The battle for the Republican nomination just got a whole lot messier.
That was the defining message of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s campaign launch on Tuesday: get ready for blood.
Calling out his opponents by name, deconstructing their campaign slogans and clever quips — Chris Christie was in prime form on Tuesday evening at St Anselm College in New Hampshire, where he addressed a small crowd of voters in a town hall-style event and put his sights clear on his top rival, Donald Trump.
Mr Christie spoke at length before taking questions from his guests. In his remarks throughout the event, he remained plain-spoken and sharp-tongued while denouncing the four years of his rival’s presidency as an utter failure and little more than an opportunity for “breathtaking” levels of corruption and “grift” carried out by the Trump family.
He called the man he twice supported for the White House a “self-consumed, self-serving, mirror hog”, and said that Americans now had four years’ worth of a record with which to judge the former president.
At the same time, he made clear that he had little patience for his other rivals, those like Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, who have thus far played coy with their thoughts regarding the former president and his legacy.
He even torched Trump family members Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump for receiving a $2bn investment from a Saudi firm into one controlled by Mr Kushner just a short time after they left the White House, deriding it as evidence of a corrupt relationship.
"The grift from this family is breathtaking. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Kushner walk out of the White House, and months later, it turns out, they get $2bn from the Saudis?” said Mr Christie.
“That makes us a banana republic,” he added.
It was comments like that — plus his effortless deconstruction of calls from his rivals to ignore leaders who don’t “look forward”, and their calls for “generational change” — that outlined Mr Christie’s strengths as a politcian and in-person campaigner.
Whether it will translate into votes for his candidacy, rather than just the destruction of his foes, is not yet evident. But what is evident is the eagerness of Mr Christie to get into a brawl with his opponents, a trait so far only shared by Mr Trump himself.
That similarity was picked up on by one questioner, who identified herself as a clinical psychologist concerned about a nation “traumatised” by constant anger and divisiveness. Mr Christie responded that his brash nature and willingness to throw punches at his opponents was a strength only because it was supposedly paired with a humility and willingness to admit his own mistakes that made him a good leader.
It was at least the outline of an effective campaign, if one light on actual policy. The governor did touch on a few national issues, such as when he expressed his opposition to federal efforts to ban abortion — unless, he conceded, there was real support in Congress for it — as well as when he touched on the issue of Ukraine, and labeled Republican rivals Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis the “Neville Chamberlains” of the 2024 race for their supposed willingness to give endless concessions to a dictator.
But for the most part, Mr Christie focused on his real advantages as a candidate: The fiery personality that won him both praise and criticism in New Jersey, and a willingness to spar with his opponents at a surgical level. He laid the blame for Joe Biden’s 2020 victory at his opponent’s feet, calling the now-president a weak politician who had gone up against a hopelessly-damaged candidate.
"He wouldn't be in office if it wasn't for Trump. Joe Biden never beat anybody outside the state of Delaware in 45 years except for one guy Donald J. Trump...not once, until he ran up against the guy who the American people knew in their heart was full of it,” said the ex-governor.
And despite his insistences on Truth Social that he was not worried about the entrance of his former ally into the race, Donald Trump clearly had Chris Christie on his mind Tuesday evening as he blasted out commentary from his social media platform.
So too did Marco Rubio, Christie’s unfortunate victim in 2016, who lamely insisted in his own tweet that the New Jersey governor’s onstage humiliation of him had not contributed to his downfall.
If there was one takeaway from Tuesday night’s event, it was this: Chris Christie is in the GOP primary to win it all, and he plans to do so by setting himself apart from his fellows as a bold, unflinching truthteller — ironically, the same reputation that Donald Trump constructed for himself in 2016.
Whether his newfound courage will be enough to convince his potential voters to break away from the man whom the governor admitted tonight to supporting in two presidential elections? That’s another story.
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