Chris Christie is embarking on a mission that even some of his staunchest allies have to squint to see come to an end in the White House.
But Mr. Christie, the former New Jersey governor who is now 60 and more than five years removed from elected office, was undeterred, speaking of a feat he considers almost as important as winning the presidency: untangling the Party Republican from the grip of Donald J. Trump.
« You have to think about who has the skill to do it and who has the guts to do it because it’s not going to end well no matter what, » Mr. Christie said in March at the same New Hampshire college where he plans to announce his long-term offer on Tuesday.
« His end, » he said of the former president, « will not be a calm and quiet conclusion. »
As he enters the race, Mr. Christie comes across as the only candidate unafraid to voice the frustrations of Republicans who have seen Mr. Trump transform the party and have had enough — both of the ideological direction and the years of aggravation. electoral losses.
For Mr. Christie — who lent crucial legitimacy to Mr. Trump’s then-celebrity campaign by backing him after the failure of his own 2016 presidential campaign — it’s quite the flip. After helping fuel Mr. Trump’s rise, Mr. Christie has now decided to be the author of his downfall.
The question is whether there is a market for what he’s selling within a Republican party with which Mr. Trump remains hugely popular.
« Just saying ‘I’m the kamikaze candidate’ — I’m not sure that’s going to work, » said Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary to Mr. Trump. “For those people who don’t like Trump because of mean tweets, will they like the guy who’s mean to Donald Trump?”
Mr. Christie’s flaws as an anti-Trump messenger are obvious. For nearly all of Mr. Trump’s four years in the White House, Mr. Christie has stood by the president – even catching a near-fatal Covid-19 infection during debate buildups in the fall of 2020 – breaking up with him only to his stolen election lie and then the violence of January 6, 2021.
The upcoming campaign, therefore, should be something of a redemption tour. Driven by the allure of the presidency for more than a decade—his decision not to run in 2012 at the height of his popularity was the subject of widespread second thoughts—another run unburdened by expectations begins.
Yes, he’s trying to win. He said he wouldn’t race if he didn’t see a path to victory. (« I’m not a paid killer, » she said Politic.) But he also wants to turn the party into Mr. Trump.
“He won’t like it, but he’s a loser. It’s that simple,” Christie said of Trump in an interview last year, shortly after a disappointing midterm election for Republicans.
It’s the kind of quotable line and anti-Trump message that has turned a number of separatist Republicans into CNN commentators or MSNBC stars and also made them former elected officials.
Central to Mr. Christie’s speech to disaffected Republicans is his debating skills. The most memorable result of his 2016 bid was his removal of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
“You better have someone on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco,” she said at her March event, entertaining the crowd with the story of her lurid confrontation with Mr. Rubio. « Because this is the only thing that will defeat Donald Trump. »
The first challenge for Mr. Christie, however, won’t be facing Mr. Trump. He will be qualifying for the debate stage. The 40,000 Republican National Committee donor threshold in 20 states could prove especially challenging for a candidate without a small donor following and whose anti-Trump message seems more likely to attract Democratic contributors than conservative ones.
So far, Mr. Trump, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and Vivek Ramaswamy, a self-financed businessman, have announced that they have reached that threshold. (There’s also a 1 percent polling requirement.)
Mr. Spicer, who later hosted a show on Newsmax, the right-wing cable network, noted that Mr. Christie « hasn’t exactly been on the conservative media » to maintain a following on the right. « He IS around ABC, » said Mr. Spicer of the mainstream news network where Mr. Christie has been a paid commentator.
Quick with a quote and media savvy — Mr. Christie turned snap at reporters into a staple for the GOP base a decade before Mr. DeSantis — could rely on the news organizations’ thirst for a front-and-center, colorful fight with Mr . Trump.
After Trump’s recent town hall on CNN, when he declined to say whether he hoped Ukraine would win the war against Russia, Christie called him « a puppet of Putin. »
Yet even the relatively small faction of Republicans uneasy about restoring Trump to power may be wary of Christie. Not only did he provide a key initial endorsement in 2016, but he spearheaded his presidential transition and was passed over for some senior jobs while serving as an informal adviser and debate coach during the 2020 election.
“Have you found Jesus now?” he questioned Rick Wilson, who was an outspoken Republican critic of Mr. Trump before quitting the party entirely. « And now you’re going to fight against Trump? »
« Christie’s credibility factor as a Trump antagonist is somewhere around zero, » Wilson said.
Early polls show Mr Christie facing perhaps an even steeper climb than other candidates who are voting with low single-digit support. He received 2 percent in a CNN poll from late Mayfor example, he tied with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina for fifth place.
But of all the Republican candidates in the poll, the highest percentage — 60 percent — said Mr. Christie was someone they would not support under any circumstances. That figure was 15% for Mr. DeSantis and 16% for Mr. Trump.
« If you look at it objectively, it’s hard to see a clear lane for Chris Christie, being a Trump opponent and then a Trump acolyte and now a Trump opponent again, » said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster who is unaligned in the run of 2024, even though some associates of his company are working with Mr. DeSantis. « There’s not a lot of room in the Republican electorate for that right now. »
However, in an increasingly crowded field of Republicans — former Vice President Mike Pence and Governor Doug Burgum of North Dakota are also expected to join the race this week — Christie’s team sees an opportunity to be the only candidate interested in breaking so clearly with Mr. . Trump.
Other candidates with lower votes avoided criticizing the former president aggressively in an effort not to turn off his supporters. Some, like Nikki Haley, the former UN ambassador and governor of South Carolina, have preferred to shoot DeSantis, seeking to emerge as the leading alternative to Trump by confronting him first. But Mr. Christie’s advisers see the path to the nomination as going through Mr. Trump.
His supporters organized a super PAC, Tell It Like It Is, led by a number of veteran Republican operatives. And Mr. Christie’s decision to start in New Hampshire is a sign of the state’s central role in his political calculus, where he also based much of his 2016 campaign, when he held more than 100 town halls. On Tuesday, he is expected to flesh out his vision for the nation in more detail.
But there are widespread doubts about how far Mr. Christie’s plans go beyond bringing down Mr. Trump. In an op-ed on the eve of its kickoff, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board questioned whether the candidate could have an unintended impact on the race.
“If Mr. Christie isn’t a guided missile aimed at Mr. Trump, it’s an unguided missile, likely to blow up, say, the governor of Florida. Ron De Santis?” wrote the editorial team.
Sean Hannity, the influential Fox News anchor, recently wondered if he would give Mr. Christie airtime. “You are only entering this race because you hate Donald Trump and want to punch Donald Trump,” Mr. Hannity said on the air. “I don’t see Chris Christie really wanting to run and win the nomination. He considers his role to be the enforcer and to attack Trump. »
Mr Trump posted the clip on his social media site, Truth Social.
Maggie Habermann contributed report.