Chris Christie 2024?!

Can the fat man take down the elephant in the room?

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie is apparently about to announce a run for President for, as the late Doug Mataconis (a fellow Jerseyite) would have put it, no apparent reason. The national press are treating it seriously.

WaPo’s Aaron Blake (“The revenge of Chris Christie? How he could take it to Trump.”)

Say what you will about Chris Christie; he is a smart man. He’s an accomplished former U.S. attorney and someone who, for a time at least, harnessed the political zeitgeist to become a popular governor and a supposed savior-in-waiting for the GOP in 2012.

He must know that he has precious little chance in 2024.

A December poll showed just 3 percent of Republican-leaning voters said they would be “very satisfied” with him as their nominee. A more recent poll showed fully 70 percent wouldn’t even consider him (the most of nine candidates tested). Even in New Hampshire, the state he would apparently focus heavily on, a recent poll showed primary voters disliked him 53 percent to 10 percent.

Yet signs are building that Christie will again decide to run for president at what is decidedly the wrong time — even more than 2016 was. And while he has insisted this isn’t just a kamikaze mission to take down Donald Trump, it’s difficult to see how it could amount to much else.

Despite Christie’s insistence, there is no question that he has motivation to go there, that he’s demonstrated a talent for going there, and that he increasingly is going there.

Christie, perhaps more than any other Republican politician, has a relationship with Trump containing multitudes. While Trump has a talent for making people regret their loyalty to him, Christie might be at the top of that list.

He was a staunch Trump critic in the 2016 primaries before his early endorsement was really the first big one to lend Trump mainstream credibility. Then Trump rather quickly subjected him to a series of indignities: the endorsement news conference, the apparent jab at Christie’s weight, the allusion to Christie’s travails as governor of New Jersey.

Christie lobbied harder than anyone to become Trump’s vice-presidential pick, but he was passed over in a way that seemed to surprise him. Then Christie took over Trump’s 2016 transition team, before being quickly pushed aside. Trump declined on multiple occasions to make him attorney general, the cabinet job Christie was most suited for, leading Christie to explain in early 2019, “He hasn’t offered me anything that I really wanted to do.”

It was at this point that the cracks in their alliance began to form, and they became chasms after Jan. 6, 2021. Christie has even blamed Trump for giving him a coronavirus infection that landed him in intensive care in late 2020, and he said Trump never called to check on him.

But even those criticisms pale in comparison to what Christie is unleashing today. While other 2024 hopefuls avoid criticizing the man they’re trying to usurp for fear of alienating his base — witness what just happened with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) super PAC when it sent out a tweet attacking Trump’s CNN town hall comments — Christie is characteristically far less shy.

Just last week, Christie called Trump “a puppet of Putin.” He’s targeted Trump over being found liable for sexual assault in the E. Jean Carroll case. He has knocked Trump for being “afraid” of debates. And unlike others, he’s lent credibility to his comments by saying he would never back Trump again.

[…]

Virtually all of his commentary in recent weeks has focused like a laser on going at Trump, which Christie suggests he sees ashis path to victory.

Tonight is the beginning of the case against Donald Trump,” Christie said last month during an event in New Hampshire.

He continued: “You’re not going to beat someone by closing your eyes, clicking your heels together three times and saying, ‘There’s no place like home.’ That’s not going to work. In American politics, you want to beat somebody? You have to go get them.”

Indeed, Christie seems prepared to be the one to test the theory, common in Trump-critic circles, that Republicans need to actually go at Trump if they’re to have any chance of defeating him. The problem with that, similar to the GOP’s approach to Trump for years, is that nobody wants to be the one to leap and make that case. Better to let someone else torpedo themselves in the process. And then nobody does.

Notably, Christie’s probably best situated to do it. While Never Trumpers love Liz Cheney, and Asa Hutchinson and Chris Sununu appear ready to make such a case, Christie actually has a track record here that suggests it could matter.

You might recall perhaps the most significant debate moment of 2016 came in February, when Christie played a major role in ending what remained of Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) chances by casting a harsh spotlight on Rubio’s robotic answers. Would Rubio have beaten Trump? Probably not. Will it be as easy to embarrass Trump like that? No. But Christie is uniquely situated to try.

And Christie suggests he sees exactly that as his calling.

“You better have somebody on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco,” Christie said in late March, “because that’s the only thing that’s gonna defeat Donald Trump.”

Christie’s standing in the polls back then in 2016? The low single digits. He had finished 10th in Iowa, and his campaign was basically over, but he did it anyway.

While I welcome an anti-Trump attack dog in the debates, I can’t imagine Christie will be all that effective in the role. He, after all, sold his soul in backing Trump and it comes across as mere sour grapes at this point. And, frankly, there was never a point in the 2016 race where Marco Rubio was going to win the nomination.

But National Review‘s Bobby Miller is jumping on the same bandwagon (“Chris Christie’s Straight Talk“):

As the 2024 Republican primary contest heats up, one is reminded of Phyllis Schlafly’s famed apologia for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential candidacy, A Choice Not an Echo. In this canonical text of movement conservatism, the title of which is a phrase of Goldwater’s, Schlafly implored the GOP to challenge the status quo. Her words still resonate in our present moment and could find a reflection in one potential candidate — former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

This would be the most spectacular defeat for the Republican Party in its entire existence?

In 2016, Christie was a sideshow at best — a kamikaze candidate whose only accomplishments included bulldozing Trump’s rivals, like Marco Rubio, and who ultimately legitimated Trump. 

Again, not exactly a ringing endorsement.

