Chris Christie wants to take down Donald Trump: Why New Hampshire could be key in 2024

MANCHESTER, N.H. − Chris Christie could soon give another presidential campaign a go, zeroing in on a state that flat-out rejected him in his last White House bid in 2016: New Hampshire.

The former New Jersey governor has been mulling whether to run for months and has been testing the waters in New Hampshire compared with other key early voting states such as Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada. That could be a tactical decision – the path for a long-shot Christie campaign in a crowded GOP field could run through the Granite State.

Christie has become known for being perhaps one of former President Donald Trump’s most vocal critics, calling him a “coward” in May and a “puppet of Putin” on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show.

His brashness and unapologetic style of politics could give Christie a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless, at winning New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.

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Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering during a town hall style meeting at New England College, Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Henniker, N.H.

Why New Hampshire over Iowa for 2024?

Christie finished virtually last in 2016 on primary day in New Hampshire which proved to be a death knell for his campaign; he dropped out of the race shortly after the primary. But 2024 could prove different for the New Jersey governor, who now has his sights set on one target: Trump.

“New Hampshire has proven over the years that they really appreciate those truly authentic straight-shooting candidates,” said Jim Merrill, a veteran New Hampshire-based GOP consultant.

Key to New Hampshire, Merrill said, is that the state skews slightly more to the center compared with Iowa, which is more conservative but holds the first contest before New Hampshire in the form of caucuses. As a result, Christie could see more success with his messaging in New Hampshire.

“As much as it’s about the Republican primary, you’re also appealing to undeclared voters who may be conservatives who don’t feel that party affiliation or they may be moderates who just truly are kind of in the middle,” Merrill added. “It’s a broader swath of the electorate.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Monday, March 27, 2023.

Christie sets sights on Trump as the GOP front-runner

Trump is the candidate to beat: He holds a wide lead, according to multiple polls in crucial early voting states such as New Hampshire. Even then, most Republican candidates have declined to go after the former president, possibly out of fear of alienating his base.

But Christie has not shied away from hitting Trump on almost every controversy surrounding him.

“He undermined our democracy. And the only reason he undermined our democracy was because he was pissed,” Christie said, slamming Trump for his repeated false claims of fraud in the 2020 election and attempts to overturn his loss. “He undermined our democracy because he was angry we didn’t reelect him."

In another town hall in New Hampshire, Christie said the only way to defeat the front-runner was to go after Trump as much as possible, a hint at what is to come from a Christie 2024 presidential campaign.

"You have to be fearless because he will come right back at you," Christie said. "So you need to think about who's got the skill to do that and who's got the guts to do that, because it's not going to end nicely. No matter what, his end will not be calm and quiet."

Christie's unrestrained attitude toward criticizing Trump could impress undecided New Hampshire voters shopping for a candidate with a no-holds-barred approach.

"We're looking for integrity," Jeffrey Cooper, 71, of Portsmouth, told USA TODAY at a Christie town hall. Cooper added he does not "like ideologues on either side. I like somebody who's competent and can govern."

Christie's presence in the GOP race could also prove fruitful for other candidates. His eagerness to knock Trump down a few pegs could boost his opponents who are afraid of going after the former president, but Christie dismissed the notion.

"I'm not a paid assassin," Christie told Politico.

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Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on April 27, 2023 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Trump, who is currently dealing with a growing number of legal cases against him, is the Republican frontrunner for the Republican presidential ticket.

GOP strategist on Christie: 'It makes sense to punch hard at Donald Trump'

Christie faces an uphill battle if he announces a 2024 campaign. He polls at just 1% among likely GOP primary voters, according to a poll in April by the University of New Hampshire. 

It is unclear how strongly Christie’s message could resonate with Republican voters, but longtime New Hampshire GOP strategist Mike Dennehy said the 2024 race is an entirely open field – any strategy could be sound as long as it is executed correctly.

It is a high-risk strategy for Christie that could have little reward, but in a race that is slowly getting more crowded with candidates sucking up the oxygen, he might have to take the chances he can get.

“I think it’s a strategy and one that is not currently being used by any other candidate,” Dennehy said. “I don’t think it’s a wrong strategy, because the fact of the matter is, Trump is the front-runner.

“If you’re going to immediately come out of the box punching, it makes sense to punch hard at Donald Trump.”

Opinion: Many Republicans don't want Trump to be the 2024 GOP nominee. But Democrats sure do.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering during a town hall style meeting at New England College, Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Henniker, N.H.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chris Christie in 2024 wants to take down Trump in New Hampshire