(The Hill) — Few candidates have been as aggressive in their attacks against former President Donald Trump or shown the ability to get under the former president’s skin quite like Chris Christie.
While the former New Jersey governor is occasionally quizzed at town halls and in TV interviews about his policy positions, his frequent and at times personal criticisms of Trump have garnered him headlines and raised the question of whether he can make waves in the primary field either with his candidacy or by derailing Trump’s.
Trump has called Christie a “fat pig,” a “failed governor” and “sloppy,” and he posted an unflattering photo on social media of Christie sleeping on an airplane. He has blamed Christie for recommending the appointment of FBI Director Christopher Wray, who has become a lightning rod for criticism on the right.
Christie has responded every step of the way, or in some instances triggered Trump’s ire, calling the former president a failed leader, a “coward,” a “one-man crime wave,” and suggesting if the two fought, he would “kick his a–.” His campaign slogan — “Because the Truth Matters” — is a thinly veiled retort to Trump and his frequent falsehoods.
Christie was quick to endorse Trump after dropping out of the 2016 primary race. He was a candidate to serve as Trump’s White House chief of staff at one point, and the former governor aided in Trump’s debate prep in 2020.
But there is no love lost between the two men now, with Christie citing Trump’s refusal to accept the 2020 election results as a turning point. And the former governor’s insults are one part of his larger argument that Trump would cost the GOP in a general election.
“And that’s why I need to stand up and make sure the truth is told about this,” Christie said this week on Fox News. “And, quite frankly, I don’t understand why my other colleagues in this race are not saying it, except that either they’re unwilling or too scared to do it. I’m neither.”
No holds barred
Christie has laid out his policy views on support for Ukraine — he is supportive while Trump opposes more aid — and abortion, where both he and Trump are anti-abortion but favor exceptions for cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother.
But it is his no-holds-barred approach to attacking Trump’s character and fitness for office that has garnered Christie headlines and helped make him a regular presence on CNN, Fox News and Sunday morning news shows.
Christie has drawn the interest of enough donors and voters to make the stage for the first GOP primary debate later this month in Milwaukee. But it’s less clear whether it’s a strategy for long-term success in a Republican primary.
“He’s running reportedly on a platform of, ‘We’ve got to stop Donald Trump from being president.’ The problem he’s got is he needs voters who like Donald Trump a lot to be able to come and vote for him. I think it’s a hard road for Gov. Christie,” Justin Clark, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, said on a podcast he hosts with former Christie aide and ex-Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien.
Christie has more or less ignored Iowa, which will host the first caucus on the primary calendar next January. Instead, he has put all of his efforts into courting voters in New Hampshire, a more purplish state that is more likely to be receptive to his message.
An NH Journal/co-efficient poll published this week found Trump receiving 43 percent in New Hampshire, with Christie and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) tied in second place at 9 percent.
A University of New Hampshire poll published in mid-July found 6 percent of likely GOP primary voters picked Christie as their first-choice candidate, behind Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) (8 percent), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (23 percent) and Trump (37 percent).
The same poll found that while Christie had seen a 5 percent boost in his support in the Granite State since April, 35 percent of likely primary voters said they would not vote for him under any circumstances, more than any other candidate.
“His pathway is hoping that the field dramatically clears out after Iowa and he somehow catches fire and shocks the world in New Hampshire,” said Alex Conant, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign.
“I think he wants to start a fight with Trump, but I think he’d be happy to throw some haymakers at other candidates,” he added. “I think that’s how he can increase his relevance, by landing punches. And I fully expect he’ll try to do that regardless of who else shows up [to the debate].”
Christie this week argued his campaign is building momentum, and he suggested most voters won’t truly start paying attention until the first debate later this month. Trump has indicated he may not attend the debate, scheduled for Aug. 23 in Milwaukee.
The former governor’s bare-knuckle style and background as a federal prosecutor make him a formidable opponent on the debate stage, as evidenced by his dismantling of Rubio during a 2016 presidential primary debate when Christie mocked the senator for reciting the same talking points repeatedly.
Some strategists argue that whether or not Christie is ultimately the nominee, his candidacy serves a worthwhile purpose as many in the party remain concerned about Trump’s electability and other anti-Trump voices, like Will Hurd and Asa Hutchinson, fail to break through.
“I think it’s something that Republican voters have to continually be confronted with, that Trump is unelectable and all the other things that Christie is pointing out,” said Rob Stutzman, a California-based GOP strategist.
“Ironically it’s much like the role he played in being the hammer to Marco Rubio being the nail back in 2016,” Stutzman said. “He’s once again the hammer, and Trump this time is the nail. And [Christie] didn’t win New Hampshire, but he effectively wiped out another candidate. I think it’s incredibly valuable that there’s someone out there doing it and someone who can go toe to toe with Trump.”