Undoubtedly, Cory Booker just has a big mouth. But, put in proper context, his recent Meet the Press gaffe wasn’t really about that mouth. It was Booker attempting to set up his candidacy for statewide office.
We’ve known about his mouthy nature for quite some time. The gregarious Newark, NJ mayor has quite a bit of admirers and detractors. It’s what we love or love to hate about him. What’s undisputed is that when he’s talking – whether it’s blasting out Tweets or issuing orders to city workers in his mission to clean one of the hardest-to-clean cities in the United States – it’s typically something that’s wicked smart. It typically makes sense. So, when he’s talking, people listening tend to listen very carefully to what he’s saying. In this particular instance, Booker became a victim of his gifts, an example of just how fast and furious our public communicators communicate.
No one, perhaps with the exception of an exceptionally calm President in the White House, is taking their time these days. Everyone is moving fast at the speed of even bigger mouths and sound. It’s the unfortunate consequence of the world we live in and Booker, in his moment of electoral pitch, got caught up in it.
He may have also, in the wake of his spectacular rescue of an elderly woman from a house fire, drowned in the hype of his own success. In terms of New Jersey politics, he’s on fire. The most recent Farleigh-Dickinson/PublicMind poll showed him with a 47% favorability rating – something near impossible to get as a Jersey politician, one of the state’s most despised professions. And pollsters suggest that type of rating is downright tough to get for any mayor, especially as chief of a city as scrappy as Newark. “In New Jersey,” says polling director Peter Woolley, “that’s fabulous,” commenting on the very tough and unforgiving voter attitudes in the Garden State.
Booker knows this. He made every other politician in the country look like a punk with that one act of split-second reaction, fighting off his own security detail to jump in. Clearly, it was a moment of unconditional authenticity – something missing in today’s elected official and something most average people want.
So, perhaps the mayor got lost in all of that. It’s hard to say. But, Booker, even during what appear to be his most off-script moments, is always scripted – at least in his mind. You get the feeling that he’s calibrating, very quickly, every word he’s saying or every policy he’s pushing. That made Meet the Press all that more unusual, leading some of us longtime Booker observers wondering if he was getting ahead of himself a bit. His very quick and unconvincing self-retort and video apologia to the Obama campaign gave that away; see Booker wearing the same suit, top shirt button undone, tie gone. There’s a subtle glint of moisture in the brow and forehead suggesting he had been running since saying “I f***ed up” to his handlers while moving at warp speed from the studio.
It’s easy to dismiss the mayor’s recent hiccup as some stupid, unintentional act of surrogate sabotage. Easy to expect that it will be showing up in a Republican attack ad on a cable channel near you.
But, what we got was a taste of was Booker hazing himself into statewide Jersey politics as he mulls and preps for what many Garden State observers see as a U.S. Senate run in the future. In a way, the moment was calculated. Jersey voters like their candidates to cut to the chase, and cut to it he did. Booker’s critique of President Obama’s top re-election theme didn’t stem from anything “nauseating” about the election. It had much to do with that massive private equity industry in the New Jersey/New York market that pretty much runs the show. If Booker is going to run for Senate, he’s got to find money somewhere with which to compete in, arguably, the most expensive media market in the land.