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New Hampshire is where Chris Christie famously slayed Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in 2016, and it is here that state Republican operatives say he could inflict damage Donald Trump or reshape the race – even if he doesn’t triumph.
‘There are moments in every presidential campaign where people who aren’t destined to win and on track to win can nonetheless shape an issue, shape a perception about another candidate, highlight a topic that maybe hasn’t been highlighted before,’ said Republican consultant Jim Merrill, who oversaw Rubio’s presidential campaign in the state.
‘Given who he is and his nature, I have no doubt that he’ll make an impact in this primary – whether it’s a winning one, I think remains seen, very much open to question,’ he told DailyMail.com. Merrill credits Christie’s political talent and his ‘willingness to mix it up.’
As he joins a field of nine Republican candidates that is approaching a dozen, Christie has been the most direct critic of Trump after breaking with him over January 6, notably tagging him as a ‘loser’ – although he uniquely aided Trump by vouching for him with the party’s mainstream base in 2016.
‘I do think he’s going to be a strong Trump critic in a Republican primary and especially in New Hampshire. I think he’s going to look to play spoiler to Trump in New Hampshire,’ said communications consultant Lauren Zelt, who has spent years working in state politics here.
Spoiler? Republican political consultants say Chris Christie’s tough debating skills give him the ability to reshape the race and go after Trump, even if he isn’t best positioned to ultimately prevail
‘New Hampshire is somewhat home turf for Chris Christie,’ she told DailyMail.com.. ‘He has a lot of friends left over from 2016 primary I know that he has stayed in touch and plugged in.’
It is here that Christie had his most memorable moment in the campaign three days before the New Hampshire primary. In a high-stakes debate on a stage packed with candidates, Christie ridiculed the then-45 year old senator, who was emerging as a voice on foreign policy issues even after famously guzzling bottled water in a response to the State of the Union speech. At the time, Rubio was among a group of candidates struggling to emerge as the Number Two contender against Trump.
Christie found ways both to build up his own record as a governor while ridiculing Rubio’s service in the Senate. He mocked a scripted-sounding answer as ‘the memorized 25 second speech that is exactly what his advisors gave him.’
Christie famously eviscerated Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on a debate stage days before the New Hampshire primary in 2016
Staying out: New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said he won’t run for president in 2024, and warned of the risks of a crowded field handing the nomination to former President Donald Trump
Christie has already come out swinging against former President Donald Trump, and his entry in the race could reshape debates, if Trump chooses to participate in them
Christie endorsed Trump, helmed his transition for a time, and advised him in the White House, as he did in 2017 at an event on opioid use and drug abuse. He later broke with Trump and condemned him over January 6, which he called ‘a riot that was incited by Donald Trump in an effort to intimidate Mike Pence and the Congress’
When Rubio, a well-spoken lawmaker, tried to hit back but then regurgitated similar language, Christie hammered him again. ‘There it is – the 25 second speech,’ he needled.
Christie’s own campaign soon imploded when he took just 6 per cent in a state he banked his campaign on.
As he prepares to launch his 24 run, his numbers are lower than they were then. But state experts say Christie could have an impact even without prevailing, simply by raising explicit criticisms of Trump at a time when other rivals are skirting the attacks, whether for self-preservation or other motives.
‘Somebody needs to take him on,’ said Fergus Cullen, a former state party chair who serves on the city council in Dover.
‘I went and saw [Gov. Ron] DeSantis last week and he didn’t even mention Trump,’ Cullen told DailyMail.com, while former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley mentioned the former president who appointed her only ‘in passing.’
‘These other candidates are pretending he doesn’t exist,’ bemoaned Cullen, who represents an area carried by Joe Biden.
He didn’t rule out a potential kamikaze effort, although he chose different language. ‘I might say prophet, someone who is preparing the way for another,’ he said. ‘He has nothing to lose. He only has upside,’ as compared to other candidates who might be seeking to protect a future run.
(Matt Katz, author of ‘American Governor: Chris Christie’s Bridge to Redemption,’ has speculated that Christie could be after a ‘consolation prize’ of serving as attorney general – a role he was said to be after in a Trump administration before he was forced out while running the Trump transition in an early sign of chaos to come).
Christie’s low performance in opinion polls mean he will have to struggle to meet the Republican National Committee’s debate criteria, where debaters must amass 40,000 unique donors along with 1 per cent in multiple polls to earn a spot on the main stage). Experts say that second data point could be a hurdle for him.
Christie, who is set to appear at the Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College Monday, brings a unique package to the table.
A former prosecutor, he put a spotlight on the opioid epidemic epidemic in 2015 and 2016. The former mid-Atlantic governor overlaps with more traditional New Hampshire candidates who focus on economics over social issues, although with a pugnacious quality the presaged the rise of Trump.
He has a loyal base among the donor class, and was talked up byRupert Murdoch in 2015 when the field was emerging. After his famous debate, Murdoch tweeted: ‘Chris Christie, suicide bomber. Damages victim while blowing himself up!’
He turned fully against Trump after January 6, and has been among his most pronounced critics in the field. He is no doubt aware of the risks that New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu warned about when he announced Monday he will stay out of the crowded Republican presidential primary.
Sununu said can’t win and cautioned other contenders not to enable him.
‘The stakes are too high for a crowded field to hand the nomination to a candidate who earns just 35 percent of the vote, and I will help ensure this does not happen,’ he wrote in an op-ed in a Washington Post op-ed.
Sununu said his party was on a ‘collision course toward electoral irrelevance,’ citing defeats in 2020 and disappointments in off-year elections. ‘We must not be complacent, and candidates should not get into this race to further a vanity campaign, to sell books or to audition to serve as Donald Trump’s vice president,’ he cautioned.