LAS VEGAS — Chris Christie is pushing Republicans to challenge Donald Trump head-on and stop fearing the former president’s grassroots supporters, saying the party is barreling toward more disappointment at the polls in 2024 absent fresh leadership at the top.
“There’s a number of people who are considering running [for president] who still treat him like Voldemort, like ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named,’” the former New Jersey governor told the Washington Examiner Thursday, comparing Trump to the antagonist in the Harry Potter novels.
“They say: ‘Leaders who do this or that.’ But they won’t say the name. I think that fails the leadership test,” Christie said. “You’re going to run against him? Say his name. You think he did something wrong? Say his name.” Christie, a one-time Trump ally who sought the White House in 2016 and has emerged as a vocal critic of the former president in the wake of the 2020 election, is not a disinterested party.
The former two-term governor and ex-U.S. attorney is mulling a 2024 presidential bid, putting him on a potential collision course with Trump, who announced his bid Tuesday.
Christie said he would decide in roughly five to six months. His family is on board, a key metric in his consideration process, the other two being whether he concludes he is “the right person for the moment” and whether he sees “a pathway to winning.” Christie’s trip to Las Vegas to speak at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference, the unofficial kickoff of the 2024 primary, is part of that process.
Christie endorsed Trump at a critical moment in the 2016 primary and was a key adviser to the former president on policy and political matters. But Christie broke with Trump after he refused to concede to Joe Biden and claimed the 2020 election was stolen, fomenting the Jan. 6, 2021, ransacking of the Capitol. Since then, where many prominent Republicans are only privately critical of Trump, Christie has chided him publicly.
Trump’s quiet Republican critics keep their complaints under wraps to avoid the wrath of grassroots GOP voters, many of whom think highly of the 45th president. As happened to some Republicans in the midterm elections, they worry Trump might endorse a challenger in the GOP primary, endangering their political careers. But Christie said it’s time for Republicans to stop cowering and dump the former president, pointing to GOP losses in 2018, 2020,
and now 2022.
“We got stuck with a bunch of candidates around the country who the criteria for selecting them was: ‘Will you say that the 2020 election was stolen?’ And: ‘Will you do everything else that I tell you to do when I tell you to do it?’” Christie said, explaining why he blames Trump for the party’s underperformance on Nov. 8. “I’m tired of losing, and I think a lot of Republicans are tired of losing, too.”
Christie, 60, was elected governor of deep-blue New Jersey in 2009, cementing his status as a party favorite across the country after a video of him scolding a teacher during a town hall meeting went viral. Some Republicans believe Christie would have won the GOP nomination in 2012. But he declined to run, opting for reelection instead. Christie won by a substantial margin, seemingly paving the way for a strong White House bid in 2016.
But soon after, Christie’s tenure was marred by “Bridgegate.”
The scandal involved appointees and senior officials in the governor’s administration who were charged with closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge to cause traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey, whose Democratic mayor had not supported Christie’s reelection. Although Christie was never found culpable in a federal investigation that led to indictments and convictions, the episode was politically damaging, as it undermined his image as a competent leader — his biggest selling point.
Christie finished sixth in the 2016 New Hampshire primary and dropped out of the race. Christie said he believes those pitfalls “made me more mature, less anxious, less in a hurry, more appreciative of the good things you accomplished from day to day.” He added: “It has made me more reasoned and a better judge of character.” Asked if he had any specific regrets, Christie referred to “personnel judgments” he made that led to “Bridgegate.”
The scandal, he said, “never had anything to do with me, but when you’re sitting in the chair at the time, you’ve got to own what happens.” Christie said he’s had time to reflect on his experiences as governor and as a presidential candidate over the past five years — on his mistakes and achievements — and he believes he’s grown as a person and a politician.
“Just the fact that you can sit next to someone on an airplane, or in an airport lounge, and they get a chance to talk to somebody that they think has influence, and you just sit there and listen to them. It’s powerful,” Christie said. “I learn stuff, for sure, about how people think and process the events of the day.”
If Christie launches do-over presidential campaign, he could run smack into a dozen or so ambitious Republicans also eyeing a 2024 bid. Chief among them would be Trump. The former president easily outflanked the former New Jersey governor once before, outdoing him as a blunt, tough-talking political outsider, a trait of Christie’s that originally fueled his popularity with grassroots conservatives before the billionaire real estate mogul took the GOP by storm in 2016.
But after Trump presided over the Republican Party’s third electoral hiccup in as many elections this fall, and after watching the former president’s listless 2024 announcement speech this week, Christie sees a diminished political figure, albeit still formidable. Christie also assesses Trump as having been inexorably changed by his defeat at the hands of Biden, and his “inability” to come to terms with losing to a politician for whom he has virtually no respect.
“His ego is so badly bruised from what he knows is true — he knows he lost to Joe Biden. He doesn’t believe the stuff that he’s saying. He knows he lost to him. And his ego has not been able to withstand it,” Christie said. “A lot of his conduct since Election Day 2020 has been a product of that inability to deal with the reality of having lost.”
“I really don’t think that the American people want a president who sees himself as a victim,” Christie added.