- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2021

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie helped build Donald Trump up in the 2016 presidential primary and now he’s trying to tear him down before the 2024 election.

He says it’s time for the Republican Party to move on from the boisterous former president and his stolen election claims.

The blunt ex-prosecutor and governor has been test-driving his anti-Trump message as part of a public relations blitz around the release of his new book “Republican Rescue,” separating himself from the lion’s share of Republicans who still hail Mr. Trump as their unquestioned leader.

But Mr. Christie is trying to pull off a high-wire act with “a lot of downsides,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“They include alienating Trump and incurring his malediction, and discovering that there are just not enough anti-Trump Republicans to win him a swing-state primary,” he said. “I think his chances in states that strongly supported Trump are vanishingly small.”

Mocking the idea that Mr. Christie’s message is penetrating, Mr. Trump this week blasted out a link to a headline from Brietbart.com that read “Exclusive: Donald Trump Already Sold 100,000 Copies of Book, 50 Times More than Chris Christie Book.”

Two days earlier, Mr. Trump shared another report from the Daily Mail that Mr. Christie had at that point sold a “paltry 2,289 copies.”

Mr. Christie is still taking credit for the role he played in Mr. Trump’s stunning rise while making the case that it is time for the party to come to grips with his loss and get back to winning.

“We see the ramifications of not winning with all this spending, with the crime and everything else,” Mr. Christie said during a recent appearance on Fox News. “So what I am saying to Republicans is we have to stop complaining and we have to start working to be a contrast to Joe Biden and stop him in his tracks in 2022,” he said. “Every minute we spend looking backward is a minute we are not spending stopping them.”

Mr. Christie’s 2016 bid for the GOP nomination for president was short-lived.

He dropped out of the race following poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.

Mr. Christie remerged a couple of weeks later to endorse Mr. Trump, shocking the GOP establishment and undermining a push within the party to cast Mr. Trump aside as a narcissistic and loathsome character.

Mr. Christie, at the time, said he was “thrilled” and “proud” to endorse Mr. Trump. He described him as a “loyal” friend and the party’s best bet.

“I can guarantee you that the one person that Hillary and Bill Clinton do not want to see on that stage come next December is Donald Trump,” Mr. Christie said. “They know how to run the standard political playbook against junior senators and run them around the block. They do not know the playbook with Donald Trump because he is rewriting the playbook.”

“He is rewriting the playbook of American politics because he is providing strong leadership that is not dependent upon the status quo,” he said.

Fast forward six years and Mr. Trump’s next move is up for debate.

The former president has teased making a comeback in the 2024 election — a decision that has hung over the early jockeying for position among other possible contenders.

Mr. Christie, however, is throwing caution to the wind as he explores another presidential bid, opening him up to criticism from Trump supporters and others who view him as a hypocrite.

“In an effort to tee up another failed run for president, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently stated that everyone should move on from the 2020 election, criticizing former President Donald Trump and his supporters for focusing on it,” Rep. Billy Long of Missouri, a candidate for the Senate, wrote in a recent Washington Examiner op-ed. “Christie is completely out of touch with voters.”

Colin Reed, a GOP strategist and former spokesman for Mr. Christie during his time as governor, pushed back against the idea that his former boss is flip-flopping.

“He’s always been a guy who sees the world not as he wants it to be but as it is,” Mr. Reed said. “He’s got a finely tuned political antenna and he knew Donald Trump was what the party faithful wanted [in 2016] and he did his best to put on imprint on that.”

Mr. Christie‘s 2016 endorsement helped take the steam out of Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign. The Florida Republican had clashed with Mr. Christie on the debate stage and competed with him for moderate voters and similar donors.

Mr. Christie served as a top surrogate for Mr. Trump, even helping him with debate prep. He reportedly was the runner-up to Mike Pence as Mr. Trump‘s choice for running mate.

Mr. Christie, on his book tour, said things changed for him on election night last year when Mr. Trump claimed to have won the election and said that the results amounted to a “major fraud on our nation.”

“I felt absolutely sick to my stomach, physically sick to my stomach watching him stand behind the seal of the president of the United States in the East Room of the White House saying something that I knew at that moment he couldn’t prove was true,” Mr. Christie said in a recent CNN interview. “There was no evidence that the election was being stolen and in fact, we’re now, you know, nearly a year later and there is still no evidence the election was stolen.”

He said that Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept the election results led to the attack on the U.S. Capitol and showed that the former president never differentiated between governing and campaigning.

“One of the things that I think the president never completely took in was that his words when he became president had much greater import than they did before he became president,” Mr. Christie said. “He didn’t change an iota from the week before the election in 2016.”

“I thought the presidency might change him,” he said. “It did not change him a bit.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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