Can Christie make it as the “Trump Slayer”? New Jersey has thoughts.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie with Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Fort Worth, Texas on February 26, 2016. (Cooper Neill/The New York Times)

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie with Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Fort Worth, Texas on February 26, 2016. (Cooper Neill/The New York Times)

Chris Christie left office in New Jersey with abysmal approval ratings. His 2016 presidential run was a short-lived flop. He has a reputation as a bully and is perhaps best known for a notorious political retribution scheme called Bridgegate.

But as Christie, a two-term governor and former federal prosecutor, prepares to enter the 2024 Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, voters who know him best seem open to his rematch with former President Donald Trump, would not -what for its catch potential. -the popcorn thriller.

A one-on-one debate between Trump and Christie “would have more viewers than the Super Bowl,” said Jon Bramnick, a Republican state senator who moonlights as a stand-up comedian.

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“Trump might be able to call you a name,” he said. “But Christie will take that name, twist it, and come back with three or four things that will leave Trump lying there waiting for the count.”

Any race that pits Christie against Trump is bound to be particularly personal. Trump seemed to find joy in belittling Christie from the White House; Christie blamed Trump for giving her a bout of COVID that left him seriously ill and hospitalized.

In interviews with New Jersey voters, Christie’s assets and liabilities were repeatedly described as two sides of the same coin.

To the thirsty moderates for a centrist voice: He’s not Trump.

And for Trump loyalists who might prefer Christie to permanently retire to his Bay Head beach house, it was much the same refrain: He’s not Trump.

“Anyone who isn’t Trump is good,” David Philips, 64, said Friday during his lunch break in Trenton, the capital, where he has worked as a construction manager for 20 years. He said he tended to vote for the Democrats and had never been a big fan of Christie.

“But he’s a reasonable guy compared to Trump,” Philips said.

After dropping out of the 2016 presidential contest, Christie has become one of Trump’s biggest boosters. But he is now positioning himself as Trump’s hard truth teller – a perhaps unlikely messenger with a message that will be a tough sell to a party full of Trump supporters.

Christie’s entry into the race comes less than six years after he left Trenton with an approval rating of just 15%, according to two polls taken during his last summer in office. At the time, it was the worst rating of any governor of any state polled by Quinnipiac University in more than 20 years.

Last month, a Monmouth University poll of 655 Republican-leaning voters nationwide showed Christie with 47% unfavorable ratings, higher than any other official or likely Republican presidential candidate.

Jeanette Hoffman, a Republican strategist from New Jersey, predicted that Christie would run as the best-positioned candidate to be “Trump’s killer.”

“This whole strategy of saying like it is — he’s going to double down on that,” she said.

Still, she acknowledged that the odds against him were long.

Like Trump, Christie, 60, is renowned for her combativeness. And many of his most memorable clashes are well documented.

There was the time he was filmed yelling at a heckler on a Jersey Shore boardwalk while holding an ice cream cone.

The memes date back to 2017, when he was pictured lounging with his family on a state-run beach closed to the general public over the July 4 weekend because he and the legislature failed to approve expenditure plan for the fiscal year.

And it was clear his baseball days were behind him in 2015 when he took to the field at Yankee Stadium for a charity game wearing a New York Mets uniform during his second term as governor. But he also received widespread kudos that night, and an MVP award, for having the courage to step into the batter’s box in the first place.

For those in New Jersey cheering on his run for president, that sass in the face remains a key selling point.

Even critics express grudging respect for the former governor’s willingness to flex his political and rhetorical muscles.

“He’s a bold guy,” said Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, where two of the three lanes of the George Washington Bridge were closed for four days in 2013 as part of a conspiracy who endangered public safety and came to prominence. like Bridgegate. “He’s a man who speaks his mind, and I think in our time you need that.”

Still, Sokolich said there was no way he would ever vote for Christie.

“If he were to ever reach the office of the president, I just hope his skills in selecting people for high-level positions have improved,” Sokolich said, referring to a Christie aide who rampaged. havoc on the borough’s roads with an email: “It’s traffic trouble time in Fort Lee.

Christie has never been charged with any criminal acts and the convictions of two aides were overturned in 2020 by the US Supreme Court, which ruled the plot, intended to punish a political opponent, was an abuse of power but not a federal crime.

David Wildstein, who admitted to being a traffic jam architect while working at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has known Christie since they attended Livingston High School. He was the star witness in the trial, testifying that Christie was told of the bridge plan two days after the lane closures began and he laughed approvingly. Christie maintained he had nothing to do with the closures.

Wildstein, in an interview, referred to his former ally as a cartoon character.

“He’s the guy who stands on the sidelines in a Little League game and yells at the umpire,” said Wildstein, 61, whose guilty plea was overturned in 2020 after the ruling of the Supreme Court and who now runs the New Jersey Globe, a popular policy. New Jersey news site.

But, he added, “it would be crazy for anyone to say definitively that someone can’t win.”

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