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For Christie, winning would be great. Beating Trump would be a close second.

Chris Christie, a onetime adviser to Donald Trump, observed the former president at the White House in 2020.AL DRAGO/NYT

Chris Christie is embarking on a mission that even some of his fiercest allies must squint to see ending in the White House.

But Christie, the former governor of New Jersey who is now 60 and more than five years removed from holding elected office, has been undeterred, talking up an undertaking that he frames as almost as important as winning the presidency: extricating the Republican Party from the grip of Donald Trump.

“You need to think about who’s got the skill to do that and who’s got the guts to do it because it’s not going to end nicely no matter what,” Christie said in March at the same New Hampshire college where he plans to announce his long-shot bid Tuesday.


“His end,” he said of the former president, “will not be a calm and quiet conclusion.”

Christie, who filed the paperwork for his campaign Tuesday afternoon, has cast himself as the one candidate unafraid to give voice to the frustrations of Republicans who have watched Trump transform the party and have had enough — either of the ideological direction or the years of compounding electoral losses.

For Christie — who lent crucial legitimacy to Trump’s then-celebrity campaign by endorsing him after his own 2016 presidential campaign failed — it is quite the reversal. After helping to fuel Trump’s rise, Christie has now set out to author his downfall.

The question is whether there is any market for what he is selling inside a Republican Party with whom Trump remains overwhelmingly popular.

“Just being like ‘I’m the kamikaze candidate’ — I’m not sure that’s going to play,” said Sean Spicer, a former White House press secretary for Trump. “For those people who don’t like Trump because of the mean tweets, are they going to like the guy who is mean about Donald Trump?”


Christie’s flaws as an anti-Trump messenger are manifest. For almost all of Trump’s four years in the White House, Christie stood by the president — even catching a nearly fatal COVID-19 infection during debate preparations in autumn 2020 — only breaking with him over his stolen election lie and then the violence of Jan. 6, 2021.

The coming campaign, then, is expected to be something of a redemption tour. Pulled by the allure of the presidency for more than a decade — his decision not to run in 2012 at the peak of his popularity has been the subject of widespread second-guessing — he begins another run unburdened by expectations.

Yes, he is trying to win. He has said he would not run unless he saw a pathway to victory. (“I’m not a paid assassin,” he told Politico.) But he also wants to turn the party from Trump.

“He won’t like it, but he’s a loser. It’s that simple,” Christie said of Trump in an interview last year shortly after the disappointing midterm election for Republicans.

The first challenge for Christie, however, won’t be facing Trump. It will be qualifying for the debate stage. The Republican National Committee’s threshold of 40,000 donors across 20 states could prove especially arduous for a candidate without a small-donor following and whose anti-Trump message seems more likely to lure Democratic contributors than conservative ones.

So far, Trump, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, and Vivek Ramaswamy, a self-funding businessperson, have announced that they have hit that threshold. (There is also a 1 percent polling requirement.)


Spicer, who later hosted a program on Newsmax, the right-wing cable network, noted that Christie “hasn’t exactly been on conservative media” to maintain a following on the right. “He’s hanging out on ABC,” Spicer said of the mainstream news network where Christie has been a paid commentator.

Quick with a quote and savvy about the media — Christie turned snapping at reporters into a selling point for the GOP base a decade before DeSantis — he may be banking on the thirst of news organizations for a frontal and colorful fight with Trump.

After Trump’s recent town hall on CNN, when he would not say whether he was hoping Ukraine would win the war against Russia, Christie slashed him as “a puppet of Putin,” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Yet even the relatively small faction of Republicans opposed to returning Trump to power may be leery of Christie. He not only provided a key early endorsement in 2016; he led Trump’s presidential transition and was passed over for some top jobs while serving as an informal adviser and debate coach through the 2020 election.

“Now you found Jesus?” questioned Rick Wilson, who was an outspoken Republican critic of Trump before leaving the party entirely. “And now you’re going to be the guy to take the fight to Trump?

“The credibility factor of Christie as a Trump antagonist is somewhere around zero,” Wilson said.


Early polling shows that Christie faces perhaps an even steeper uphill climb than other candidates who are polling with low single-digit support. He received 2 percent in a late May CNN poll, for instance, tied for fifth place with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

But of all the Republican candidates in the poll, the highest share — 60 percent — said Christie was someone they would not support under any circumstance. That figure was 15 percent for DeSantis and 16 percent for Trump.

Other lower-polling candidates have avoided criticizing the former president aggressively, in an attempt not to turn off his supporters. Some, like Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and governor of South Carolina, have preferred to take shots at DeSantis, vying to emerge as the leading Trump alternative by tackling him first. But Christie’s advisers see the path to the nomination running through Trump.