Don't Count Chris Christie Out

[ Posted Wednesday, March 15th, 2023 – 15:31 UTC ]

When pundits handicap the possible Republican presidential field these days, several names almost always lead their lists of those who have not yet declared their candidacy (but probably soon will): Ron DeSantis (of course), Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, and Tim Scott. These are all the current favorites, and all have been at least making some moves towards actually declaring and running. Then there's a second tier of possibilities that usually gets mentioned as well: Chris Sununu, Glenn Youngkin, and maybe Kristi Noem or Greg Abbott to round things out. But for some reason, Chris Christie is almost always treated as an afterthought -- someone barely worth a mention in a tertiary list that might be called: "Oh, these people also might run, too." I've always thought this was a mistake because it seems to me that Christie is all but champing at the bit to take on Donald Trump.

I've always felt a little sorry for Christie, and will fully admit that my affinity for his double-barrelled name might have something to do with that (We all have our personal biases, right? Deep down, there's a little voice in me that insists that it'd be totally cool to have a "President Chris" for once...). Kidding aside, my feelings of pity for Christie are largely due to him having his entire schtick stolen so blatantly by Donald Trump in 2016. Christie was supposed to be the guy from Jersey, the guy with a New York City attitude (or worse), the guy who brashly told it like it was to the voters, in the bluntest possible straight-from-the-hip terms. He had built his entire political career around this persona, and it would have been fascinating to see how it all played out with GOP voters if Trump hadn't decided to run.

But run Trump did, and he was an even-more-entertaining version of Christie's "brash in-your-face city palooka" schtick. Christie really didn't stand a chance, seeing how Trump could out-yell him on a debate stage and out-denigrate him using the crudest of playground terms. But that was back when Trump was a new phenomenon, not someone the electorate knew all that well. This time it might prove to be a different story.

Back in 2016, after his own candidacy failed, Christie was one of the first Republican establishment politicians to waive the white flag and try to hitch his wagon to the Trump train. He cozied up to Trump and helped run the transition team, all in an obvious effort to get Trump to name him to a cabinet post. Trump reportedly did offer Christie the job of leading Homeland Security or Veteran Affairs, but Christie reportedly really wanted to be Trump's attorney general -- a job Trump refused to offer him. Christie mostly stayed in Trump's corner for his whole first term and helped with Trump's debate prep in the 2020 election campaign, but then broke with him in a big way after January 6th. Since then, Christie has been one of the most resolute anti-Trump voices among Republicans, and he's enjoyed the megaphone of being a regular ABC News political commentator (where he can often be seen on Sunday mornings out-shouting the liberal voices on the chatfest panel).

This has always seemed to me to be nothing short of Christie positioning himself for a 2024 run. After the 2020 fiasco, Christie bet very early on that there would indeed be a viable "lane" for a strong, conservative, anti-Trump candidate the next time around. But he's never attracted much attention from the handicappers in the political punditry. This has remained true even after the pundits' favorite to make a bid for this lane -- former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan -- announced he would not be running. Now speculation swirls around people like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, neither one of whom has much of a shot at winning the Republican nomination (at least as far as I can see). Chris Sununu might have a shot at it, but he's nowhere near as anti-Trump as Christie so it's debatable whether he'd be assigned a different lane altogether.

Overlooking Christie might start changing now that he's has announced he's going to make an appearance at one of the traditional "cattle call" events in early primary states. As Fox News reports:

Christie will headline a town-hall style event at 5pm on Monday, March 27 at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Fox News has learned. For over two decades, the institute -- which hosts the well-known "Politics and Eggs" speaker series -- has been a must-stop for actual or potential White House contenders from both major parties.

Of course, sticking your toe in the water isn't the same as jumping into the deep end, and plenty of people who do explore a candidacy at events like these wind up deciding not to run in the end. But Christie has a built-in early warning to indicate that he's serious. If and when he resigns (or is politely forced out) of his ABC commentator gig, we'll all know that he truly is about to launch a campaign. Journalistic ethical rules forbid news organizations from keeping a candidate (whether officially declared or not) on their payroll, because it would essentially turn the media outlet into an arm of his or her campaign. So ABC will be the first to know Christie is serious, and then when the news breaks of him leaving the network, we'll all be the next to know.

