Chris Christie is sharpening his attacks on his former friend and ally Donald Trump as the ex-New Jersey governor considers challenging the former president for the GOP nomination in 2024.
Christie, famous for his acerbic remarks, knows the former president well and is comfortable going on television with ready-made sound bites about Trump that make headlines.
On Monday, he said the GOP field needed a candidate who would go after Trump and do what Christie did to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in a 2016 debate, when he questioned Rubio’s lack of experience and mocked the senator for using the same “25-second memorized speech” over and over.
“You better have somebody on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco [Rubio], because that’s the only thing that’s gonna defeat Donald Trump,” Christie said during a town hall at Saint Anselm College on Monday.
“And that means you gotta have the skill to do it,” he added. “And that means you have to be fearless because he will come back and right at you.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Republicans need a candidate who can go after former President Trump and be fearless. (AP Photo/John Locher)
A week earlier, Christie made news describing the endless “circus” surrounding Trump as the former president predicted his own arrest, showing off an ability to cut down the former president.
“The circus continues. I mean, look, he only profits and does well in chaos and turmoil. And so he wants to create the chaos and turmoil on his terms. He doesn’t want anybody else’s terms … he wants it on his terms,” Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Christie appears to be seeking out a lane in a potential primary race as a candidate willing to go toe-to-toe with Trump where others are not, with many of the would-be challengers dancing around criticizing Trump directly. The former governor has wide name recognition, and his perch as an ABC News commentator gives him a way to remain in the news by weighing in on each new Trump controversy.
“[Trump] loves a good fight. Well, so does Chris Christie,” said Jim Merrill, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist and former senior adviser to Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “I think his comment last night about ‘you want me on that stage,’ it would be must-see TV, that’s for sure.”
Christie’s last run for the White House did not go well and ended with him jumping to Trump’s side. He had an on-again, off-again relationship with Trump for the next four years.
The former governor led Trump’s 2016 transition team, but was fired over bad blood with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Christie was a contender to become Trump’s chief of staff in late 2018 before taking himself out of the running. And the former governor again aided Trump’s campaign in 2020, assisting him with debate prep. Christie contracted COVID-19 in the process and spent time in the hospital as a result.
But he has since become a full-blown Trump critic after the former president’s term ended, and he has signaled he will decide by this summer whether to run in 2024 himself.
Chris Christie has been an ally of former President Donald Trump and was a key member of his campaigns for the White House, going back to 2016, when he led Trump’s transition team. (Getty Images)
There is deep skepticism among some Republicans that Christie can break through in a field that has so far been dominated by Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — who has not officially announced a campaign — and Trump’s team has shrugged off the former governor’s latest attacks.
In response to Christie’s diatribe against the former president on Monday, a Trump campaign spokesperson sarcastically responded, “Who’s he?”
A former Trump White House official waved away any concern about whether Christie could damage Trump’s standing in a Republican primary, arguing the former governor is more likely to siphon support from the likes of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence or New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. Of those three, only Haley has officially declared her candidacy for 2024.
In a Quinnipiac University poll released March 15, Christie polled at 1 percent in a survey of 1,795 adults, which included 677 Republican and Republican-leaning voters. Trump led that poll with 46 percent support, followed by DeSantis at 32 percent.
It’s also unclear what Christie’s ultimate endgame is as other potential presidential hopefuls, like DeSantis and Pence, create their own campaign-in-waiting apparatuses.
“There’s not an organizing apparatus around him. He’s not raising money yet, so it’s sort of hard to give a full read at this point,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye, noting that it is still early in the primary season.
At the same time, Christie has the benefit of having run for president in 2016.
“He knows a lot of the folks in the early states,” said Matt Mowers, who served as Christie’s New Hampshire state director in 2016. “He doesn’t necessarily need the same type of apparatus that a first-time candidate needs at the outset. He’s got plenty of time to build one if he decides to run.”
There are also questions about whether an anti-Trump message will resonate in a GOP primary, let alone in an early primary state like New Hampshire.
“I think New Hampshire appreciates pugnacious candidates who are tough and hard-nosed — we’ve shown that in the past,” Merrill said. “But that’s a pretty tall mountain for him to climb.”
Others argue that Christie’s comments and presentation on Monday evening were not necessarily Christie putting on a show ahead of a campaign, but him being himself.
“He speaks his mind. He doesn’t hold back his feelings or his thoughts on anything,” Mowers said. “I wouldn’t over-speculate on how he’s positioning or what lane he’s looking for. He’s just going out there being him.”