For months, former Gov. Chris Christie has been tossing darts at the “Trump in 2024” balloon hoping for a puncture and a slow leak or — best case scenario — an explosive burst.
The results of his exercise in marksmanship have not been encouraging.
The ex-president has steadily built and maintained a commanding lead, reaching as great as 30 points over his nearest, though unannounced, rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. And, in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, Trump holds a lead of six points over President Biden.
Christie, who expects to announce his decision on a possible presidential candidacy in a matter of weeks, has set himself apart as the only potential competitor to confront Trump directly with a barrage of blunt criticisms of his former friend’s intellect, courage, veracity and political heft.
He’s aimed his darts at Trump’s weak spot, singling out for stinging comments the one facet of his persona that criticism is guaranteed to burrow deep under his skin — his ego.
Christie has repeatedly characterized Trump as a loser, totally self-absorbed, someone whose four-year record as president is barren of accomplishment, and who is afraid to engage in debates.
He’s predicted an across-the-board defeat for the Republican Party if Trump is its’ nominee, costing not only the White House but control of Congress as well.
Christie’s “the road to the White House runs through Trump” strategy is sound but has made little headway.
The strategy is also an implicit criticism of other potential candidates for stepping gingerly around Trump, fearful of giving offense to his supporters or becoming a target for Trumpian wrath.
Christie has concluded, though, that Trump interprets timidity as weakness and that only a strong, aggressive and combative posture will succeed in raising significant doubt about the former president’s viability across the broader national electorate.
Swaying Trump’s dedicated base in any meaningful way, however, will be an extraordinarily difficult task for Christie. It was Christie who abandoned his 2016 candidacy and quickly endorsed Trump, campaigned on his behalf and was under consideration for a cabinet or White House position when Trump won. He was, though, passed over — although he reportedly declined job offers. Disenchantment set in, the two experienced a falling out and Christie became an outspoken Trump critic.
Some attributed the falling out to sour grapes; others cited personality clashes while the more cynical suggested the White House wasn’t sufficiently spacious to accommodate both egos.
Rather than rise to the bait, Trump has either ignored or brushed off Christie’s broadsides. The former governor barely registers in the polls, falling at two percent or lower, while the other potential candidates — aside from DeSantis — have failed consistently to break from single digits.
Trump’s grip on the Republican base has likely never been stronger, even in the face of a criminal indictment and three Federal or state investigations into his business or political activities.
Any other candidate or anyone even considering seeking elective office weighed down by the baggage carried by Trump wouldn’t rate a second look.
As his lead holds and grows and as he’s drawn endorsements from members of Congress, a sense of inevitability has surfaced, a belief that the ex-president’s support is unshakeable and intra-party opposition so tepid that his nomination is assured.
Trump contributed to the inevitability theory when he indicated he would decline to participate in party-sanctioned debates with his competition, believing that it would not be in his best interest to share the stage, giving time and media exposure to struggling opponents who have no hope of overtaking him.
He is behaving as any poll leader would, confident that he will not pay a price and any criticism can be brushed off easily.
Whatever Christie decides for his future, it is likely he will continue to take rhetorical swipes at Trump and — should Trump succeed in securing the nomination — Christie will face the question of whether he will support the former president’s attempt to become only the second person in American history to win the presidency twice in non-consecutive elections.
Christie recognizes President Biden’s vulnerability— he’s fallen to 37 percent approval n recent polling— presents an opportunity for Republicans to achieve unified government — control of the executive and Congress — greatly enhancing presidential powers.
He believes as well that with Trump as candidate that possibility is beyond the party’s grasp.
Consequently, look for him to lay in another supply of darts and sharpen his aim.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.