Would Christie have a chance? That's debatable, to be sure. But he may be the best candidate for his lane. There will almost surely be at least one (possibly more) candidates running who will call Trump a loser and beg the GOP's voters not to throw another election away. They may even reject Trumpism writ large and attempt to return the Republican Party to its more traditional conservative roots. But whether just personally against Trump himself ("He can't win! He's a loose cannon and a loser!") or against all Trump has ushered in to the Republican Party, there will be at least one candidate who manages to gain at least a little traction in the anti-Trump lane.

Chris Christie might be the best chance the GOP anti-Trump faction has of winning. Because it is fine to disagree with Trump in an interview with a journalist or even in a campaign speech, but it is a whole different ballgame to do so right to his face in a debate. Someone like Adam Kinzinger might wilt in the face of the Trump hurricane-force bluster. Christie almost certainly wouldn't -- he'd be flinging it back at Trump with the same level of in-your-face intensity. The only other person I can see doing so with any visible effect would be Liz Cheney (who has a spine of steel and would likely run just to appear on a debate stage with Trump), but I seriously doubt she's going to run -- and even if she does, I seriously doubt she'll have much support from GOP voters. Christie would likely have a much better shot.

If Republican voters truly are getting tired of Trump's antics, they might be willing to give Christie a look. Christie could promise to bring the same raging energy to the political fight and could exhibit the same in-your-face attitude that Trump has -- but he'd do so with much more intelligence. Christie is no fool -- he was a former federal prosecutor. He also survived his own scandal ("Bridgegate") without ever really backing down -- something Trump supporters seem to like in a politician. But Christie is unafraid to call Trump out when Trump has staked out a completely idiotic position, or even just a position that is so far removed from traditional "conservatism" that it is downright head-scratching to most GOP voters.

Christie seems like he's got it in him to fight Trump to at least a draw in any live debate, which might be good enough to launch him into the front of the race. If the GOP is split between Trump and Ron DeSantis, Christie could even prevail in the early primaries. I can see a route to victory for him, to put this another way, although I have absolutely no idea what his chances of pulling such an upset off might realistically be.

Christie seems like a possible contender, though, which is why I wonder why the pundits don't give him a closer look. Perhaps if he uncorks a barn-burner of a performance in New Hampshire we'll all start hearing his name mentioned more often. Personally, I've never counted Chris Christie out. Watching him on ABC for the past few years it seems like he has slowly been building his personal political brand up precisely so he can make a 2024 run. If he starts making more appearances in early states and/or if suddenly his absence from the ABC airwaves becomes noticeable, then perhaps more pundits will start including him in their "probably going to run" lists. But for now, nobody should count Chris Christie out of the race.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Don't Count Chris Christie Out”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    As a former New Jersey resident, let me just say, good luck with that

  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    What an interesting column. I haven't thought about Christie in any way since the 2016 election.

    What I remember is the unforgettable image of Christie, after Trump's victory, waving the white flag as you put it. But it goes deeper than that. The image I remember is Christie, looking deeply, DEEPLY humiliated and embarassed to be in the position of toadying up to Trump on live TV, standing in the background while Trump blathered on about whatever nonsense he was peddling that day. Chistie looked like he wanted to kill himself rather than be there - and that's not the kind of look anyone associates with a once and future presidential candidate. Look at me, I'm a coward, weasel, schmuck, fool, pansy, creep, wimp .. these are the words his expression gave to a national TV audience.

    Now you tell me he's been a commentator on ABC more lately. I didn't know that, so perhaps he actually does cherish another go-round on the national political stage. I wonder if the reason no pundits and handicappers have added Christie to the list of quasi-Trumps and anti-Trumps among the Republicans of 2024, is that he's taken the TV commentator gig. As I understood it, that's the signal that a politician has retired from politics, to start making the real money that comes from lobbying, commenting, and serving the corporate-media state from the inside.

    Surely the pundits have just assumed that Christie would never give up the cushy ABC job to return to the lists, where Trumpists will remember that he spoke out boldly against the January 6 putsch in 2021, and anti-Trumpists will remember that he broke speed records checking his character, his prosecutorial honesty, and his soul at the door of the newly-forming Trump administration in 2016.

    So maybe you're right, and the plasticine chew-toy named Chris Christie is the actual guy that could square the circle of a Trumpist Republican Party nominating a more or less mainstream old-style Republican in place of Donald or Ron. I never would have guessed it, so thanks for this column!

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:



  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Great comment! That's one of the things that keeps me coming back for more around here...

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