Tough-talking Chris Christie is running again.
The former two-term governor of New Jersey, who is poised to enter the GOP presidential primary fray on Tuesday, is the most outspoken critic of front-runner Donald Trump in a field that has largely avoided direct attacks on the former president.
He faces an uphill climb, having dropped out after finishing sixth in the 2016 New Hampshire primary and currently polling at the bottom of the pack of contenders.
When Christie announced in 2015 that he was entering the 2016 primary, he did so in the gymnasium of his alma mater, Livingston High School, saying he could think of no better place to represent his roots. This time, he’ll announce from New Hampshire, where his last campaign ended, at a town hall meeting at Saint Anselm College, putting some distance between him and the home state that largely defined his first run.
Christie’s political capital soared during the first half of his governorship in the Garden State, as he ushered New Jersey through the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and became known for his many navy fleece jackets and bipartisan leadership in crisis. But he left office marred by the Bridgegate scandal and low approval ratings after he disengaged from state business during his bid for higher office.
When Christie dropped out in 2016, a lackluster ending to a once highly anticipated run, he transitioned to become an adviser to Trump, a longtime friend. Christie eventually broke with his former boss over Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election and became among his most vocal critics.
Supporters and some political observers note that this race is different. Trump is a weaker target, facing multiple lawsuits and coming off a string of party losses — and Christie has far less to lose.
“I love it because he’s probably the only one who can go toe to toe with President Trump,” said New Jersey state Sen. Jon Bramnick, who supported Christie’s 2016 bid. “I feel like Clint Eastwood, ‘Make my Day.’”
Christie, 60, will enter the race with a super PAC set up by supporters called Tell It Like I Is, his 2016 slogan.
“Governor Christie has proven he’s unafraid to tell it like it is and is willing to confront the hard truths that currently threaten the future of the Republican Party,” said Brian Jones, the PAC’s executive director. “Now more than ever, we need leaders that have the courage to say not what we want to hear, but what we need to hear.”
Christie will join a field that, in addition to Trump, includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
DeSantis has polled the closest to Trump and raised $8 million off of a campaign launch earlier this month. He’s subtly amped up his criticism of Trump, though nothing compared with Christie, who has bluntly described the former president as “a child,” “a puppet of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” and “bad for the Republican Party.”
A crowded field would almost certainly benefit Trump, who has a hold on a contingent of MAGA faithfuls. Christie told Politico in an interview in April that going after Trump was different from being a “hired assassin,” saying he would drop out of the race if he didn’t see a path to victory.
Christie is starting from the back of the field.
Early polling shows about 47% of GOP voters viewed Christie unfavorably, according to a Monmouth University poll released this week — the worst of any candidate.
“In some sense, we need someone who will take on Trump directly,” said Matt Brouillette, founder and president of Commonwealth Partners and a frequent critic of Trump’s. “But I don’t know if Chris Christie is the guy who can do that.”
His previous bid for the presidency gives Christie the benefit of experience but also the baggage of having lost. Some Republicans wary of Trump had already started homing in on DeSantis as a fresh alternative.
“I think the thing people like most about Chris Christie is he says what he means and he means what he says,” Pennsylvania-based GOP operative Vince Galko said. “But DeSantis has a lot of those same qualities.”
Christie, who has recently appeared as a commentator on national TV, has signaled he’s the messenger the party needs to defeat Trump.
At a New Hampshire town hall appearance in April, he said the Republican Party needs a candidate with the debate prowess he showed when he taunted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the last contested primary, halting Rubio’s momentum. (Christie also played the role of Hillary Clinton when he helped Trump prepare to debate her in 2016). “You better have somebody on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco (Rubio),” Christie said at the April town hall. “Because that’s the only thing that’s gonna defeat Donald Trump.”
Bill Bretz, GOP chair in Westmoreland County, which delivered Trump some of Pennsylvania’s largest margins, questioned Christie’s ability to break through and his reason for jumping in the race.
“You ask about what somebody’s motives are,” Bretz said. “There’s a number of reasons to get in the race whether you’re a contender or not. But it’s early days.”
One chief focus, his campaign has said according to reports, is to go directly at Trump and capture the media attention that can come with that. In other words, fight Trump with his own tactics.
Whether that turns off some of Trump’s base is probably not a concern to Christie.
“I guarantee Chris Christie’s not afraid of that,” Bramnick said. “You can’t hedge your bets with Trump. If you’re hedging your bets with Trump, he wins.”