“Unfortunately, our politics have gotten so ugly and divisive in the country that people are not having civilized conversations” — former Gov. Chris Christie announcing the founding of the Christie Institute of Public Policy at Seton Hall University, August 2019.
“I’ll kick his ass” — Christie on former president Donald Trump in a series of interviews, July and August 2023.
Civility, it appears, is in the mouth of the speaker.
Christie’s latest threat to plant his wingtip in Trump’s posterior — figuratively, of course — is in line with his presidential nomination candidacy strategy, a relentless assault on his one time BFF.
It’s a battle plan that has produced a surge in the polls from zero percent when he announced his candidacy two months ago to 2.2 percent — good for a solid seventh place — in the most recent Real Clear Politics average.
In that same two month span, Trump fell below 50 percent only seven times — 47 percent being the lowest — and has reached as high as 59 percent.
Christie has spent his campaign so far piling insult upon insult on Trump, including comparing the former president and his close advisers to the Corleone family of “Godfather” notoriety.
The result has been disappointingly negligible and by giving short shrift to actual policy issues, Christie risks becoming a one-trick pony.
As governor, Christie’s frequent lapses into incivility became the stuff of legend. From urging someone to “take a bat” to State Sen. Loretta Weinberg to verbally tangling with a heckler on the Seaside Heights Boardwalk to shouting at a critic at a town hall meeting to “sit down and shut up,” Christie earned a reputation as a quick to anger bully.
To be sure, on the roster of political insult hurlers Trump ranks at the top. In non-stop public comments and posts on his social media site, Trump has delivered intensely personal, profanity-laced ridicule on his critics and anyone he believes has crossed him.
But a campaign strategy of striving to out-insult him — particularly by someone with a Christie-like history of going all in endorsing and supporting him in 2016 — isn’t likely to succeed.
It’s been reliably reported, for instance, that Christie eagerly sought the vice presidential selection as Trump’s running mate, or as U. S. Attorney General, or as the top of the food chain staff position in the White House. Instead, he was appointed chair of the president-elect’s transition team only to be humiliatingly dismissed in a matter of weeks.
Christie understandably wants — indeed, desperately needs — Trump on the stage at the first Republican candidates’ debate Aug. 23 in Milwaukee and has attempted to goad the former president into participating, calling him a coward who fears facing the competition, notably him.
Trump continues to insist he has not yet decided on appearing while hinting that he will pass up the opportunity rather than give his opposition — who continue to trail by from 30 to 50 points — the opportunity to spend the evening attacking him.
Trump understands he holds the high cards in the debate discussion, that his participation guarantees a massive audience that the other candidates so obviously hunger for.
With Trump on stage, the debate is a monster truck rally. Without him, it’s a go-kart race.
Fox News, the debate host, is acutely aware of the stakes as well as evidenced by its top executives recently marching hat in hand to Trump’s Bedminster golf resort to convince him to participate.
It is yet another example of Trump’s extraordinary dominance of the political landscape, that he has drawn greater media attention as a possible non-debater than the other six candidates who have qualified by meeting the polling and fund-raising criteria established by the Republican National Committee.
Trump’s absence notwithstanding, Christie, of course, will not alter his approach. He’ll spend his allotted time drawing on his thesaurus of derision and ridicule but without Trump standing a few feet away, Christie will be punching at a ghost and the impact will be vastly diminished.
At the same time, he’ll be doing so to an audience shrunken by a lack of interest in 90 minutes worth of policy discussions among a group of individuals with no hope of securing the nomination.
Even as Trump faces three indictments and potentially another one or two and criminal trials during the height of the 2024 campaign season, his base of support has not suffered any appreciable defections.
Amazingly, he remains in a statistical draw when matched against President Biden, an outcome driven by deep dissatisfaction with the president’s tenure, questions concerning his physical and cognitive health and — to a lesser but troublesome extent — the effect of the investigations into the business activities of his son, Hunter, and the legal difficulties he faces.
The symbiotic relationship between Christie and the media will continue unabated, a continuing opportunity for news outlets to use the former governor to ramp up criticism of Trump and for Christie to reap the benefits of earned media (free, that is) to drive his campaign narrative.
With the Iowa caucuses in which Christie will not compete and the New Hampshire primary where he appears all in some six months off, the political environment can shift quickly and dramatically.
Additional indictments of Trump, particularly if any arise from the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U. S. Capitol, or if trial testimony reveals new and damaging information or if Trump is convicted, the political equilibrium will be jolted out of whack, opening the nomination path for someone other than Trump.
As for the civility not so long ago Christie held in reverence? Who knows? Perhaps “I’ll kick his ass” will become the new normal in political discourse.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.