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Chris Christie’s 2024 GOP Presidential Campaign Is Facing an Existential Crisis

NASHUA, New Hamphire—Every morning, Chris Christie wakes up and takes what he calls “the long walk from the bed to the shower.”

Somewhere along that hotel room carpet procession, the former New Jersey governor and 2024 longshot convinces himself he still has a chance in the presidential race.

Ask Christie what keeps him getting up in the morning and his answer is straightforward: It’s an infinitely renewable energy source.

“Donald Trump,” Christie told The Daily Beast.

Motivated by an implacable desire to do what couldn’t be done when he first battled Trump in 2016, Christie said he’s running “for governor of the Republican primary,” hoping he can talk some sense into the GOP before they nominate someone Christie described as a soon-to-be “convicted felon.”

Chris Christie announces his candidacy for president

Chris Christie announces his candidacy for president at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, in June.

Carlin Stiehl/The Washington Post via Getty

But with time running out to stop Trump, something unusual is happening. Christie’s relentless focus on defeating the former president has infused his campaign with meaning and energy—but it’s a non-Trump rival who seems to have sent him into an existential crisis.

As Nikki Haley gradually establishes herself as the primary field’s most viable challenger to Trump, Christie is being forced to grapple with two competing and increasingly contradictory desires.

It’s clear Christie has a burning urge to see Trump defeated. But he wants to be the one to do it—to be “the name on the bottom of the portrait,” as he described his first ascension to the New Jersey governorship.

The messy competition between these desires was often on display during Christie’s stop in the first primary state on Monday. At a packed Elks Lodge, Christie told the crowd he has no interest in consolidating the primary field to help the Republican Party unite behind a Trump alternative—the only plausible way the former president could be stopped.

“Look, I don’t care about beating Nikki Haley,” Christie insisted, after repeatedly bashing the former United Nations ambassador, both by name and indirectly, for the better part of his roughly 20-minute speech and hourlong voter question-and-answer session. “I wanna beat Donald Trump. Because he’s in first.”

Christie insists he can win the whole thing, starting by going all-in on New Hampshire. But looking at Trump’s massive polling lead, Christie’s own high unfavorable numbers among Republicans, and a confident Haley campaign picking up momentum to consolidate the anti-Trump vote, observers believe Christie has tough questions to answer.

“Is his goal to stop Trump?” Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire and one of the foremost experts on the early voting state. “The question for Christie is, where do you go from here? Because that’s come at a cost.”

Should Christie continue in the race, Scala argued, “he could become a spoiler” for Haley.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley answers reporters questions

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Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley answers reporters’ questions after filing the New Hampshire Primary Ballot at the New Hampshire State House on Oct. 13.

Michael M Santiago/Getty

Indeed, the two are competing for many of the same center-right, independent voters in the state; if Christie were to drop out, Haley could quickly win over a third of the GOP primary electorate, Scala estimated. That would put her in the best position of anyone to genuinely contend with the former president in an early-voting state, posing a threat to the inevitability of a third Trump coronation.

But if Christie instead bets it all on himself and fails, another Trump primary victory could very well be a big part of the former governor’s legacy. Not that he sounds especially concerned about the prospect.

When asked if he could see himself forming an alliance with Haley to help take down Trump, Christie furrowed his brow and cocked his head.

“I don’t think anyone else is interested in that at the moment. Do you?” Christie told The Daily Beast. “We both wanna win. And I don’t blame Nikki for that. She’s in it to win. She’s running hard, and she deserves the opportunity to win it, too.”

If Christie had the political capital he once brandished over a decade ago—when he was considered by many Republicans as someone who might have defeated Barack Obama in 2012—New Hampshire Republicans might be inclined to believe he is the one best-positioned to defeat Trump.

Between both the 2016 and 2024 campaign seasons, Christie has already packed the Elks Lodges, leaned on the diner booths, and entertained almost every voter question imaginable. But his saturation in the state might actually be working against him.

“The problem with Christie is he’s very much a known quantity here in New Hampshire,” said a prominent Republican lawmaker who was initially considering Christie but ultimately supported Haley, requesting anonymity to speak candidly about their decision.

Haley, the New Hampshire Republican said, simply offers more upside, and the advantage of introducing herself to voters.

