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Warming to a Chris Christie Candidacy
But probably not for the reasons you think.
I trust Chris Christie even less than I do most politicians. A big reason for that is the backdoor deal he worked (or maybe thought he was working) with Donald Trump in the 2016 GOP primary, that saw him expending the last breaths of his fledgling campaign to effectively t-bone Marco Rubio out of presidential contention.
It’s quite possible (perhaps even likely) that Trump was going to go all the way that year anyway, but he had just lost Iowa to Ted Cruz, and Rubio was showing real momentum going into New Hampshire. Trump was glaringly unfit for office, and his poll numbers showed him performing worse than just about any other Republican candidate against Hillary Clinton. Yet, rather than use his spot on the debate-stage to target Trump (a man he now routinely excoriates, and whose presidency he calls a “failed” one), Christie cleared the path for him.
Trump won New Hampshire, and Christie endorsed him soon after. Up to that point, Christie’s was the most credible mainstream endorsement Trump had received.
In his endorsement speech, Christie said “there is no one who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs, both at home and around the world, than Donald Trump.”
Another reason I have little trust in Christie is that he has tried repeatedly to re-write the history I just described. He now claims that he endorsed Trump that year because, by that point, Trump was the inevitable Republican nominee.
“In America, we don’t get to vote for who we want to vote for, we get to vote for who’s left,” he recently told an interviewer. “I made the decision that I didn’t want Hillary Clinton to be the president of the United States. You can agree or disagree with that, but my only choices were those two… It wasn’t the choice I wanted, but if you’re gonna participate in democracy, you gotta make a choice.”
That, of course, is nonsense. Christie endorsed Trump very early in the primary. The Republican nomination was far from secured, as only four states had cast their votes. And again, at the time Christie took a sledgehammer to Rubio in that New Hampshire debate, only one state had voted… and it was a state Trump had lost.
To be clear, I’m not letting Rubio off the hook for his terrible showing in that exchange. He was focused on winning the nomination, and his over-rehearsed rhetoric on Obama-era leadership left him sounding like a malfunctioning robot against Christie’s assault. And these days, considering the transparently insincere MAGA populist Rubio has become, I don’t feel particularly inclined to defend the guy on much of anything, let alone daydream about the president he could have been.
But this trip down memory lane does serve a purpose. What happened seven years ago is politically significant and relevant to a current situation inside the Republican party. Christie is publicly weighing a 2024 presidential run, and he’s been telling people that his campaign, should he decide to run, would amount to a full-frontal assault on the front-runner, Donald Trump.
“You better have somebody on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco because that’s the only thing that’s going to defeat Donald Trump,” Christie said just a few weeks ago at a New Hampshire town hall. “And that means you’ve got to have the skill to do it. And that means you have to be fearless because he will come right back at you.”
I think he’s right about that.
Christie sees himself as uniquely qualified to carry out such an offensive, and he may be right about that too. So far, most of Trump’s primary opponents have been far more inclined to flatter the former president than point out how his coup-plotting, insurrection-causing, electorally toxic ways make him unfit to serve a second term. For some of these candidates (declared and prospective), it’s because they’re afraid of upsetting the MAGA base, whose votes they believe they need. For others, it’s because they’re vying for a spot in a second Trump administration.
Either way, this neutered approach accepts Trump’s dominance and influence over the party as unchangeable. To steal an analogy from National Review’s Jay Nordlinger, far too many Republicans view Trump like they do the weather: they can’t do anything about him; they can only ride out the storm.
Christie rejects that view. He’s been calling out Trump’s B.S. pretty consistently for the last few years, hammering home Trump’s weaknesses, and not pulling his punches when doing so. I’m not sure if Christie’s personal evolution came from a renewed sense of patriotism, professional considerations, or if he just got tired of people thinking of him as a lunch-fetching Trump stooge. Whatever the catalyst, the transformation at least seems authentic. And as we saw with Rubio, as well as in his regular Sunday morning news-show appearances, Christie is rhetorically agile and compelling as a bare-knuckled debater.
For his readiness to do what I believe needs to be done to effectively degrade Trump, I would welcome Christie with open arms to the GOP primary. And I say that while firmly believing he doesn’t stand a chance in hell of winning it.
Yes, you read that last part correctly. Between voters who still hold a grudge against him for helping Trump win seven years ago, and MAGA-world’s view of him as a turncoat, I don’t think Christie has any real constituency within the Republican party. It’s possible I’m wrong, and I would be happy to be wrong, but I think the best thing Christie could do in the primary, not just for the party but also the country, is serve as a kamikaze pilot to take out Trump.
Hammer him at every opportunity. Loudly call out his lies. Thoroughly and unapologetically expose him as the Constitution-loathing, anti-democratic, amoral and incompetent buffoon he has repeatedly proven himself to be. Weaken him to the point that someone else in the race — whether it’s Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, or another individual who’s actually in it to win it — can see an opening, capitalize off it, and build some momentum. And if Christie defies seemingly insurmountable odds, and manages to build his own momentum from his efforts, that’s fine too. He will have earned it.
The big question, of course, is if Christie can even be trusted to take the fight to Trump the way he says he would. I mean, the guy could just as easily do what he did in 2016, and set his sights instead on Trump’s closest Republican competitor — the kind of pro-wrestling-style swerve we’ve unfortunately come to expect in today’s politics — and once again pave the way to a Trump nomination.
I wouldn’t put it past him, and I’m already expecting other candidates to do exactly that.
But I’m hoping Christie has indeed turned over a new leaf, and that he cares enough about the country to put his money where his mouth is. It would be a great service on multiple levels.