By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
Finally—a big mouth is taking on the country’s biggest big mouth! On June 26, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie entered the Republican presidential race and is taking no guff from Donald Trump. Christie won’t cringe, backtrack or try to hide in the woodwork like Trump’s other competitors do whenever Trump posts something nasty about them.
According to Politico, “Some Republicans are openly rooting to have Christie on GOP debate stages later this year simply to bludgeon Trump—that is, do the dirty work that DeSantis, Pence, Haley and others haven’t so far been willing to do.”
But according to Politico, Christie “is seen overwhelmingly negative by Republican voters at 15 percent positive to 42 percent negative.” So, it’s likely that those who want to see him attack Trump do not want or expect Christie to become the party’s presidential nominee.
Christie, on the other hand, claims he’s in it to win it. He told Politico: “I’m not a paid assassin.” And he explained to Open Secrets: “Let me be very clear: I am going out there to take out Donald Trump, but here’s why — I want to win.”
In addition, Christie told USA Today, "There is one lane to the Republican nomination and [Trump's] in front of it. If you want to win, you better go right through him."
It's hard to predict whether Christie has any chance of succeeding, but in my view, his strategy is the only one that can work. And it is long past time that someone used it.
Christie has correctly called out his competitors for failing to exploit Trump’s vulnerabilities instead of pretending to be more palatable versions of him. After all, why would Trump voters buy a copy when they can buy the original?
While the other Republican “pretenders”—as Christie calls them—dilly-dally around trying to figure out how to handle Trump, Christie has wasted no time in taking his own advice.
In the June 6 announcement of his primary run at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Christie came out swinging, declaring that a “lonely, self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog is not a leader.”
He added bluntly “Let me be clear, in case I have not been already—the person I am talking about who is obsessed with the mirror, who never admits a mistake, who never admits a fault and who always finds someone else and something else to blame for whatever goes wrong but finds every reason to take credit for anything that goes right is Donald Trump.”
Christie also gave a sensible warning: “If your leaders are not willing to admit to you that they're fallible, that they make mistakes, that they hurt like you, that they bleed like you and that they suffer disappointments and letdowns, beware." We will have to see whether the proverbial “suckers born every minute” who blindly follow Trump will listen to those words and finally learn.
Christie has also shown that he can take a punch and give back as good as he gets. On Fox News’ Media Buzz, two days before he announced his candidacy, Christie responded to cracks Trump had made about his weight: “Oh, like he’s some Adonis?”
Pugnaciously, Christie added “Here’s my message for him. I don’t care what he says about me, and I don’t care what he thinks about me, and he should take a look in the mirror every once in a while — maybe he’d drop the weight thing off of his list of criticisms.”
Christie has a way with words. He told CNN, “If we had a child who conducted themselves like that, we’d send them to their room, not to the White House.”
And taking a swipe at Trump’s age as well as his infantile behavior, Christie tweeted, “At his advanced age, it is time to give up hope that Trump will ever grow up. We need a leader, not a child.”
In addition, according to the New York Post, Christie has baited Trump--accusing him of being “afraid” to participate in any Republican debates because it would force him to “get on the stage against people who are serious.”
Christie’s Chances in the Primaries
According to the RealClearPolitics polling average for the 2024 presidential race
as of June 28, Trump, favored by 52.4 percent of those polled, was leading his Republican competitors by a 30.9-point margin. Chris Christie had only 2.4 percent.
Nevertheless, on ABC’s This Week, Christie pointed out that he’s only been in the race a short time and is already in third place in New Hampshire, “only four points behind Ron DeSantis, who’s been in the race for a longer time and is supposed to be the co-frontrunner.”
Despite his low numbers, Christie has garnered well-heeled backers. According to CNBC, the financial world feels helpless seeing Trump on the way to winning the GOP primary again and hopes that Christie can “at least wound him in the early stages of the 2024 election.” An unnamed veteran GOP fundraiser told CNBC: “At the moment what’s occurring is all of the donors that … want somebody to take shots at Trump, are now starting to coalesce around Christie and that’s most of the Wall Street crowd because they hate [Trump].”
Christie’s backers have formed the Tell It Like It Is PAC. The PAC is led by Brian Jones, an aide who advised Senator John McCain’s presidential bid in 2008 and Mitt Romney’s in 2012, and by Republican National Committee member Bill Palatucci, as well as Russ Schriefer, who was a senior advisor for the Romney presidential campaign.
The Dangers of Chris Christie’s Primary Bid
With his guts, blunt speech, and modicum of brains, Christie can easily match Trump and smack down his schoolyard barbs.
But as much as Christie may now try to present himself as a principled GOP answer to Trump, he is no Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger. Christie is one of the ruthless political pragmatists who put Trump in power the first time around, and helped him through his second presidential run as well.
Christie endorsed Trump in 2016, and acted as an informal adviser during his presidency, even after having been dumped as the head of Trump’s transition team. In 2020, Christie, along with five or six others—none of them wearing Covid masks—helped prepare Trump for his first debate with then candidate Joe Biden.
Christie caught Covid for his trouble. In his 2021 book, Republican Rescue, Christie revealed that Donald Trump called him while he was being hospitalized, and asked "Are you gonna say you got it from me?"
Still, Christie did not finally split from Trump until election night 2020, when the former president claimed there had been widespread voter fraud. Christie refused to support that claim and, after the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, Christie supported Trump’s second impeachment.
One may cheer at the thought of Christie now turning—of somebody among the Republican hopefuls–finally counterattacking Trump in the way that they all should have done as far back as 2016. But no one should be fooled into thinking that Chris Christie is a moderate alternative:
During his terms as governor of New Jersey, Christie vetoed legislation to implement a millionaire tax five different times.
He signed laws decreasing state pension benefits for future hires and called for the elimination of cost-of-living adjustments for all current and future retirees.
According to the New Jersey Education Policy Forum, Christie’s 2017 school funding proposal was “one of the least equitable in the country,” aiding the state’s most-affluent districts while slashing the school budgets of the poorest districts.
Christie rejected permanent bans of fracking in New Jersey and settled a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil for environmental contamination with terms favorable to Exxon—which had donated $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association while Christie was its chairman.
And, according to the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) Christie has “a lengthy record of hostility towards reproductive freedom.” As governor, he “stripped organizations that provide abortion care of funding and has been an outspoken advocate for Republican governors seeking to restrict abortion rights in their states.”
Christie opposed Roe v. Wade when he was New Jersey’s governor and has said that striking it down was “the right decision to make for the Court.” In his current bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Christie has claimed that the economy is the No. 1 issue and that abortion, as a lesser issue, doesn’t matter.
While it is refreshing and heartening to see someone boldly call out Trump for what he is, voters should still be careful what they wish for. Candidates who start out with small poll numbers have been underestimated before. Christie is sharp and articulate. If he should get the Republican presidential nomination and win the 2024 election, the nation will just be exchanging one right-wing loudmouth for another—albeit a much smarter one.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.