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Chris Christie’s Exit Marks the End for the Fight for the Soul

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Chris Christie’s Exit Marks the End for the Fight for the Soul

Politics

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January 11, 2024

He spoke the truth about Trump’s threat. DeSantis or Haley would never do this.

Chris Christie announces his withdrawal from the race at a town hall event in Windham, N.H., on Wednesday, January 10, 2020.

(Robert F. Bukaty / AP)
Chris Christie, former federal prosecutor of New Jersey and governor, resigned from his longshot bid to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 on Wednesday. His exit was a political spectacle and a rhetorical bombast typical of the political career he has pursued. Christie’s exit from this race is a blow to both his party and the wider body politic, despite all of his foibles and his failures in his latest attempt to position himself as an alternative to Donald Trump.

Christie was the final high-profile GOP candidate who was fighting to save what was left of the soul of the Republican Party, which has, for all intents, evolved into a cult-like authoritarian personality with Trump at its center. The former governor called this a real threat to democracy and the national security.

Christie, a former Trump supporter who came to his senses when Trump attempted to overturn the election in 2020, mounted a campaign for 2024 that aggressively challenged the alarming deference his party showed to Trump. He called the former president “a one-man criminal wave” and claimed that Trump “earned every single one” of his criminal convictions. He claimed that other prominent candidates for the nomination, such as former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, were unwilling to make a point of Donald Trump’s criminality out of fear of offending him.

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Christie, a charismatic and often brilliant communicator – the only serious Republican competitor to Trump in this regard – made himself heard over a seven-month-long campaign that saw him often on debate stages, but rarely garnered him much applause. His question was answered by the cold shoulder. The polls show that nearly two-thirds accept Trump’s conduct and want him as the party’s candidate for the third consecutive time.

Christie, unlike DeSantis, recognized that his campaign would not be able to overcome Trump’s dominance in the Republican Party. Christie announced his resignation just days before the Republican caucuses and primary in Iowa. He also said, at a town hall meeting scheduled in Windham, N.H.: “I’ve always stated that there was a time in this campaign where I could not see a way to achieve that goal, so I would get out.” It’s obvious to me tonight that I have no chance of winning the nomination. That’s why I suspend my campaign for president tonight.

Christie, who is a conservative of a more moderate bent, was under pressure from his supporters to support the much more extreme Haley during the New Hampshire primary. Recent polls indicate that Haley is closing the gap with Trump. CNN’s poll from this week shows Trump with 39 percent of the vote in Granite State, compared to Haley’s 32 percent. This was one of many polls that showed Christie as the third candidate in New Hampshire with 12 percent. This relative strength prompted Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, a Haley supporter, to urge Christie, who was a Haley supporter, to “be hero” and endorse Haley.

Haley’s campaign is not heroic. She is running against Trump and she may even beat him in New Hampshire. She’s not prepared to take on Trump in any meaningful way. She said months ago that, like DeSantis, she would support Trump should he be nominated for president this summer. Haley has also said that if she somehow became president, she would pardon the Republican predecessor. Christie said, during a hot mic moment on Wednesday night, that this kind of talk had led him to say, “She is going to get smoked and you and I know it.” She’s not going to be able to handle this.”

It was a fair evaluation of Haley’s campaign, and the even weaker effort by DeSantis.

DeSantis, and Haley, who are battling to catch up to Trump or at least be his chief rival, have been criticizing the former president for not being right-wing on certain issues. This was demonstrated in the pathetic debate between the two on Wednesday night.

Christie’s bottom-line regarding the Republicans that he chose not to endorse on Wednesday was right: “Anyone unwilling to say [Trump] “Is unfit to serve as president of the United States, is unfit for the office of president of the United States.”

Christie is a fan of the spotlight so it’s possible that he could still align himself with a “Stop Trump”, final bid by an ex-rival such as Haley. It’s absurd to think that another “named” candidate would echo the New Jerseyan’s line of attack, and risk offending Trump and his loyal GOP base. Asa Hutchinson is still running but is not well known. He has been critical of Trump and is a straight-talking former Arkansas governor. The Republican Party could be revived at some point. The fight is over for this election.

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Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, spoke, at the end of his 1861 inaugural speech, when the country was literally tearing apart, about his longing for an uplifting moment, when “the better angels” of our nature could once again be heard.

Chris Christie is not an angel

He was better than his competitors.

Now that he has withdrawn from the race, the last hope that the Republicans could change the direction of their party by 2024 is gone.

John Nichols

John Nichols works as a national affairs reporter for The Nation. He has cowritten or edited more than a dozen books, covering topics such as histories of American socialism, the Democratic Party, and analyses of US media systems and global media systems. His latest book, co-written with Senator Bernie Sanders is the New York Times bestseller, It’s Ok to Be Angry about Capitalism.

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