MANCHESTER, N.H. - Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie sharply criticized Donald Trump on Monday during his first trip this year to New Hampshire, as he kept the door open to entering the GOP presidential primary against his former ally and signaled he would decide by June.
In a nearly two-hour town hall at St. Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Christie said Trump’s name more than 20 times, attacking the former president over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election that he lost, mocking his policy acumen and blaming him for Republican losses in the 2022 midterms. Christie also portrayed himself as uniquely well positioned to take on Trump.
“You know, Donald Trump said a couple of weeks ago, ‘I am your retribution.’ Guess what, everybody? No thanks. No thanks,” Christie said to applause from his audience in an early-nominating state. “If I was going to pay somebody to be my retribution, I guarantee this, it wouldn’t be him.”
Christie, who has been publicly critical of Trump as he weighs a White House bid, continued, “Here’s why it wouldn’t be him, because he doesn’t want to be my retribution. That’s baloney. The only person he cares about is him. And if we haven’t learned that since Election Day of 2020 to today, then we are not paying attention.”
Asked for his response to Christie’s attacks, Trump spokesman Steven Cheung replied, “Who’s that?”
Christie threw his support to Trump after ending his own campaign for president in 2016 and backed him again in 2020. Christie referenced the possibility that he might run for president again several times, saying the latest he believes a viable candidate can announce a candidacy is June because the first scheduled debate is in August.
“Probably June is the latest you can go, and then you got to get in. But I also was saying, there’s no damn compelling reason to get in any sooner,” he said.
Christie also went after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former vice president Mike Pence, who have also made moves toward entering the presidential race. Christie knocked DeSantis for recently calling the war in Ukraine “a territorial dispute,” arguing that DeSantis should show more support for Ukraine and saying that someone needed to “place a wake-up call to Tallahassee.”
A representative for DeSantis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Christie said he heard Pence give an unsatisfying answer to the question of whether it was disqualifying for Trump to call for suspending the Constitution to overturn the election - that the American people would decide.
“Well, hell, man! Who needs him? If it’s up to the American people to decide, then stand out of the way, and don’t pretend to be a leader,” Christie said.
Devin O’Malley, a Pence spokesman, responded in a text message, “When confronted with an angry mob in the Capitol and a President demanding he violate his oath to the Constitution, Mike Pence stood his ground and did his duty. Chris Christie? He shut down the George Washington Bridge. You choose which one demonstrates leadership.”
The comment is a reference to a 2013 political scandal when Christie allies plotted to create traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., on the George Washington Bridge as retribution against the town’s Democratic mayor.
Christie, who is known for his brashness and tough-guy persona, appeared keen on provoking Trump, suggesting the former president never gave him a mocking nickname in 2016 because “he knows better.” Christie referenced his own attacks against Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) during a 2016 debate that many Republicans saw as a turning point in Rubio’s losing presidential run.
“You better have somebody on that stage who can do to [Trump] what I did to Marco because that’s the only thing that’s going to defeat Donald Trump,” Christie said. “And that means you’ve got to have the skill to do it. And that means you have to be fearless because he will come right back at you. So you need to think about who’s got the skill to do that. And who’s got the guts to do it? Because it’s not going to end nicely. No matter what, his end will not be calm and quiet.”
At the town hall, Saul Shriber, 67, stood and asked Christie why he hadn’t tried to take down Trump in 2016. Shriber had supported Christie in the New Hampshire primary and said he felt disappointed when the governor ultimately backed Trump.
Christie said he owned that mistake, calling it a “strategic error” and saying he believed he could help Trump be a better candidate and president after endorsing him. “None of us knew what kind of president he really would be or not,” Christie said.
“I did,” Shriber said to laughter and light applause.
After the town hall, Shriber said that if Christie “is telling me the truth, I’d vote for him.”
At the event with him, Denise Moquin, 63, a therapist, who is registered independent and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, added, “We’re looking for someone to come out strong against Trump.”