One of the interesting things about the slowly developing 2024 Republican primary field is that none of Donald Trump’s many 2016 rivals want a second whack at the powerful demagogue. But now we learn there may be an exception from the lower ranks of failed 2016 candidates: former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. According to Politico, he’s testing a rationale for candidacy among old friends and past supporters in New Hampshire in quiet gatherings:
Christie challenged Republicans to find someone who can do to Trump “what I did to Marco” Rubio — a callback to his 2016 debate-stage evisceration of the Republican senator from Florida — “because that’s the only thing that’s going to defeat” Trump.
“You have to be fearless, because he will come back — and right at you,” Christie said. “And that means you need to think about who’s got the skill to do that, and who’s got the guts to do that, because it’s not going to end nicely.”
It’s easy to forget about Christie, who in retrospect probably missed his best chance at running for president back in 2012. He hasn’t held any significant public office since leaving the New Jersey governorship at the beginning of 2018. And his relationship with Trump over the years has been far from heroic. Indeed, he probably lost his final chance to become attorney general or White House chief of staff when he (according to his own account) contracted COVID-19 from the then-president during 2020 debate-prep sessions. In late 2021, Christie started making noises about challenging Trump’s leadership in the GOP, but he did so by making it clear he had no substantive differences of opinion with the 45th president. As my colleague Jonathan Chait put it, “Christie has put himself forward as the face of Republican resistance to Trump. But it is a form of ‘resistance’ so tepid as to become almost indistinguishable from support.”
So it’s a bit hard to credibly view Christie as a sort of “Never Trump” avenging angel who will stop the former president’s comeback by sheer bravado. Christie’s claim that he will do to Trump what he did to Marco Rubio in 2016 will make eyes roll among those who remember the February 6, 2016, New Hampshire debate in question. Christie was just the most aggressive of several rivals in the vicinity when Rubio chose to self-destruct with a robotic performance centered on his determination to repeat a right-wing talking point about Obama’s willful destruction of America. Yes, Rubio subsequently finished fourth in New Hampshire, probably spoiling his best opportunity to emerge as a clear alternative to Trump early in the nomination contest. But Christie finished fifth in New Hampshire with a mere 7 percent of the vote. Indeed, he dropped out of the race the very next day. This was the peak performance that is supposed to convince Republicans all these years later to unite behind Christie? I don’t think so.
The more general idea that Trump will fold like a cheap suit the minute Christie attacks him is even more absurd. Plenty of other 2016 rivals went after Trump with claw hammers. Lindsey Graham called him a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.” Bobby Jindal referred to him publicly as an “egomaniacal madman.” Rubio mocked his imputed penis size. Ted Cruz suggested he was in bed with the mob and later called him a “sniveling coward.” Jeb Bush all but broke down while attacking Trump for insults aimed at his father and mother. What sort of bon mot does Chris Christie think he can deploy that would drive Trump to his knees weeping?
Clearly, one Trump characteristic Christie shares is narcissism. That’s great for his self-confidence, but he’s going to have to find a better way to convince the rest of us that he — rather than Ron DeSantis or other non-retreads — has the best chance to take down Trump. He’s had one chance and failed, and he has not exactly showered himself in glory as a teller of truth to Trump and his minions in the years since 2016. Yes, Chris Christie is a smart and glib politician only moderately marred by scandals as governor of New Jersey. The fact that he carried that now-deep-blue state twice shows he’s nobody’s fool. But in a party desperate for fresh leadership, it’s unlikely this veteran has-been will light the world on fire.
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