Say what you will about Chris Christie; he is a smart man. He’s an accomplished former U.S. attorney and someone who, for a time at least, harnessed the political zeitgeist to become a popular governor and a supposed savior-in-waiting for the GOP in 2012.
He must know that he has precious little chance in 2024.
A December poll showed just 3 percent of Republican-leaning voters said they would be “very satisfied” with him as their nominee. A more recent poll showed fully 70 percent wouldn’t even consider him (the most of nine candidates tested). Even in New Hampshire, the state he would apparently focus heavily on, a recent poll showed primary voters disliked him 53 percent to 10 percent.
Yet signs are building that Christie will again decide to run for president at what is decidedly the wrong time — even more than 2016 was. And while he has insisted this isn’t just a kamikaze mission to take down Donald Trump, it’s difficult to see how it could amount to much else.
Despite Christie’s insistence, there is no question that he has motivation to go there, that he’s demonstrated a talent for going there, and that he increasingly is going there.
Christie, perhaps more than any other Republican politician, has a relationship with Trump containing multitudes. While Trump has a talent for making people regret their loyalty to him, Christie might be at the top of that list.
He was a staunch Trump critic in the 2016 primaries before his early endorsement was really the first big one to lend Trump mainstream credibility. Then Trump rather quickly subjected him to a series of indignities: the endorsement news conference, the apparent jab at Christie’s weight, the allusion to Christie’s travails as governor of New Jersey.
Christie lobbied harder than anyone to become Trump’s vice-presidential pick, but he was passed over in a way that seemed to surprise him. Then Christie took over Trump’s 2016 transition team, before being quickly pushed aside. Trump declined on multiple occasions to make him attorney general, the cabinet job Christie was most suited for, leading Christie to explain in early 2019, “He hasn’t offered me anything that I really wanted to do.”
It was at this point that the cracks in their alliance began to form, and they became chasms after Jan. 6, 2021. Christie has even blamed Trump for giving him a coronavirus infection that landed him in intensive care in late 2020, and he said Trump never called to check on him.
But even those criticisms pale in comparison to what Christie is unleashing today. While other 2024 hopefuls avoid criticizing the man they’re trying to usurp for fear of alienating his base — witness what just happened with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) super PAC when it sent out a tweet attacking Trump’s CNN town hall comments — Christie is characteristically far less shy.
Just last week, Christie called Trump “a puppet of Putin.” He’s targeted Trump over being found liable for sexual assault in the E. Jean Carroll case. He has knocked Trump for being “afraid” of debates. And unlike others, he’s lent credibility to his comments by saying he would never back Trump again.
Despite his heavy criticism of Trump, Christie sought to assure political watchers last month that it wouldn’t just be about that — that he needed to see a path to victory.
“I’m not a paid assassin,” he told Politico, adding, “When you’re waking up for your 45th morning at the Hilton Garden Inn in Manchester, you better think you can win, because that walk from the bed to the shower, if you don’t think you can win, it’s hard.”
But that’s not mutually exclusive. Christie can still make his campaign about Trump, which he has signaled he’s inclined to do. Virtually all of his commentary in recent weeks has focused like a laser on going at Trump, which Christie suggests he sees as his path to victory.
“Tonight is the beginning of the case against Donald Trump,” Christie said last month during an event in New Hampshire.
He continued: “You’re not going to beat someone by closing your eyes, clicking your heels together three times and saying, ‘There’s no place like home.’ That’s not going to work. In American politics, you want to beat somebody? You have to go get them.”
Indeed, Christie seems prepared to be the one to test the theory, common in Trump-critic circles, that Republicans need to actually go at Trump if they’re to have any chance of defeating him. The problem with that, similar to the GOP’s approach to Trump for years, is that nobody wants to be the one to leap and make that case. Better to let someone else torpedo themselves in the process. And then nobody does.
Notably, Christie’s probably best situated to do it. While Never Trumpers love Liz Cheney, and Asa Hutchinson and Chris Sununu appear ready to make such a case, Christie actually has a track record here that suggests it could matter.
You might recall perhaps the most significant debate moment of 2016 came in February, when Christie played a major role in ending what remained of Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) chances by casting a harsh spotlight on Rubio’s robotic answers. Would Rubio have beaten Trump? Probably not. Will it be as easy to embarrass Trump like that? No. But Christie is uniquely situated to try.
And Christie suggests he sees exactly that as his calling.
“You better have somebody on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco,” Christie said in late March, “because that’s the only thing that’s gonna defeat Donald Trump.”
Christie’s standing in the polls back then in 2016? The low single digits. He had finished 10th in Iowa, and his campaign was basically over, but he did it anyway.