What is Chris Christie doing?

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(Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Joe Raedle/Getty Images, Getty Images)
(Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Joe Raedle/Getty Images, Getty Images)

What’s happening

On Tuesday, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie became the 10th Republican to launch a bid for his party’s 2024 presidential nomination, holding a town hall in Manchester, N.H., at which he characterized former President Donald Trump, the current frontrunner, as a “lonely, self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog.”

“The reason I’m going after Trump is twofold," Christie said. "One, he deserves it. And two, it’s the way to win.”

Christie previously campaigned for president in 2016. During his first term as governor, from 2009 to 2013, he was widely seen as a rising GOP star: a tough-talking federal prosecutor turned blue state executive with a centrist CV and surfeit of personality.

But in 2012, Christie ran for reelection rather than for the White House, and the following year, his home-state popularity plummeted when his senior staff retaliated against a local mayor by clogging traffic on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. (Christie denied all knowledge of the scheme, which became known as “Bridgegate.”)

By the time Christie finally threw his hat in the ring for 2016, pundits were already saying he’d missed his moment. He soon proved them right. Stuck below 5% in the polls, Christie placed a distant sixth in New Hampshire and promptly dropped out. He was best remembered for verbally dismantling Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on the debate stage a few days earlier.

Shortly after exiting the race, Christie endorsed Trump — even though he’d been a harsh critic up to that point. He was one of the first national Republican leaders to do so. He went on to lead Trump’s transition team and chair his White House advisory committee on opioid abuse. But while prepping the president for the 2020 debates, Christie caught COVID-19 and wound up in the hospital for a week; later, he cut ties with Trump for perpetuating lies about election fraud and provoking the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Since then, Christie has emerged as one of Trump’s fiercest and most forthright Republican foes. Trump “can’t be a credible figure on the world stage; he can’t be a credible figure interacting with Congress; he will get nothing done,” the former governor told Politico in April. “[That] needs to be called out, and it needs to be called out by somebody who knows him. Nobody knows Donald Trump better than I do.”

Why there’s debate

If Christie simply wanted to take jabs at his former boss, however, he could continue to appear on ABC News as a regular contributor. So why is he running for president? What does he really want?

“I hear Chris Christie’s coming in,” Trump himself said on Fox News last week. “What’s the purpose?”

According to Christie, it’s the Republican nomination he’s after. “I’m not a paid as­sas­sin,” he told Politico. “When you’re waking up for your 45th morning at the Hilton Garden Inn in Manchester, you better think you can win, because that walk from the bed to the shower, if you don’t think you can win, it’s hard.”

Yet despite his robust name ID, Christie is registering at just 1% in the RealClearPolitics polling average — tied for seventh place. In the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll, he trails Trump by 67 percentage points — 77% to 10% — in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup among possible primary voters. Christie’s national net favorability rating with the Republican electorate was -26 points (21% to 47%) in a recent Monmouth survey, by far the worst of any GOP candidate. And a staggering 60% of Republican voters told CNN in May that they would “never” consider voting for him.

It’s hard, then, to see a path to the nomination for the former New Jersey governor. As a result, theories abound about Christie’s true intentions. Is he launching a kamikaze-style mission to “take out” Trump — a phrase he himself used Tuesday night in New Hampshire? If so, is he seeking personal revenge (for Trump’s betrayals) or political redemption (for his own complicity in Trump’s ascent)? And is he angling for a job in a future DeSantis administration — or does the Floridian have a target on his back as well?

What’s next

As in 2016, Christie plans to focus heavily on New Hampshire, where Republicans tend to be more moderate and independents are allowed to vote in the state’s open primary.

More broadly, Christie's strategy is to run "a non-traditional campaign that is highly focused on earned media, mixing it up in the news cycle and engaging Trump," an adviser recently told Axios. Expect a lot of television interviews, including a CNN town hall next week.

But perhaps the most important part of Christie’s plan is the debates. “You better have somebody on that stage who can do to [Trump] what I did to Marco, because that’s the only thing that’s gonna defeat [him],” he explained in March.

The problem, however, is that Christie could easily fail to qualify. According to the newly released criteria for participation in the first party-sanctioned debate on Aug. 23, each participant must hit 1% in a number of high-quality national or early-state polls while also racking up 40,000 unique donors from at least 20 states. And even then, Trump could skip the proceedings (he’s already hinted at it).


If Christie torpedoes Trump, he could be the United States’ next attorney general

“Christie is everything a Democrat could reasonably want in a Republican: gregarious, pragmatic, competent, highly intelligent, capable of reaching across the aisle and most definitely not a hater. I doubt he has any kind of realistic shot at the nomination, but I also know that he’s too much of a realist to think he has a realistic shot, either. ... My guess is he’d like the job of attorney general in a DeSantis administration.” — Bret Stephens, The New York Times

But are Republicans really going to listen to Christie?

“Remember, almost half of Republicans dislike Christie (and 77 percent think well of Trump), so they probably wouldn’t be too receptive to Christie’s arguments. Christie’s attacks on Trump might not land that much better than attacks on Trump from the mass media or President Biden — two other entities that are unpopular with Republican voters. Sure, Christie might have some credibility that those two don’t because he’s a fellow Republican, but don’t count on that.” — Nathaniel Rakich, FiveThirtyEight

Actually, Christie could help Trump win

“If he is truly motivated to save the party from Trump, Christie should think very carefully about whether his presence in the race would make a Trump nomination more likely, rather than less. Given his unpopularity among many Republicans, it’s possible that his attacks will be easily deflected by Trump and discounted by most in the party. Furthermore, if he decides to go after Trump’s primary opponents as he did the last time around, and refuses to drop out if his candidacy gains no traction, he could once again help clear the path for Trump to be the nominee.” — The Editors, National Review

Ultimately, quixotic presidential candidacies don’t tend to matter much — except to the candidate

“Christie may see himself as someone in the mold of Gary Hart in 1988 or Newt Gingrich in 2012 — failed presidential candidates who won grudging respect and audience applause for strong debate performances in which they raised and answered questions no truly serious candidate would touch with a 10-foot pole. … It might have no effect on the actual outcome of the actual contest, but it could help salvage the former governor’s pride.” — Ed Kilgore, New York

Whatever else happens, this should be fun to watch

“What Christie does bring to the race that no other non-Trump candidate has brought in a while is some life. A touch of energy. A little gosh darn fun around here! Christie is a mountain of a personality, a colorful interview who puts on the best town hall in New Hampshire. He’s not stupid, and knows his political window is likely shut. That will loosen him up even further.” — Jim Newell, Slate

Don’t count Christie out just yet

“He is almost Trump’s equal in showbiz and his superior in invective, so he can do some damage. Would it be a suicide mission? I don’t know. But those kamikazes took out a lot of tankers. He has been told that if he takes down a bad guy and loses, he goes down in the history books, and if he takes down a bad guy and wins, even better. Seen this way he can’t lose.” — Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal