she told me later. But for now she’s not budging. “No, nothing changed my mind.”
And this is Christie’s problem. He used to be the favorite of a lot of people. Now, not so much.