Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 2024 bid is likely to feature criticism of Donald Trump front and center, offering a test of just how much appetite there is in the GOP for an explicitly anti-Trump candidate.
Christie’s expected presidential bid has been greeted with skepticism from Republicans, some of whom suggest his candidacy is a mere vanity project, while others are quick to point out that Christie, now a vocal Trump critic, had worked closely to help reelect the former president in 2020.
But even some of those Republicans acknowledge that the former New Jersey governor’s pugilistic style could have an impact on the field and potentially even damage Trump to a degree.
“If it’s not a vanity campaign, I think its value … is that he can go in there and throw the hard punches, and maybe other candidates in the field can benefit from that,” said GOP strategist Jason Cabel Roe, who worked on presidential campaigns for Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in 2008 and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in 2016.
Much of the 2024 GOP field has largely avoided taking on Trump, as the contenders navigate the tricky dance of embracing positions and policies that were popular among conservatives during the Trump administration while differentiating themselves from the former president himself.
While presidential primaries generally see candidates volley attacks at each other, 2024 Republican contenders are also keenly aware that attacking Trump could risk alienating voters they need to win over who still admire the former president.
But Christie hasn’t shied away from taking jabs at the former president. Following disappointing midterm results last November for Republicans, the former New Jersey governor pointed to a number of Trump-backed candidates who lost their races, saying it was a “huge loss for Trump.”
“And again, it shows that his political instincts are not about the party, they’re not about the country, they’re about him,” he added at the time.
During Trump’s appearance at CPAC earlier this year, Christie also took a shot at the former president and the size of his audience attending his speech.
“You saw the scenes at CPAC, that room was half-full,” Christie said in March. “The reason I don’t think the rallies are going on … I don’t think the rallies would be nearly as big as they were before.”
Arizona-based GOP strategist and Trump campaign alum Brian Seitchik believed Christie’s anti-Trump focus might come with some long-term benefits if another Republican gets the nomination and wins the presidency, but suggested it’s not likely to win over GOP voters for Christie himself.
“If Trump loses New Hampshire, Christie is going to be a part of it, but I just don’t see the voters rewarding him as a result,” Seitchik said.
“Now, that may lead to a future Republican nominee and president rewarding him with [naming him] attorney general, which is not a bad consolation prize, but it’s hard to see how Christie gets to be the [nominee] playing the role of junkyard dog in this race.”
GOP strategist Keith Naughton suggested Christie would focus mainly on Trump rather than some kind of different vision for the party.
“I don’t think he’s going to offer really some type of alternative platform or anything, I think he’s mostly going to be talking about Trump and trying to pick fights with him,” Naughton said.
At the same time, members of the party acknowledge that Christie’s feistiness has been effective in the past and could possibly knock Trump down a few pegs. Christie took a number of jabs at Rubio during a 2016 New Hampshire debate, slamming him for returning to a “memorized 25-second speech,” and has been credited for seriously damaging the Florida senator’s presidential bid.
Rubio later placed fifth in the New Hampshire primary while Christie placed sixth, with the Florida senator acknowledging that he didn’t do well the night of the debate.
Unlike most of the pack, Christie’s also the only one who debated Trump in 2016. He also assisted the former president in debate prep during the 2020 cycle, giving him better insight into the ins and outs of Trump’s thinking on a debate stage.
Republican strategist and former Christie aide Colin Reed suggested that forcefully going after Trump would benefit the former governor.
“History shows that just sitting back and waiting for Donald Trump to implode is not a recipe for success politically,” Reed said.
“The one thing that I think distinguishes [Christie] so far from the rest of the field is he’s not going to hesitate or shy away from critiques of the former president in articulating why [Trump’s] not the right candidate to become the next president,” he added.
Reed also pushed back on the notion that Christie’s candidacy wasn’t a serious one, saying, “he wouldn’t be embarking on this endeavor if he didn’t think there was [a] viable pathway for his own candidacy.”
Other Republicans, too, are stressing that members of the party need to have an open mind about the burgeoning field, saying it’s too early to write off candidates like Christie.
“Donald Trump’s the frontrunner, and when he ran the first time, no one gave him a chance. And so I think there’s some of those same conversations going on about Mike Pence, right? If Donald Trump is to somehow get knocked off or falter, the race potentially resets,” GOP strategist Douglas Heye explained.
“DeSantis is probably in the strongest position of anybody, but if the race resets, no one is smart enough to know exactly in what direction that will happen. And so it’s premature at this point to write somebody off, especially somebody with the political and communication skills of a Chris Christie,” he added.