August 8, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

The point of Chris Christie

Don’t trust his principles. Trust his political animal instincts.

Courtesy of CBS.
Courtesy of CBS.

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If you think the point of Chris Christie’s presidential bid is winning the presidency, I think you may be misunderstanding it. Yes, I know what he says. He says that he’s a viable alternative to Donald Trump. But he also touched on something more serious during an interview with “CBS News Sunday Morning.” 

Robert Costa asked what he’s going to say at the first GOP debate later this month. The former New Jersey governor said: “I can guarantee I’m going to tell the truth for 90 minutes, because the truth matters, and I think Republican voters need to hear the truth” (my italics).

That truth, of course, is about Trump. 

He seems to believe that the best way of beating Trump is going through Trump, and “beating Trump” probably doesn’t mean winning. It probably means wounding the front-runner, just enough for another Republican candidate to take the lead.

“He’s a self-centered, self-possessed, self-consumed, angry old man. He doesn’t care about anybody else other than him. If he were ever to become president again, I’ll take him at his word; he said, ‘I am your retribution.’ He’s not our retribution. He will be his own retribution.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not buying his line about being the only principled truth teller in a field of self-interested sycophants. Christie is plenty self-interested. He is plenty sycophantic when it serves his purposes. He was against Trump before he was for him, in 2016, after it was clear that he’d be the GOP nominee against Hillary Clinton.

Now, he’s asking us to believe in his newfound noble streak. 

We don’t have to believe that.

I do think, however, that we should take seriously, perhaps even trust in, his political animal instincts. He seems to believe that the best way of beating Trump is going through Trump, and “beating Trump” probably doesn’t mean winning. It probably means wounding the front-runner, just enough for another Republican candidate to take the lead. 

However much liberals don’t like him — and they really don’t like him — it’s to his credit that Christie has a pretty good read on the political sensibilities of respectable white people, who are the great globular middle of American politics that privileges above all the preservation of peace, order and the status quo. Trump’s presidential crimes are too much for many of them. Christie seems to be pandering to that view. 

“On election night in 2020,” Christie said, “when he stood in the White House and said, ‘The election had been stolen,’ when he had no evidence to prove that, that moment was the breaking point for me.”

Elsewhere in the interview, responding to the accusation that he’s a flip-flopper, he again gave voice to the anxieties of respectable white people: “Trump abandoned me,” Christie said. “I’m no different today than I was when I supported him in 2016. He’s the one who kept classified documents against the law, then lied to his lawyers and lied to the government. I had nothing to do with any of that. He did.”

So when he says that he thinks Republican voters need to hear the truth, let’s first imagine what he does not mean. He does not mean Republican voters who are already in the tank for Trump. He means instead Republicans voters who may be shouldering enormous doubts about him, but currently do not have an alternate way of thinking about him. He means Republican voters who do not have reasons to say no.

And, I think, he means to provide them with those reasons.


Christie: “None of his secretaries of state would work for him again. None of his attorneys general would work for him again.” 
Costa: “But do voters care about any of this?”
Christie: “Well, they should.” 
Costa: “Republicans?”  
Christie: “The case has to be made. No one’s making the case.”

In this, he may be paving the way for others to follow. 

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who’s at the center of the third indictment against Trump, is now inching back to where he was at the launch of his campaign, when he centered the J6 insurrection

On Fox, he said, “the American people deserve to know that President Trump and his advisers didn’t just ask me to pause. They asked me to reject votes, return votes, essentially to overturn the election.”

Even Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who wants to be seen as Donald Trump without Donald Trump’s baggage, is tip-toeing around the truth. “Whoever puts their hand on the Bible on Jan. 20 every four years is the winner,” he said, adding: “Of course he lost. Joe Biden’s the president.”

As I said, the point of Christie’s campaign probably isn’t winning the presidency. It probably isn’t winning the GOP nomination. It’s making the case to a critical faction of the Republican electorate that has doubts about Trump but no alternate way of thinking about him.

Will it succeed? We can’t know until someone tries, as Christie said. DeSantis hasn’t. Pence hasn’t. But they might follow if Christie gives enough Republican voters enough reason to say they’ve had enough. 


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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