Washington, DC – Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a vocal Republican critic of former President Donald Trump, has joined a crowded field of candidates seeking the United States presidency in 2024.
Christie filed paperwork with US election authorities on Tuesday, formalising his candidacy. Afterwards, he held a campaign-launch event at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, home to the second-earliest contest on the 2024 primary calendar, behind the Iowa caucuses.
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In his speech, he positioned himself as a unifier, appealing to both Republicans and Democrats to step outside their echo chambers and overcome partisan divisions.
“Why do I continue to get this feeling that America, for the first time in its history, is getting smaller?” Christie asked.
“And what I concluded is because we had leaders who have led us to being small. Small by their example. Small by the way they conduct themselves. Small by the things they tell us we should care about.”
Christie challenged the audience to go “big” rather than “small”, summoning past US leaders from Democrat John F Kennedy to Republican Abraham Lincoln as examples to follow.
But in contrast to those past presidents, Christie denounced the country’s recent leadership, from former President Barack Obama onwards.
“Donald Trump made us smaller by dividing us even further and pitting one group against another,” he said. “And now Joe Biden is doing the very same thing, just on the other side of the political divide.”
A Trump ally turned critic
Often portrayed as a pragmatic conservative who governed a Democratic-leaning state between 2010 and 2018, Christie first ran for president in 2016 but dropped out early after a faltering campaign. Recent public opinion polls show him attracting only 1-2 percent of primary voters, making his latest bid a long shot as well.
The former governor has been an outspoken critic of Trump, who is also seeking the White House in 2024. But he was once a close ally of the former president and endorsed Trump in the 2016 Republican primaries after ending his own bid for the presidency that year.
Christie turned against Trump after the former president tried to overturn the 2020 election results. Trump’s oft-repeated claims of a “rigged” election helped spur an attack on the US Capitol, where his supporters tried to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
“We keep losing and losing and losing,” Christie said of Republicans last year after the party’s underwhelming performance in the midterm elections.
“And the fact of the matter is, the reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everybody else.”
A political comeback
Christie first rose to prominence as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, overseeing several high-profile cases. He was later elected governor in 2009 and easily won re-election four years later.
But his presidential aspirations and political standing took a hit the following year. Early in 2014, text messages became public that suggested Christie’s allies had closed lanes on a busy bridge to New York City to create traffic jams as punishment for a New Jersey mayor who refused to endorse the then-governor.
Christie insisted he had no knowledge of the scheme. Two officials linked to the governor would eventually be sentenced to prison over the scandal, which came to be known as “Bridgegate”.
During his speech on Tuesday, Christie referenced the incident, albeit obliquely.
“I’ve trusted people I shouldn’t have trusted. And it resulted in me, at one point in my career, admitting that I was publicly embarrassed and humiliated by the things that had happened on my watch,” Christie said, giving a nod to a 2014 speech he made at the height of the scandal.
Now, he is staging a political comeback with Trump in his crosshairs.
Entering the 2024 race
Christie stepped up his attacks on Trump as he prepared to enter the 2024 race, going so far as to call him Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “puppet”.
He has also criticised fellow Republican candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis along with Trump over their scepticism of US support for Ukraine as it faces a full-scale Russian invasion.
Those attacks continued at his town-hall-style campaign launch in New Hampshire on Tuesday, where he called out Trump by name.
“Beware of the leader who won’t admit any of those shortcomings. Because you know what the problem is with a leader like that? A leader like that thinks that America’s greatness resides in the mirror he’s looking at,” Christie said, in one of his many references to Trump.
Christie also denounced his Republican rivals for avoiding criticism of Trump, whom he likened to the Harry Potter villain Voldemort, a character referred to as “He Who Must Not Be Named”.
“Now we have pretenders all around us who want to tell you, ‘Pick me. Because I’m kinda like what you picked before but not quite as crazy. But I don’t want to say his name,'” Christie said, alluding to the other presidential hopefuls.
But Christie set himself up as an alternate to the Trump-style Republican, framing himself as a leader unafraid of showing his fallibility.
“If you are in search of the perfect candidate, it is time to leave,” he quipped, earning the audience’s laughter. “I am not it.”
The race for the Republican nomination is still largely seen as a two-horse race between the former president and DeSantis. Still, with the first primaries months away and Trump facing legal trouble – including criminal charges in New York – outside candidates like Christie will be hoping to gain popularity heading into 2024.
Other candidates in the Republican race include former Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Tim Scott, ex-US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
The winner of the Republican nomination will likely face Biden, who is seeking re-election, in the general elections in November 2024.