MANCHESTER, N.H. — During a town hall Monday at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Chris Christie called on Republicans to reject the anger-fueled politics of former president Donald Trump and those who mimic him.
Christie, the former New Jersey governor who actively supported Trump’s candidacy in 2016 and 2020, said his party suffered bruising defeats in 2018, 2020, and 2022 by yielding to the worst impulses of candidates who are more focused on themselves than their country.
“We are losing because we are playing to anger and retribution and self-indulgence rather than playing to making this country a better place,” he said.
Christie has yet to say whether he will challenge Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, which he did in 2016. But his remarks show how he might try carving out a lane for himself as his party aims to deny President Biden a second term.
“It’s time for us as a party to choose who we want to lead us, who we think is prepared to lead us, who we think can bring us to win on the issues that we care the most about, not who the media or the pollsters or the pundits tell us is most likely to win,” he said.
Christie also criticized Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for his characterization of Russia’s war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute.” Both Trump and DeSantis, who is widely viewed as a viable Trump challenger, have taken issue with the tens of billions of dollars in aid the United States has sent to Ukraine.
Christie dismissed DeSantis’s comments as naive. He described American aid to Ukraine as an investment with a clear and important message for China, Iran, and North Korea about the US commitment to freedom. “We have an example to set,” he said.
Christie’s position aligns more closely with members in the establishment wing of the GOP, including Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador who’s running for president, and former vice president Mike Pence, who could run.
But what could set Christie apart from the likes of Haley, Pence, and other GOP leaders in 2024 is his willingness to call out Trump.
Saul Shriber of Chester, a registered Republican, voted for Biden in 2020 because he refused to support Trump. After the town hall, Shriber said Christie might wind up being the only GOP candidate to speak about Trump with the frankness that’s needed. Shriber said he likes what Haley has to say but doesn’t see her going after Trump the way Christie does.
Christie’s message might resonate with a broad swath of anti-Trump Republicans, independents, and centrist Democrats, but he’ll have to contend with questions — as he did in Manchester — about why he spent years supporting Trump.
In 2016, Christie finished sixth in the New Hampshire primary, suspended his campaign, and endorsed Trump, all within a matter of weeks, despite having previously said Trump lacked the temperament needed to be president.
For the town hall audience, Christie recounted how he served Trump’s transition into office, led a commission on opioids and drug abuse, and helped prepare Trump for debate stages. Christie said his breaking point came on election night in 2020, when Trump stood behind the presidential seal and claimed without factual basis that the election had been stolen.
“When you put yourself ahead of our democracy as president of the United States, it’s over,” he said.
Steven Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @reporterporter.