For Christie, Winning Would Be Great. Beating Trump Would Be a Close Second.
Chris Christie is embarking on a mission that even some of his staunchest allies would be stoked to see end in the White House.
But Mr. Christie, the former New Jersey governor who is now 60 and more than five years removed from elected office, made a commitment that he said was as important as a presidential victory. : Taking out the Republican Party. Donald J. From Trump’s grip.
“You need to think about who has the skills to do it and who has the guts to do it because it’s not going to end well no matter what,” Mr. Christie said in March at the same New Hampshire college where he plans to announce his long-shot bid on Tuesday.
“His end,” he said of the former president, “will not be a quiet and peaceful conclusion.”
As he entered the race, Mr. Christie has positioned himself as a candidate to voice the frustration of Republicans who have seen Mr. Trump shift the party and do quite a lot — either in ideological direction or Among joint election years. damage
For Mr. Christie — who gave Mr. Trump’s then-celebrity campaign significant legitimacy by endorsing him after his own failed 2016 presidential campaign — it’s quite the opposite. Having helped fuel Mr Trump’s rise, Mr Christie is now poised to author his fall.
The question is whether there is a market for what he is selling within the Republican Party that Mr. Trump is so popular with.
“Just being like, ‘I’m a kamikaze candidate’ — I’m not sure that’s going to play,” said Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s former White House press secretary. “For people who don’t like Trump because of bad tweets, are they going to like someone who’s mean about Donald Trump?”
Mr. Christie’s flaws as an anti-Trump emissary are obvious. For nearly all of Mr. Trump’s four years in the White House, Mr. Christie stood by the president — even after catching a fatal Covid-19 infection during preparations for a debate in the fall of 2020 — only to take on his stolen election lies. K broke up with him. And then the violence of January 6, 2021.
The upcoming campaign, then, is expected to be a redemption tour. Drawn by the lure of the presidency for more than a decade — his decision not to run in 2012 at the height of his popularity has been the subject of widespread second-guessing — he embarked on another run unencumbered by expectations.
Yes, he is trying to win. He has said that he will not run until he sees a path to victory. (“I’m not a paid assassin,” he explained politics.) But he also wants to turn the party away from Mr. Trump.
“He’s not going to like it, but he’s a loser. “It’s very simple,” Christie said of Mr. Trump in an interview last year, shortly after a disappointing midterm election for Republicans.
It’s the kind of quotable line and anti-Trump message that has turned many Republicans into CNN commentators or MSNBC stars and even former elected officials.
Central to Mr. Christie’s pitch to disaffected Republicans is his debating skills. The most memorable achievement of his 2016 bid was unseating Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
“You’re going to have someone better on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco,” he told the crowd at his March event, regaling the crowd with the story of his deep confrontation with Mr. Rubio. “Because that’s the only thing that’s going to defeat Donald Trump.”
The first challenge for Mr. Christie, however, will not be facing Mr. Trump. This will qualify for the debate stage. The Republican National Committee’s threshold of 40,000 donors in 20 states could prove especially difficult for a candidate with no small-donor following and whose anti-Trump message seems more likely to woo Democratic contributors than conservatives.
So far, Mr. Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, a self-funded businessman, have announced that they have hit that limit. (A 1 percent polling requirement is also required.)
Mr. Spicer, who later hosted a program on the right-wing cable network, Newsmax, noted that Mr. Christie is “not at all on conservative media” to maintain a right-wing following. “He’s hanging out at ABC,” Mr. Spicer said of the mainstream news network where Mr. Christie has been a paid commentator.
Quick and media-savvy with a quote — Mr. Christie turned talking to reporters a decade before Mr. DeSantis into a selling point for the GOP base — he might make for a head-to-head and colorful fight with Mr. Based on the thirst of news organizations. Trump.
After Mr. Trump’s recent town hall on CNN, when he wouldn’t say whether he expected Ukraine to win a war against Russia, Mr. Christie slammed him as a “Putin puppet.”
Yet even a relatively small faction of Republicans may oppose returning Mr. Trump to power, much to Mr. Christie’s disinterest. Not only did he provide a major initial endorsement in 2016, he led his presidential transition, and was passed over for some top jobs in the 2020 election, serving as an informal adviser and debate coach.
“Now you found Jesus?” asked Rick Wilson, an outspoken Republican critic of Mr. Trump before leaving the party altogether. “And now you’re going to be the one to take Trump’s fight?”
“Christie’s credibility factor as a Trump opponent is somewhere around zero,” Mr. Wilson said.
Early polling suggests Mr. Christie may face a steeper uphill climb than other candidates polling with low single-digit support. In he received 2 percent A CNN poll in late MayFor example, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is tied for fifth place.
But of all the Republican candidates in the poll, the largest share — 60 percent — said Mr. Christie was someone they would not support under any circumstances. That figure was 15 percent for Mr. DeSantis and 16 percent for Mr. Trump.
“You look at it objectively, it’s hard to see a clear lane for Chris Christie, an anti-Trump and then a Trump ally and now anti-Trump again,” said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster who is unaffiliated in the 2024 race. is, although some of his firm’s partners are working with Mr. DeSantis. “There’s not a lot of room for that among Republican voters right now.”
Still, in an increasingly crowded field of Republicans — former Vice President Mike Pence and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum are also expected to enter the race this week — the Christie team is so clearly interested in breaking with Mr. Sees an opportunity as the only candidate to hold. Trump.
Other lower-polling candidates have refrained from aggressively criticizing the former president, trying not to turn off their supporters. Some, such as former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, have preferred to take a shot at Mr. DeSantis, seeking to emerge as the leading Trump alternative by dealing with him first. But Mr. Christie’s advisers see a path to a nomination by Mr. Trump.
His supporters have organized a super PAC, Tell It Like It Is, led by several veteran Republican operatives. And Mr. Christie’s decision to start in New Hampshire is a sign of the state’s central role in his political calculus, where he also based much of his 2016 campaign, when he held more than 100 town halls. . On Tuesday, he is expected to outline his vision for the nation in more detail.
But there are widespread doubts that Mr. Christie’s designs go beyond knocking off Mr. Trump. In an editorial on the eve of his kickoff, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wondered whether the candidate might have an unintended influence on the race.
“If Mr. Christie is not a guided missile aimed at Mr. Trump, then he is an invisible person responsible for blowing up, say, the government of Florida. Ron DeSantis?” wrote the editorial board.
Sean Hannity, the influential Fox News host, recently questioned whether he even wanted to give Mr. Christie airtime. “You’re only getting into this race because you hate Donald Trump and want to overthrow Donald Trump,” Mr Hannity said on air. “I don’t see Chris Christie actually wanting to run and win the nomination. He sees it as his role to enforce and attack Trump.
Mr Trump posted the clip on his social media site, Truth Social.
Maggie Haberman Contributed to reporting.