Chris Christie may lose fat, but also lose fat voters

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times (May 8, 2013)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is worried enough about an early death due to obesity that, two weeks ago under a fake name, he checked himself into a hospital and had lap-band surgery on his stomach. It is being reported that having his tummy tied has already cut his food intake enough to help him shed 40 pounds.

The cable news pundit corps immediately questioned whether Christie was dropping weight to prepare for a presidential campaign in 2016, as if staying alive to see his children grow up and have children of their own were not motivation enough. However valid or specious, such speculation carries the clear implication that Americans would not elect a fat man to be president.

Is that true?

According to a recent poll, 76% of voters in New Jersey have a positive view of overweight candidates. It is hard not to think that has a lot to do with Christie’s current popularity in his home state, but it may also indicate that some people are more comfortable with a politician who looks like them, rather than one who is too slim. (Could that be contributing to the pathological hatred some folks have for our current svelte president?)

A 2012 Gallup survey put the share of Americans who are obese at 26.2%. Another 36.1% are overweight. That is a large base of potentially sympathetic voters for a candidate who enjoys his Krispy Kremes, Double Whoppers with cheese and 64-ounce sodas from 7-11. President Bill Clinton was notorious, not just for sneaking around the Oval Office with Monica Lewinsky, but for sneaking out for a Big Mac at the McDonald’s a block from the White House. Perhaps Clinton remains one of the country’s most popular political figures because he not only feels the pain of common people but feels their appetites as well.

It has been a century since we have had a fat president. William Howard Taft weighed in at 332 pounds and is said to have gotten stuck in the White House bathtub. In his day, his girth was uncommon. These days, millions of Americans are equally super-sized.

If politics really played a part in Chris Christie’s calculation, losing weight might not have been an obvious political plus. There are certainly voters who are biased against an overweight candidate, but there may be just as many who are portly themselves and who would not like being reminded of that fact every time they see a candidate who was once one of them wearing pants six sizes smaller.

If Christie starts eating arugula instead of pie ala mode, we’ll know he’s gone too far.