Republicans may anticipate a major comeback in 2024, but likely have someone else in mind than Chris Christie. The former governor of New Jersey flamed out in the 2016 cycle under the weight of Bridgegate and the phenomenon of Donald Trump, who went on to win it all. Rumor has it that Trump wants to pull a Grover Cleveland and attempt to win a non-consecutive second term, while Ron DeSantis has used his gubernatorial office in Florida to become a hot commodity in the non-Trump GOP market.
So is there even any room in the GOP for Christie 2024? According to Politico, Christie will attempt to carve out that space today at the Reagan Library. Christie’s dropping big hints that this new space will not be exactly MAGA-friendly:
The former governor is set to deliver a Thursday evening speech at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. — a traditional waystation for GOP presidential aspirants — as part of a speaker series the organization is hosting that focuses on the future of the Republican Party. The high-profile appearance comes as Christie intensifies his political activities ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, with a book on the way, a new perch helping the GOP raise money, and plans to help the party flip control of the House next year.
While Christie told POLITICO in an interview that his speech would not be focused on Trump, he plans to stress that Republicans “first and foremost” need to be “the party that’s perceived to be telling the American people the truth” — perhaps an implicit critique of the former president, who according to his own pollster’s post-election autopsy was regarded as less trustworthy than Joe Biden. Christie’s remarks would represent the latest turn in a long and winding relationship with Trump, whom the ex-governor staunchly supported in the 2016 campaign but forcefully denounced in the waning days of his presidency.
Now, the two-term former governor is moving on after Trump’s 2020 loss. Christie — whose forthcoming book is titled “Republican Rescue: Saving the Party From Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden” — said he would also speak Thursday about “where we have to go as a party if we’re going to be able to win back the voters that we so clearly lost in 2020.”
“The emphasis of the speech is not about Trump,” said Christie, who also stressed that he agreed with much of Trump’s policy agenda. “But … you’ll hear the speech and I think there’ll be lots that you’ll be able to take from it, conclusions you’ll be able to take from it, even about things that are not explicitly said.”
If so, then at least Christie will fill a lane that DeSantis will eschew — a Trump-skeptical lane. It’s not difficult to see why Christie would be tempted to get out in front for the battle for this lane. Although Christie went a bit MAGA in 2016 and endorsed Trump and the populist vision for the party, Trump famously snubbed Christie and denied him a place in the administration. Christie might be looking for a little retribution.
The question is whether the GOP still has enough Trump skeptics in its ranks to make this a good strategy in a head-to-head battle with Trump himself. Furthermore, Christie represents the sort of establishment figure that populists tend to despise; Trump notably never brought Christie on board his administration presumably for that reason. Even after Trump’s election loss, the party seemed determined to go down with Trump, to the point of defying its defense of state rights and attempting to exclude certified election results from states Trump lost.
That might end up helping DeSantis more than Christie, too — and perhaps that’s part of Christie’s design. If Trump decides to go after Christie in an ugly way, that might convince some of the populists that DeSantis makes a better figure for the GOP, essentially Trump without the baggage. While Christie might not be the winner per se, he will have moved the party past Trump.
That seems like a stretch, especially because it relies on the idea that Christie presents any real competition to Trump or DeSantis. Christie tanked in 2015 when he had a better platform on which to run and a more coherent message. After eight years in the wilderness, and with the controversies of his gubernatorial term still in mind, there’s not much to suggest that he’ll do better the next time around.