Chris Christie allies: Are you ready for President Chris Christie?

(AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

People are dumping on this Axios story today for understandable reasons. He has no chance of winning so he cares if he runs in 2024?

But I think that’s short-sighted. Christie may be the one Republican in America of any prominence who has the stones to run even if Trump seeks the nomination for a third time. Which means he could be the one Republican in America capable of making the primaries vaguely interesting as a test of how solid Trump’s support is. Would he beat Christie 95/5? 85/15? 75/25?

The greater Christie’s share, the worse the headlines for Trump would be. How big is the “ready for someone besides Trump” contingent within the GOP? Christie’s the only politician who might be willing to help us find out.

I can’t understand why he’d want to run, knowing he has no chance. But then I also can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to run since he has nothing to lose. He won’t hold office in New Jersey again so he might as well do the one thing he can that’ll raise his public profile meaningfully.

Christie, whose 2016 bid for the nomination was short-lived, has told friends that he’d be the only person in the 2024 field with executive experience who has run a presidential race before.

That’s a clear shot at one potential rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s enjoying a surge of popularity from Republican voters for his handling of COVID-19 and his sparring with the media but hasn’t yet endured the scrutiny of a presidential bid.

Christie could run on a reputation for toughness that appeals to Trump’s base minus the former president’s recklessness, said one source. Another said he has a mix of combativeness and charisma that Republicans are looking for to take on President Biden and Democrats.

He has potential crossover appeal to blue-collar and suburban right-of-center voters.

I wrote about the prospect of Christie 2024 back in December when he told Hugh Hewitt that he wasn’t ruling out running in the next cycle irrespective of what Trump does, so read that for a fuller analysis. Even if Trump doesn’t run, it’s hard to see how Christie wouldn’t be eaten alive by DeSantis. As Trumpy as Christie is in certain ways (a “combative” center-right bridge-and-tunnel guy), it’s DeSantis who would carry the mantle of Trumpism in the primary. For one thing, he’d have Trump’s endorsement: There’s no way Trump would reward Christie with that after Christie repeatedly criticized him for the “stop the steal” effort after the election. For another, DeSantis has been attacked repeatedly by the media whereas Christie is himself now a member of the media, and that’s all most GOP primary voters would need to know in determining which of the two qualifies as “one of us.”

Even Christie’s relative centrism vis-a-vis DeSantis might not do much for him with suburban voters. DeSantis’s record as governor isn’t far right, after all. He’s had good results in managing the pandemic, by and large, and his early push to reopen schools — something that should be of particular interest to suburbanites — is a feather in his cap. Suburban voters might take an interest in Christie if the only alternatives in the primary were populist loudmouths like Ted Cruz, but DeSantis has real governing accomplishments to point to and they’re more recent than Christie’s are.

And of course, of the two of them, Christie’s the one with a notable scandal on his resume, not DeSantis. Despite the best efforts of “60 Minutes.”

The only interesting Christie presidential scenario is if he announces early and makes clear that he’s in it to win it no matter what Trump does. That would be an unusual display of balls by a Republican pol, particularly one who’d been a Trump crony until recently. It makes me wonder how Trump would react. Would he view Christie’s presumptuousness as impudent, enticing him into running again in order to show Christie who’s boss? Or would he view the prospect of being attacked every day by Christie on the trail as enervating, making him less likely to run? Christie’s a smart guy, he’s good on camera, and he’s effective on the attack, as Marco Rubio learned the hard way. If he were willing to roundhouse Trump routinely, the media would eat it up. Trump would say Trumpy things in response: “What about your Bridgegate scandal, Chris? So corrupt.” Or “Didn’t you beg to be in my administration, Chris? We never hired you because you were a bad governor.” But you know what Christie would say. “I begged you, Donald, because I care about the country and none of the people you hired seemed to know what they were doing. And you didn’t know what you were doing as president well enough to hire better people.” Etc etc.

Trump would win, needless to say, but Christie could give him some bruises en route. Does Trump want to deal with that plus the hardship of having to campaign at age 77? If not then Christie 2024 is a big deal. It may be just enough of a nudge to keep Trump in retirement, clearing the way for DeSantis or some next-gen Trumpist.

The one real deterrent to Christie challenging Trump is that it would make him so toxic to MAGA fans that realistically he couldn’t be employed by any future Republican administration, even after Trump is gone. Maybe he’s already unemployable; it doesn’t seem like he has an extensive network of friends in the GOP establishment. But if he were ever hoping to, say, be appointed attorney general by some other GOP president, earning Trump’s wrath would be the wrong way to do it. On the other hand, if he’s expecting that Trump won’t run, running for president himself might be the only way open to him to insinuate himself into someone else’s cabinet. It’s hard to imagine him doing well enough in a primary as to make his endorsement valuable to the eventual nominee, and his knack for harsh attacks might alienate the nominee anyway. But he’s not going to be appointed to anything sitting around the “This Week” table with George Stephanopoulos. His only path back to government is to run.