Eight years after he first announced his run for president, Chris Christie is gearing up for a return to the national stage.
The brash former governor of New Jersey is expected to launch his second presidential run on Tuesday with a town hall event in Manchester, New Hampshire, some 280 miles north of his home state.
New Hampshire is a key state for early voting, a fact Christie knows firsthand — in 2016, he suspended his presidential campaign after finishing sixth in the primary there.
But those close to Christie — who in the intervening years has gone from close adviser to Donald Trump to one of the former president’s harshest critics — emphasize that the state of New England, with a reputation for independent voters, the right place is for the tough talk. former governor to launch his long-awaited candidacy for president.
“There’s a reason these candidates get better the second time they do it,” said a senior advisor to Tell It Like It Is, the Christie’s-affiliated super Pac fundraising vehicle. “You learn, you get better, you refine your skills. It’s a craft.”
Christie will be the latest in a growing list of candidates vying to challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican Party nomination, including Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who ended months of speculation when he ran for president last month the race.
Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Monday that formed his official campaign and will begin his efforts Wednesday with an event in Iowa, another critical state for early voting.
At the same time, others have abandoned plans to run, arguing that anti-Trump Republicans should unite around one candidate rather than risk a repeat of 2016, when a broken field allowed Trump to bolster his own base of support and get needed delegates. to secure. to win the party’s nomination.
“We shouldn’t be complacent and candidates shouldn’t enter this race to promote a vain campaign, sell books or audition to serve as Donald Trump’s vice president,” said Chris Sununu, the Republican governor of New Hampshire, which has been toying with its own run for months, wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Monday.
Critics question whether Christie, Pence and other challengers — including Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the UN, and Tim Scott, the Republican senator from South Carolina — have a plan to clinch the party’s nomination.
The latest average of national polls from RealClearPolitics shows Trump enjoys the support of more than half of Republican voters, followed by DeSantis at just over 22 percent. The rest of the candidates languish in the single digits.
“Any time a candidate enters a race, they need to have a very clear idea of who their constituency is and how they are winning,” said Kevin Madden, a senior partner at Washington consulting firm Penta, who was a senior adviser to the presidential Mitt Romney campaign in 2012. . “I’m not getting that from any of them now.”
Unbiased analysts say Christie, who is no stranger to controversy, has a tougher job than most. While he was governor in 2013, his aides were accused of orchestrating a plan to create a traffic jam to punish a political opponent, in a scandal known as “Bridgegate”.
A University of New Hampshire poll this year found that only 10 percent of Republican primary voters in the state had a favorable opinion of Christie. In comparison, 63 percent had a positive view of DeSantis and 59 percent had a positive view of Trump.
“The numbers speak for themselves: Far more Republicans dislike him than they hate him,” said Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.
Christie’s division with the Republican base is due in part to his thorny relationship with Trump. He was one of the first national Republicans to support Trump after leaving the primary field in 2016 and was later vetted as a possible running mate.
He was appointed to lead Trump’s transition team, but was fired from that role before Inauguration Day due to a conflict with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. He continued to advise Trump throughout his presidency, but fell out with him over his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
“Is there another Chris Christie electorate in this Republican party, the kind of people who want to vote for a moderate, centrist, northeastern Republican governor?” asked a longtime Republican strategist who knows Christie well. Are they still in the Republican primaries? Or are they now independents or democrats? Is he still in the party, but his voters are not?”
Some anti-Trump Republicans have been buoyed by the prospect of Christie’s candidacy, hoping the belligerent former governor will be willing to attack Trump directly in ways the other candidates won’t.
Christie, who helped Trump prepare for debates in 2016 and 2020, is widely credited with destroying the 2016 campaign of Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio with a scathing performance in the primary debate.
The first televised debates for 2024, hosted by the Republican National Committee, are scheduled for late August. Trump has not committed to participating.
Christie insists he is not a “paid hit man” with a candidacy designed to take out Trump. He said in an interview with Politico this year: “When you wake up at the Hilton Garden Inn in Manchester on your 45th morning, you better think you can win, because that walk from the bed to the shower, when you don’t think you can win, it’s hard.”
Mike DuHaime, a veteran Republican strategist and longtime ally of Christie’s, said the former governor is not on a “kamikaze mission,” adding that “more than half” of Republican voters were “looking for an alternative, someone who can bring it with Trump.” a better vision for the future of the country”.
“It seems like none of the other candidates have the courage to really go head-to-head with Trump the way Christie does,” DuHaime said.
Yet others remain sceptical.
“The idea of seeing Christie on stage with Donald Trump appeals to a lot of people, and it would appeal to cable TV,” said Scala of the University of New Hampshire. ‘But I have trouble seeing, beyond that, what his path is. It’s a path to a niche audience, not the nomination.”