Former New Jersey governor and traffic-exacerbation enthusiast Chris Christie hasn’t been afraid of conflict in the past, whether that’s getting in the face of a heckler at a baseball game or passive-aggressively enjoying an entire beach amid a state-government shutdown. As he enters the groundwork stage of a potential 2024 run, he has made a poor, but perhaps inevitable, choice for his next opponent: Donald Trump.
It began at a donor event last Saturday when Christie cited Glenn Youngkin’s win in Virginia and Jack Ciattarelli’s closer-than-expected finish in New Jersey as evidence that the Republican Party needs to move beyond false allegations of 2020 election fraud and toward a message “that doesn’t hurt their ears.” Trump responded on his weird little Twitter for one, disagreeing with Christie and digging at his past performance: “Everybody remembers that Chris left New Jersey with a less than 9% approval rating — a record low, and they didn’t want to hear this from him!”
Rather than move on and build his 2024 momentum slowly, Christie is going head on against the truth-denying, conspiracy-endorsing party leader — as he promotes a campaign book with a subtitle condemning “truth deniers” and “conspiracy theorists.” In an interview with Axios airing on Sunday, Christie also noted that during his gubernatorial reelection in 2013, he got 60 percent of the vote. But Trump? “When he ran for reelection, he lost to Joe Biden,” Christie said. “I’m happy to have that comparison stand up, because that’s the one that really matters.”
It’s probably unwise for Christie to go head-to-head with a figure who had an 86 percent approval rating last month among Republican voters. But it’s especially short-sighted to do so with Trump, who tends to win political squabbles with Christie and other GOP pols at his level. Lest he forget, the former governor was so utterly defeated in the 2016 primary that he had to hold a press conference saying he “wasn’t being held hostage” when he stood behind Trump to endorse him after his dominant Super Tuesday in 2016. Surely he hasn’t forgotten getting kicked off the transition team after doing all the work, for the reported reason that he tried to get in the frame on election night and the more public reason that the president-elect’s son-in-law hated his guts.
The results of last week’s election did not provide a lucid answer to the question of GOP performance post-Trump, considering the ex-president did his best to insert himself everywhere he could with endorsements. But that may be a moot point beyond the midterms, as a large plurality of Republican voters want him to run in 2024. But even if the party was trying to break the spell of the last six years, Christie is hardly the priest for the exorcism, having left office with a 19 percent job-approval rating. (The fact that he’s doing so in venues including Axios, CNN, and a book no one will read isn’t helping his cause among Republicans either.) What’s more, Trump won his primary torching less charismatic figures in petty arguments on and off the debate stage. Setting himself up as an easy target this early feels like a bad echo of the last Republican primary, even if Christie’s self-serving message is an important one.