Politics

Chris Christie: the former friend threatening to derail Donald Trump’s 2024 hopes

Donald Trump’s hopes of a second run at the White House are under threat from a rival bid by an ex-ally to become the Republicans’ 2024 presidential candidate.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie is reportedly considering a run to become the GOP nominee as “polls show that the Republican Party has its biggest lead in 40 years over Democrats heading into next year’s midterm elections”, said The Times. 

Since leaving the Oval Office, Trump has “attacked Christie” after his former friend called for “him to accept his defeat” to Joe Biden and “give up his campaign to overturn the results of last year’s election based on false claims of fraud”. And with Trump now hinting at another bid for the top job, the two Republicans’ political rivalry is intensifying.

Enemies closer

A long-standing Republican campaigner, Christie appeared as a pundit on news shows friendly to Trump during his reign in the Oval Office.

Christie was also a key backer of both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. The latter appointed him attorney for New Jersey, a position that Christie held from 2002 to 2008. In 2009, he won the Republican primary for New Jersey governor, and went on to defeat Democrat incumbent Jon Corzine and hold the position until 2018.

In 2015, the year that Trump announced that he would compete to become the Republican presidential candidate, Christie also threw his hat into the ring. But he dropped out early, endorsing Trump and later becoming head of the newly elected US leader’s transition planning team.

Since 2020, Christie has been registered as a lobbyist and helped Trump “prepare for his televised election debates with Biden” during last year’s election, The Times said.

But “the pair have not spoken since the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January”, the paper added. Christie told CNN’s Dana Bash this week that “everything” Trump “was saying from election night forward incited people to that level of anger”.

Christie said he felt “people minimise what happened on the 6th by pointing to the speech that [Trump] gave on the Ellipse on the 6th”.

“I felt sick to my stomach… watching him stand behind the seal of the president of the United States in the East Room of the White House, saying something that I knew at that moment which he couldn’t prove was true,” he added.

Asked during a separate interview with The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah whether he was considering running against Trump, Christie replied: “If you believe that you’re the best person to be president of the United States, why does it matter who else runs? To me, It’s almost disqualifying to say, ‘I’ll defer to somebody else’.”

“We’re not talking about Dwight Eisenhower here,” he continued, referring to the popular two-term Republican who was president from 1953 to 1961. “No Republican should be talking about yesterday.”

According to Howard Kurtz, host of Fox News’ Media Buzz programme, Christie has “edged out onto the tightrope” of a bid for the Republican candidacy with his series of personal attacks on the former president.

But in doing so, Kurtz wrote, the “one-time confidant” of Trump has created a “high-wire act” as he tries to balance “criticising the former president – to a point – without alienating his voters”.

‘Never Trumpers’

During his appearance on The Daily Show, Christie positioned himself as the antidote to Trumpism. He told host Noah that “if he doesn’t stop talking about this election as being stolen, then I can’t support anybody who winds up saying that our democracy didn’t work”.

The Republicans “got our butts kicked” in 2020, he said, adding: “We lost the House, the Senate and the White House in two years. The only other time that’s happened to the Republicans in our entire existence since Lincoln was Herbert Hoover – not something you really want to go back to. We don’t call that the good old days.”

Christie this week published a book, Republican Rescue: Saving the Party from Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden, in which he lays out his vision for a GOP that is “done with Trump”, said Charles Stile on NewJersey.com. But the question remains as to “who in the GOP will dare follow”.

The former governor is part of a “wave of ex-Trump loyalists who are distancing themselves from their old boss”, said Fox News’ media commentator Kurtz, “either to boost their new careers or disavow the stolen-election rhetoric”.

Christie’s recent manoeuvres suggest he “sees mild jabs at Trump as a route to 2024”, Kurtz added. But get those tactics wrong and “he could get pummelled”.

In an opinion piece for The Week US, columnist Joel Mathis argued that “there are plenty of reasons to be sceptical that Never-Trump Republicans can ever find a way to take back control of the GOP”, adding that the party is “owned by the former president”.

But Christie could offer “a sliver of hope for the Never Trumpers” if he is willing to “take on the mantle of challenging Trump from within the party”.

“In some ways he was the ur-Trump, a politician who rocketed to fame a decade ago by snarling and verbally beating up on Democrats,” Mathis added. “If Never Trumpers are looking for somebody who is willing to respect the electoral process while also appealing to the Republican Party’s ‘but he fights!’ base, Christie might be their man.”

Others, however, are less convinced that Christie is a true alternative to Trump, with the Daily Beast labelling his about-turn on his former ally “an apology tour”. 

The news site labelled Christie’s attempts to distance himself from a candidate he helped put in the White House as “pathetic”, and quoted late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel’s argument that Christie is actually in the middle of an “image rehabilitation tour”.

As Fox News’ Kurtz said, Christie does “just happen to be peddling a new book” in which he has taken up “the guise of chief rescuer” of a Republican Party gone wrong. 

But in reality, if he is to win the Republican candidacy and the White House, he will need to avoid “alienating the former president’s fierce supporters”, Kurtz continued. 

The former New Jersey governor “is media-savvy and has considerable political skills”. But should he fail to win over Trump’s “Make America Great Again” base, “his 2024 ambitions are probably toast”.

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