Chris Christie speaks during the 2023 First in the Nation Leadership Summit

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Chris Christie speaks during the 2023 First in the Nation Leadership Summit on October 13, 2023 in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Michael M Santiago/Getty

It’s also not as if Christie was able to slow Trump much the first time. After Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) bested Trump in the Iowa caucus in 2016, Christie doubled down in New Hampshire, imploring voters to resist the Trump temptation.

“Who’s going to rebuild it once it gets burned down?” Christie said at a January 2016 stop in the state. Instead of ending Trump’s anomaly of a presidential campaign, New Hampshire voters launched the MAGA movement by giving him a victory with more than double the votes of any opponent.

For all his relentlessness on the campaign trail, Christie came in a distant sixth place. He dropped out the next day.

But Christie made quick on his promise to rebuild whatever might get burned down by Trump—by becoming the first rival candidate to endorse him, further legitimizing his standing within the GOP at that point. He then worked on the Trump transition until a spat with Jared Kushner, whose father Christie helped put in prison, led to the former governor’s excommunication from the transition.

By the time the 2020 presidential debates rolled around, Christie returned to help Trump with debate prep. Christie got infected with COVID-19 for his troubles, and after spending a week in the ICU, he said it was “undeniable” Trump gave him the virus.

Amid Christie’s whiplash-inducing positioning on Trump over the years, he has managed to maintain credibility among voters as a righteous critic of the former president. Increasingly, he has sought to frame Haley, who served in Trump’s Cabinet, as an establishment flip-flopper.

“You can’t be everything to everybody,” Christie repeatedly said on the stump when invoking Haley’s name or indirectly criticizing her.

“Beware of those folks, because you give them the power, they won’t stand by anything they tell you,” Christie said in the closing moments of his speech. “They’ll do whatever is politically expedient at the moment.”

Christie also doesn’t dodge his past support for Trump when he’s hitting the trail, using it as yet another way to pivot into an attack on Haley.

In response to a voter question on how to avoid an Electoral College result with no outright winner, Christie recalled Haley saying at the Miami debate that Trump was “the right president at the right time,” and that she’d be inclined to pardon him.

“Well, let me make something really clear everybody: I don’t think he was the right president at the right time,” Christie said. “I voted for him, and I was wrong. Okay? And, I ain’t pardoning him.”

The line landed well with the crowd—almost as well as Christie’s jab that Vivek Ramaswamy is just as annoying in person as he is on TV.

There’s perhaps only one man in New Hampshire who could persuade Christie to back off Haley, and he happened to be in the room with him for most of the Monday night town hall in Nashua. Outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has yet to endorse a candidate in the primary, gave a rousing intro for Christie on Monday night after doing the same for Haley earlier in the day at her own event.

A Sununu endorsement would be a major lifeline to Christie’s campaign, but losing it could also deal a fatal blow to his hopes.

Dennis Murphy, a Republican who voted for Biden in 2020 and said he’s been supporting Christie for the past few months, said if Sununu ends up endorsing Haley instead of Christie, he’d give Haley a serious look.

“From a Trump alternative perspective, he could certainly sway me,” Murphy, 55, said of his home state governor as the rest of the crowd crammed into the Elks Lodge. “He could definitely influence me, I’ll say that. He wouldn’t be the final influence, but it would be a decent one, yeah.”

Still, Christie also has loyal supporters from 2016 who think he’s doing better than ever. Wayne MacDonald, a state representative and a three-time former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, said he’s never felt better as a longtime Christie backer, pointing to the uptick in his crowds.

Throughout the evening, the specter of Trump and a repeat of 2016 loomed large. Christie addressed it right off the bat in his speech, and again in his gaggle with reporters, insisting that this time is different.

With two months left until New Hampshire votes, however, Christie risks leaving his legacy as the guy who inadvertently helped Trump win the nomination again in 2024 unless he can single handedly reverse Haley’s rise.

“It’s hard to see Haley winning New Hampshire without that Christie base,” said Scala, the New Hampshire politics professor.

Maybe it will come with the arrival of Sununu’s endorsement decision, maybe after. Or maybe it will come on yet another morning waking up at the Hilton Garden Inn in Manchester—but at some point, Scala put it, Christie has to decide whether “you sacrifice your candidacy for the greater good.”



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