Chris Christie kicks off 2024 campaign with sharp attacks on Trump
By Gregory Krieg and Shania Shelton, CNN
(CNN) -- (CNN) — Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie kicked off his second presidential campaign on Tuesday with a lacerating indictment of former President Donald Trump, calling his ally-turned-rival a “lonely, self-consumed mirror hog” who, by force of personality alone, represents a threat to the republic.
At a town hall event in New Hampshire, Christie – who endorsed Trump after dropping out of the 2016 primary and then became a close adviser to the former president ahead of the 2020 election – described his past support as an error and urged Republicans to join him in rejecting the GOP front-runner.
“Beware of the leader in this country, who you have handed leadership to, who has never made a mistake, who has never done anything wrong, who when something goes wrong it’s always someone else’s fault. And who has never lost,” Christie said of Trump.
Nearly 30 minutes after he began speaking, Christie made his own declaration.
“I can’t guarantee you success, but I can guarantee you that at the end of it, you will have no doubt in your mind who I am and what I stand for and whether I deserve it,” he said. “That’s why I came back to New Hampshire to tell all of you that I intend to seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 2024.”
Christie is set to participate in a CNN town hall on Monday in New York, where he’ll take questions from CNN’s Anderson Cooper and a live audience comprised of Republicans from the first four GOP nominating states as well as from voters in New Jersey and New York who say they plan to vote in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.
Christie’s announcement on Tuesday, which followed his filing with the Federal Election Commission earlier in the day, came a day after fellow GOP moderate Chris Sununu, the governor of New Hampshire, opted against running and less than 24 hours before former Vice President Mike Pence officially enters the race. Like in 2016, Christie is seeking to appeal to more traditionally conservative, establishment-friendly Republicans – and hope that he can emerge as a foil to Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a rapidly growing field.
Also similar to that first run: Christie is part of a crowded field that, if history is any guide, could pave the way for a nominee currently running with less than majority support among Republicans. Along with Trump and DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott have all launched bids. Pence, who has already filed paperwork to run, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum are expected to join the crowd on Wednesday.
Christie on Tuesday touted his ability to be a pugilist while also making a case for compromise – something he called out DeSantis, a former Freedom Caucus member in the US House who now enjoys unified GOP control of the state legislature, for never succeeding at or even attempting.
He also chided DeSantis and Trump over their murky positions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and, in what sounded like a jab at DeSantis’ and other primary candidates’ attacks on “woke ideology,” said the field included a bunch of “pretenders” who are “talking about issues that are so small that sometimes it’s hard to even understand them.”
That group, Christie added, treated Trump like the “Harry Potter” villain Voldemort, whose name the books’ protagonists are banned from speaking.
“The person I am talking about who’s obsessed with the mirror, who never admits a mistake, who never admits a fault and who always find someone else and something else to blame for whatever goes wrong, but finds every reason for anything that goes right – is Donald Trump,” Christie said.
As CNN has previously reported, Christie believes he is best-positioned to take on Trump in the primary while also appealing to independents in a potential general election showdown with President Joe Biden. He begins his bid with the support of a new super PAC, called “Tell It Like It Is,” formed by allies in anticipation of his campaign.
Christie offered a less edgy take on Biden, accusing the president of “dividing” voters but also recalling their decades-old relationship. Being “timid,” “quiet” and “not speaking to us regularly” were, as Christie told it, Biden’s foremost sins. Along with his age.
“He’s a nice man. He’s out of his depth because he’s not the guy he used to be,” Christie said. “Father Time always wins.”
Christie’s flirtation with presidential politics began in 2011, when he considered running in a primary to take on then-President Barack Obama a year later. He demurred, then saw his standing with Republicans sag ahead of 2016. His 2016 campaign was short-lived and most memorable for Christie’s mocking evisceration of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in a February debate.
Both would eventually drop out – Christie after he finished sixth in the New Hampshire primary – and endorse Trump.
But Christie went a step further.
He helmed Trump’s transition team – though his work was eventually trashed and Christie himself sidelined days after the election – and later on became a close adviser to the former president. He was floated as a potential appointment to a number of administration jobs, though none ever materialized. He even participated in mock debates with Trump in 2020. (Christie has said he believes he contracted Covid-19 from Trump, who did not disclose a positive test result, during one of those sessions.)
Following Trump’s defeat and subsequent attempt to overturn the 2020 election, Christie turned on him and sought to establish himself as one of Trump’s chief Republican critics.
“We keep losing and losing and losing,” Christie said at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership conference late last year. “The reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everybody else.”
He also has said that Trump “incited” the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol “in an effort to intimidate Mike Pence and the Congress into doing exactly what he said in his own words last week: overturn the election.”
In an interview with Axios this year, he vowed never to support Trump again.
“I can’t help him,” Christie said. “No way.”
Asked by an audience member on Tuesday whether he had a plan to win over “Trump voters,” Christie disputed the characterization – and insisted that Republicans should not view people who had previously voted for Trump as an impenetrable group.
“There is no such thing as ‘Trump voters.’ He doesn’t own them. He didn’t take title to them. They’re not one of his buildings. They’re not one of his casinos in New Jersey. They’re not that wreck he’s got in Las Vegas,” Christie said. “I voted for him twice. Am I a Trump voter? Hell no, man.”
Christie was first elected New Jersey governor in 2009, unseating Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine. He easily won reelection in the blue state in 2013. He served as US attorney for New Jersey from 2002 to 2008, a period in which he successfully prosecuted the father of Trump’s son-in-law and former aide Jared Kushner on criminal tax evasion and witness tampering charges.
Christie himself was engulfed in the “Bridgegate” scandal during his second term as governor. Emails and texts from top aides showed that the George Washington Bridge lane closures in September 2013, which caused massive traffic jams, stemmed from a political vendetta after the town’s Democratic mayor declined to endorse Christie’s gubernatorial reelection.
A federal investigation determined that Christie had no knowledge of the decision to close the lanes, but the scandal continued to follow the former governor.
This story has been updated with additional remarks from Christie’s campaign announcement.
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