Christie’s calculation: Trump is “in the rearview mirror”

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Donald Trump

While Christie’s criticism of the party’s focus on the 2020 election results and subtle blows to other aspects of Trump’s tenure aim to give him a trail of his own in the 2024 primaries, he also touts the confrontation with a former president who is still the Republican base loyalty.

“He travels the country, says what he’s learned and says he’s not afraid of Donald Trump. That puts him on a different track than anyone else who could run for president in the party, ”said veteran Republican strategist Scott Reed. “Christie is the type of guy who knows how to create a narrative. He can throw a punch and he can take a punch. “

Christie has been ramping up its fire over the past few days on media appearances highlighting how Trump lost his re-election and suggested he be a “loser” to stay in 2020. Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Christie was the only one of six potential presidential nominees who dared think that November was not a good idea to look back on.

None of the other hopefuls of 2024 achieved anywhere near as much defiance on an issue Trump continues to obsess over.

“We can no longer talk about the past and the past elections – no matter where you are on this matter, no matter where you are, it’s over,” said Christie on Saturday.

Christie didn’t just wipe down the former president’s baseless claims about a stolen election, however. He also pointed at the massive debt that had grown under Trump’s watch, nodding at Trump’s praise for China’s dictator during his presidency.

“Any president, especially a Republican, should never throw bouquets of flowers at a murderous communist dictator in China,” Christie said, referring to Xi Jinping. “We should never tell this person that they are doing something well.”

When Christie first tested his message in a speech in September at the Ronald Reagan Library, Trump remained unusually silent. After Saturday’s speech – and the national media drew attention to Christie – Trump let loose on his former ally.

“Chris Christie, who has just given a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in Las Vegas, was absolutely massacred by his testimony that Republicans must move away from the past, which is the 2020 election fraud,” Trump said in one written statement on Monday. “Everyone remembers that Chris left New Jersey with an approval rating of less than 9% – a record low, and they didn’t want to hear that from him!”

Christie’s calculated positioning is a long way from 2016 when he was the first Republican governor and first candidate to step out of the GOP primary to endorse Trump. Christie represented Trump’s Democratic opponents in the preparation for the debate that year, then headed Trump’s transition team – all of the facts he mentioned on Saturday in his only mention of Trump’s name.

“For all of the people who say they are supporters of President Trump, the line starts behind me,” he said.

Still, Christie began to distance himself from Trump after the January 6 rally that ended with the U.S. Capitol insurrection. At the time, Trump’s former UN ambassador Nikki Haley spoke out against the president, but then withdrew under the setback of MAGA believers.

Haley also has an interest in running for president but had said she wouldn’t run if Trump did.

Christie didn’t make the same promise.

This approach has a strategic logic. Christie, according to those familiar with his mindset, would occupy a middle lane in a potential primary, positioned between those who would embrace Trump unreservedly and never criticize him, and any candidate trying to win Never Trump’s voice .

According to multiple sources who spoke to him, Christie believes Trump’s influence in the party is waning. They say Trump has lost his mojo since he was removed from his once powerful Twitter account and that Republicans like Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin showed a way last week to win without directly hugging Trump .

A Trump spokesman had no other comment on Christie beyond Trump’s written statement. But those familiar with his mindset say the former president feels Christie is disloyal with his criticism – one of the least forgivable sins around him – and suggested that Christie was upset that Trump never made him chief of staff or appointed Attorney General of the White House.

“Christie is trying to create a path, but right now he has to use the media to widen a bike path,” said a Trump adviser. “Christie didn’t say Trump was a liar. You attribute balls to him that he did not show. “

Trump supporters and critics alike say that Christie benefits from softball interviews in which he does not have to answer for standing by Trump during his four-year term of turmoil and controversy. Only now that Christie could benefit politically from being critical, he says, does he express himself.

Ed Rollins, who heads a pro-Trump super PAC, said Republican voters would not reward Christie for trying to run for a once-loyal Trump insider who is also a critic.

“He’ll look like a traitor to the Trump people. And they will by and large follow him, ”said Rollins.

While Christie’s speeches are devoid of direct Trump criticism, a preview of his book on his publisher’s website is bolder.

“In Republican Rescue, Christie reveals exactly how absurd grievances and self-inflicted wounds sabotaged Donald Trump’s many achievements and enabled Democrats to conquer the White House, House of Representatives and Senate in two years,” the website said . “In his frank and persuasive voice, Christie dissects the final year of the Trump administration – which has provoked nothing but conspiracy theories and power struggles – and he presents an honest and hopeful vision of how Republicans are conquering the future and America from the harm of today can preserve. “Democratic excesses.”

As part of the media flash leading up to the book’s release, CNN teased an interview with Christie that airs Monday, “What’s it like to be a high-profile Trump supporter who became a harsh critic?”

FILE – In this November 20, 2016 file photo, President-elect Donald Trump, left, waves to the media as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie arrives at the clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, NJ after speaking Out of the blue, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, from President Donald Trump’s transition team, dips his toes into the administration as he leads a White House commission to combat opioid addiction. (AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster, File) | AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster

The closest thing Christie got to criticizing Trump by name was in an Axios HBO interview that aired on Sunday. “I’m not going to go back and forth with Donald Trump,” he says in the sitdown. “But what I want to say is this: When I ran for re-election in 2013, I got 60 percent of the vote. When he ran for re-election, he lost to Joe Biden. “

This provocation, which is almost guaranteed to make Trump angry, is a symbol of a relationship that has been complicated for decades. As a US attorney for New Jersey, Christie has prosecuted the father of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner for tax evasion and illegal campaign donations. Christie’s role in the imprisonment of Kushner’s father has never been forgotten by Kushner, who, according to Christie, ousted Christie as chairman of Trump’s transition team for 2016 and, he suggests, played a role in Trump’s decision not to make him vice president of his 2019 book “Let Me Finish”.

Christie’s dismissal from Trump’s inner circle at the beginning of the presidential term didn’t keep him away for long. Christie spoke to Trump regularly and was named co-chair of a bipartisan commission with President Kellyanne Conway’s advisor aimed at tackling the opioid crisis. He helped prepare the debate during the 2020 campaign. Bill Stepien, Christie’s former New Jersey advisor, also led Trump’s failed re-election campaign.

Those who know Christie have little doubt that he is serious about running for president in 2024 – and say he’s not just trying to sell his new book.

“He’s very ambitious, always has been. And he’s very, very smart and knows how to calculate the odds, ”said former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, who has known Christie since high school and whom Christie once referred to as a mentor. “He felt the last election in which Trump took his place. He thought he had made a place for himself, the position of rude talking, of things as they are. But that was Trump. Now he thinks that Trump is probably sitting in the rearview mirror and what position he can get now. “

A Christie adviser said the former two-term governor has not yet made a decision, “but I certainly think he will do things that he is willing to do when the opportunity presents itself. He said if he felt he could win he would run to paraphrase it.

Another Republican familiar with Christie’s thinking said bluntly that “Christie is not afraid of Trump. They knew each other long before either of them got into politics. It is important for Christie whether he has a realistic chance of winning. “

Christie’s increased criticism and media tour all bear the hallmarks of an early presidential campaign, said Gregg Keller, a Republican strategist.

“There are practically no disadvantages to running for president. It’s big business. It brings you higher speaker fees. It helps you sell books and gives the cable news channels an excuse to bring you in, ”said Keller. “I think he has learned that if he is ready to say things that sometimes cut against Trump – sometimes against what MAGA believes – that he will continue to receive interview requests even though he is no longer governor.”

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