MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wondered if the Republican field has what it takes to stop former President Donald Trump.
Christie challenged Republicans to find someone who can do to Trump “what I did to Marco” Rubio — a callback to his 2016 debate-stage evisceration of the Republican senator from Florida — “because that’s the only thing that’s going to defeat” Trump.
“You have to be fearless, because he will come back — and right at you,” Christie said. “And that means 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.”
Christie’s former supporters in New Hampshire hope it’ll be him.
“We definitely need somebody strong and optimistic,” said Hillary Seeger, a conservative activist who backed Christie’s 2016 presidential bid. “We need to have somebody that can win the primary and the general election.”
Christie reunited a group of his New Hampshire backers on Monday night, when he returned to the state for a town hall at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics — a prerequisite for any presidential hopeful — followed by a private dinner with close friends, former supporters and some donors.
Christie is cagey about whether he is actually running for president again, but if he is, he spelled out a clear lane for himself as Trump’s critic in chief.
Christie doesn’t see one in what is shaping up to be the 2024 Republican field.
“They’re going to wriggle right up next to him and say ‘I’m almost like him, but I’m not quite as bad,’” Christie said of his would-be rivals. “Let me tell you something, everybody. That’s going to lose as certain as he lost in ‘20, as we lost the House in ‘18, as we lost the Senate in ‘21, as we underperformed in ‘22.”
Christie later told reporters that “no one has to wonder” whether he’s got the chutzpah to take on Trump.
But just as Christie puffed up his own abilities, one audience member at Saint Anselm College openly questioned his credentials in that arena. If Christie is so good at taking down Trump, why didn’t he do it in 2016? Christie chalked his performance in that primary up to “strategic error” — one that he doesn’t plan on making again.
“Trump said a few weeks ago: I am your retribution. Guess what everybody? No thanks,” Christie said. “The only person he cares about is him. And if we haven’t learned that since Election Day 2020 until today, we’re not paying attention.”
Christie also took direct shots at former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — hitting the former for not doing more to stand up to Trump and the latter over his mangled forays into foreign policy.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not a “territorial dispute,” as DeSantis said in now-walked-back remarks, but an act of “authoritarian aggression,” Christie said. And the U.S. doesn’t have to worry about being dragged into a “proxy war” with China over Ukraine — as DeSantis suggested — because “we’re in one.”
But even as he jabbed his would-be rivals, Christie also spoke repeatedly of injecting optimism and civility back into politics that these days is defined by “anger and retribution.”
And his old supporters who gathered in Manchester on Monday consider that to be a selling point for potential presidential candidates like Christie and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a fellow Republican blue-state governor who’s also considering a run.
“You have Trump, and you have the alternative to Trump,” former New Hampshire GOP Chair Wayne MacDonald, who chaired Christie’s 2016 campaign in New Hampshire. “Once you start comparing his record in New Jersey with DeSantis’ record in Florida, you’re going to see a much more viable and effective leader than Governor DeSantis is. And I think that’s going to enable him to emerge as the alternative to President Trump.”