With his semi-promise to reach a decision in 60 days on seeking the Republican presidential nomination, former Gov. Chris Christie has settled on what he feels is victory lane — an all-out assault on front runner former president Donald Trump.
While the other potential candidates have trod gingerly in their approaches to Trump, choosing to focus on the need for generational change — “time to move on” or “turn the page,” etc., for instance — Christie has chosen a path toward a high speed head on collision with his former friend.
For several months, Christie has teased his candidacy from his seat at the ABC News
Sunday morning roundtable and in frequent interview sessions with print and electronic media figures.
The increasing intensity of his criticisms of Trump have ranged across the broad sweep of the former president’s activities. He ridiculed Trump’s obsession with the 2020 election, called his legal team a national embarrassment, characterized him as a self-absorbed loser, joked about the low attendance at his rallies, predicted he would lose to Biden and drag the entire Republican ticket down to defeat in 2024 if he heads the ticket.
In his recent appearance at a town hall event in New Hampshire, Christie offered a remarkably blunt assessment: “You have to be fearless because he will come back and right at you. And that means you need to think about who’s got the skill to do that and who’s got the guts to do that because it’s not going to end nicely.”
Translation: “I’m your guy.”
He hasn’t made significant inroads thus far, securing one percent or not mentioned at all in early polling, sharing single digit levels with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — the only announced candidate aside from Trump — former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. All finish far behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who polls in the mid to upper 20 percent range.
His strategy of carrying the fight directly to Trump has the obvious risk of alienating the former president’s base who view opposition to him as an act of disloyalty and betrayal. Christie’s task in overcoming those hard core beliefs will not be an easy one.
Christie is certainly no novice at the verbal steel cage match that any interaction with Trump has become. His devastating take down of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 primary debate, for instance, comes to mind whenever that campaign is discussed.
Closer to home, his memorable “sit down and shut up” retort to a questioner at one of his town hall events still resonates.
In a similar setting, he would be a match for Trump — more so than the others who’ve been mentioned — willing to mix it up in a no holds barred confrontation.
He faces long odds, however. He will have been out of office nearly six years by the time presidential campaigning begins in earnest next year and, up to this point, has no organization or fund-raising mechanism in place.
His dismal showing in the 2016 race —- dropping out after successive sixth place finishes in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary — will be used to cast doubt on his strength and appeal.
The Bridgegate scandal, a contributing factor in his 2016 loss, has, like a head-splitting New Year’s day morning hangover, dissipated with the passage of time and its weak residual resonance is confined to the New Jersey political cognoscenti.
While the scandal had an impact, his departure from office with a public approval ranking of 20 percent was fueled more by dissatisfaction with his campaigning at the expense of the state’s well-being.
In a relatively small field, as opposed to the 17-candidate primary which worked in Trump’s favor in 2016, Christie may stand out from the rest as a viable alternative to Trump who may even be under criminal indictment by that time and whose strength will be greatly diminished.
Christie has charted his course and has said he will spend the next 60 days assessing the reception he receives from voters and discussing the future with his family before deciding his candidacy.
With his strategy, he’s already set himself apart from his potential rivals who will continue to walk the tightrope between those who wish to move away from Trump and his baggage and those who see vindication in a Trump victory.
Christie seems to be channeling President Theodore Roosevelt who celebrated individuals willing to engage in conflict so “his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
If Christie’s timetable holds, by June 1 or so he’ll announce where his place shall be.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.