Christie Shit-Talks Trump to Try and Hype a Heavyweight Title Bout in 2024

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While other Republicans are going to Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster to roll over for the Donald, Chris Christie—who Politico reports was just tapped by the Republican Governors Association “to co-chair a new fundraising program aimed at helping Republicans in 2022 governor races”—continues to be the one Republican who seems to be gearing up for an actual confrontation with Trump in 2024.

Or at least he’s doing a fine job hyping that possibility in 2021.

Let’s start with the deluge of juicy Trump books just hitting bookshelves. Water-cooler speculation has identified Christie as one of the primary sources behind the spate of inside accounts coming out now, including Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s I Alone Can Fix It. The book includes details about Christie’s heated phone call with Rudy Giuliani, whereby Christie allegedly chastised Rudy over the bogus claims by “America’s mayor” that the election was rigged. And the book details the advice Christie gave Trump last March on how to manage COVID:

“There is a way to handle a crisis where you meet people’s expectations of how the crisis is playing out,” Christie reportedly told the president. “They expect you to be out there. They expect you to prove to them that you understand why they’re afraid and that no matter how long it takes you’re going to fix the problem.

“But you’re not doing that… You’re telling people that it’s just going to go away, it’s going to magically go away… so I’m very concerned that what you’re doing is you’re setting yourself up for a failure and that people will not believe you after a while.”

That’s what ended up happening, of course, and, of course, Christie comes out smelling like roses in this account. While this could be criticized as evidence of reputation laundering, I suspect these conversations are accurate and, if so, his advice then was solid—even if he said otherwise in May while backing up Trump’s push to reopen the economy.

I’m sure the former governor building a national fanbase by barking at reporters and concocting viral moments while the Donald was still playing a mogul on a reality TV show doesn’t mind being cast now as an “adult” and a shrewd political analyst to boot, but the bigger takeaway is that Christie isn’t afraid of offending Trump as he tries to build a plausible argument for why Trump can’t win in 2024—and why Christie can.

He telegraphed his thinking recently during a revealing interview with David French and Sarah Isgur on The Dispatch podcast. In an era where Republicans walk around on pins and needles when it comes to criticizing Trump, it was refreshing to hear.

“We lost this election in 2020, at the presidential level, because of suburban white voters,” he explained. “And those suburban white voters abandoned Donald Trump in large numbers.” Christie’s right, but his point is not that Republicans should revert back to a Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan style of politics.

“I’d say that we can have our cake and eat it too on this one,” he went on. “Suburban white voters didn’t abandon us because of issues: they abandoned us because they didn’t want Donald Trump any longer. It was a personal rejection.”

You don’t have to squint hard to read between the lines. Republicans can still cobble together a majority in 2024 if they continue to turn out working-class whites and woo back suburban voters by ditching Trump but not all of Trumpism.

Christie sees the potential to exploit Joe Biden’s looming problems like inflation, as well as culture war targets (schools closing for COVID, critical race theory, etc). But he warns that Trump continues to push a backward-looking agenda that is doomed to failure. “It’s one thing when you’re a politician to be channeling the anger of others, it’s another to be channeling your anger to others. And that’s what he did.”

So how can the GOP get past the politics of grievance? “Let’s stop saying that the election was stolen—because it wasn’t… let’s stop saying that the people who were shoving chairs and wood planks through the windows of the Capitol were there to take a tour. You know they weren’t.”

That analysis seems pretty solid to me. At least, his theory of keeping elements of Trumpism—minus Trump—seems more plausible than the more extreme alternatives of re-running Trump’s 2020 campaign or trying to act as though Trump never happened by nominating Nikki Haley or Mike Pence. And as an added benefit, aside from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (which could end up being a big aside), this isn’t a terribly crowded lane.

From Mar-a-Lago, meanwhile, Trump has been ripping his 2016 rival turned 2017 flunky as dishonest and disloyal—to the same reporters Christie had been dishing to.

And if Trump runs again, at 79, in 2024, the smart money would be on him. It doesn’t matter if Christie would be the better general election candidate if he can’t survive a primary. The CPAC straw poll isn’t scientific, but conference attendees are hardly clamoring for Christie.

Christie has talked tough before, in 2016, before rolling over for Trump. The former New Jersey governor might have already blown his shot after deciding not to run in 2012, when his political stock was sky-high, and then limped away in 2020 after Bridgegate and the Donald knocked him down to earth.

The question now is whether Christie is serious about 2024, or just trying to sell books? (He has one coming.)

He may not know the answer yet, either, but he’s clearly keeping the door open while also reminding us that Trump “led the party to losing the House, the Senate and the White House in two years.”

“The last president who did that for the Republicans… was Herbert Hoover,” notes Christie. “And then, the Democrats took the White House for 28 of the next 36 years, and (for) 48 of the next 52 years they had the House. So that’s what Republicans need to be thinking about contextually, when they’re looking at whether they want to run a forward looking race in ’24, or whether they want to try to settle the grievance politics (of) 2020.”

To any normal, rational person, Christie’s have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too message would seem to be superior to the let’s-replicate-Hoover alternative.

But we’re talking about Republican primary voters here. If history’s any predictor, they might be going a long, long time without any cake.