But not this time around. As the governor toys with jumping into the race, he stands out as a call to ditch the spectacle of the Trumpian establishment. Christie’s chances of securing the Republican nomination are, by all accounts, a long shot. But in a field of echoes, his voice is impossible to ignore. 

Consider Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and other prospective candidates. They are savvy politicians, no doubt, but their approach to handling the Trump question is akin to a delicate ballet. Christie, on the other hand, confronts the issue head-on, in his familiar style, unafraid of the political tremors it might cause.

This doesn’t mean that Christie is serving up the same critique one might hear from Rachel Maddow or Adam Kinzinger. He has demonstrated a willingness to point out Trump’s failures in delivering to conservative voters, like his unfulfilled promises to build a wall on our southern border, repeal Obamacare, and reduce ballooning national debt.

So, I can see where that might be effective. But building a wall on our southern border and repealing Obamacare, unless it’s replaced by something more generous, is wildly unpopular. And everyone is against the national debt so long as they don’t have to give up programs they like or pay more in taxes.

Admittedly, DeSantis has hit Trump from the right, but his punches often fail to leave a mark. While he occasionally indirectly takes aim at Trump’s shortcomings and responds to his attacks, sometimes he attacks Trump for the wrong reasons. He’s also tried to woo the intellectual expositors of Trumpism, resulting in a precarious dance that is more of an echo than a voice.

This gambit hasn’t paid off, at least not yet. 

Mostly because DeSantis is a coward and backs off every time Trump counterpunches.

The Republican base is not a monolith of Trumpism, and many conservatives still support limited government, fiscal conservatism, and individual liberties.

While I suspect that remains true we have seen several cycles in a row where, at the national and local levels, Trumpian candidates defeat more normal conservatives. The mood of the nominating electorate is clearly more interested in “owning the libs” and fighting the cultural wars than in standard policy issues. And, for goodness sake, surely not in favor of individual liberties, unless it’s theirs.

And in the general election, tethering oneself to populist nationalism, as evidenced by the lackluster performance of its proponents in the 2022 midterms, seems more like a gamble than a strategic move.

True. There’s just no evidence the nominating electorate is strategically-minded.

Chris Christie might be an improbable contender, and his baggage is well-known. But his willingness to face the elephant in the room — Trump’s lingering influence — could prove catalytic for the GOP. His choice to challenge, question, and critique is a stark departure from the echoes in the room and a testament to the enduring relevance of Schlafly’s entreaty. If nothing else, it may be the spark needed to ignite a new debate about the party’s future and core values, a conversation that may ultimately lead to a stronger, more united GOP. 

Let it be so. But color me extremely skeptical.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. drj says:

    Has-been seeks to maintain relevance in order to avoid having to get a day job.

    All the rest (“straight talk,” “taking it to Trump”) is fluff

    4
  2. Lounsbury says:

    In re

    DeSantis is a coward and backs off every time Trump counterpunches.

    I would advance the observation that this seems to me the key – that so far none of the running Republicans have grasped Trump’s strength has little to do with any ideological Right, instead it is his dominance game and generally unretrained visciousness without general restrain even relative to his theoretical ‘own side’ (of course for Trump there is no side in reality but Trump personally). Tump messaging is rather more ’emotional’ and feeling based than any remotely coherent and logical policy reasoning. And with some limited exceptions (the resentment of vaccines of the MAGAists being an apprenent exception it seems to me) he seems quite successful in paying little attention to ideological orthodoxy and merely going with his cunning sense of “emotional message appeal” like any good carnival barker.

    The general body of his opponents remain it seems trapped in the wrong framing, intellectualised and trying to be ideologically coherent, and treating him as a team member.

    Rather the opponent needs to be ready and brave enough to humiliate Trump relative his claims, to stick the knife in and twist it.

    8
  3. Scott says:

    I think the difference between Christie and other anti-Trump contenders is that Christie actually likes to brawl. And that may be the most effective difference.

    1
  4. CSK says:

    @Lounsbury:

    The question arises whether anyone can go as low as Trump. No one yet has seemed either willing or able to descend to those depths.

    @Scott:

    Indeed.

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Christie won’t win, but he can damage trump to the point where other candidates can join in with less fear of retribution. Add to that the damage trump will due to himself as the various indictments come trickling in. Unless trump has sufficient committed delegates to receive the nomination on the first vote at the convention, the possibility that the convention abandons him and chooses someone else can’t be dismissed.

    Convention delegates will come with commitments, but they are political sophisticates and not necessarily ideologues who would rather lose than lose than be impure. People like that will be susceptible to he can’t win arguments.

  6. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Sure, but if Trump doesn’t get the Republican nomination, he’ll savage the candidacy of whoever does. Since I doubt Trump can prevail in the general, it’s a win either way for Democrats.

  7. wr says:

    It might be a little easier to take Christie seriously as the anti-Trump warrior if he hadn’t spent the years between his two periods of criticizing Trump acting as his puling lapdog. He’s a big tough guy until Trump can do him a favor, then he joins the queue to kiss the orange ass.

    4
  8. dazedandconfused says:

    I hope he runs. Perhaps the greatest send-up of the 10s, at his expense, will get the recycling it deserves.

    1
  9. Mister Bluster says:

    @dazedandconfused:..puling…

    Another day with OTB, another new word.
    Never too old to learn.

  10. dazedandconfused says:
  11. Mister Bluster says:

    @dazedandconfused:..?…
    My apologies.
    The reply should have been directed to @wr:.

  12. JohnSF says:

    Can the fat man take down the elephant in the room?

    QTWTAIN
    🙂