I will miss his voice in this presidential campaign
I have always liked Chris Christie.
Perhaps it is because I was born and raised in northern New Jersey and can relate to his tough-talking style of politics. Maybe my solidarity with Bruce Springsteen and New York Mets fans like Christie runs deeper than my political loyalties. When many conservatives trashed the former New Jersey governor for working with Barack Obama during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, I saw an elected official placing the needs of New Jerseyans over partisan politics.
But in the end, I am a Chris Christie fan because I tend to gravitate toward politicians who are unafraid to tell the truth.
Yes, I was disappointed with Bridgegate and Beachgate, but I accepted Christie’s apologies for these obvious failures of leadership. I was even more disheartened when Christie, clearly driven more by ambition than principle, became an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump and lobbied for a cabinet position in his administration.
Christie is a walking contradiction and a flawed politician. But he struggles with the same things we all struggle with—bad choices, stupid decisions, diarrhea of the mouth, and even weight control. I’ve always held out the hope of political redemption for this former Morris County, New Jersey freeholder.
It is doubtful that Christie will ever become president of the United States, but his campaign for the 2024 Republican nomination shined a bright light on the Donald Trump cult that now controls the Grand Old Party. While every other Republican candidate for president—Haley, DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Scott, and Pence, among others—refused to criticize Trump for his ninety-one felony charges, his attempts to undermine an American election, and his inciting of an insurrection at the United States Capitol, Christie was relentless in his truth-telling about the former president.
He took every opportunity to remind Americans that Trump was running for president while “out on bail” in multiple jurisdictions. He described the former president during a CNN Town Hall as a man who is “completely self-centered, completely self-consumed, and doesn’t give a damn about the American people.” In December, during the last GOP debate in which he participated, Christie called Trump a “dictator,” a “bully,” and an “angry and bitter man who now wants to be back as president because he wants to exact retribution on anyone who has disagreed” with him. Adam Kinzinger, the former Republican Illinois congressman and ardent anti-Trumper, said that Trump would not debate Christie because he was “scared to death” of him.
One of the most telling moments of Christie’s campaign came in June 2023 at Christian Right political activist Ralph Reed’s “Road to Majority” conference. Christie tailored his speech to connect with the value voters in attendance. He talked about his Catholic faith and how his religious commitments led him to champion charter schools for the poor and work against human trafficking. He talked about “leadership” and “character” in a way that aligned with Christian teaching on the subject. His speech drew heavily from Christian beliefs on sin and forgiveness, even confessing, in a veiled reference to Bridgegate and Beachgate, that he was a sinner who must take responsibility for his actions.
But as soon as he suggested that Donald Trump failed the test of leadership and was “unwilling to take responsibility” for his many sins, the Christian Right crowd started to boo. Christie responded: “You can boo all you want. But here’s the thing. Our faith teaches us that people have to take responsibility for what they do. People have to stand up and take accountability for what they do.” He said that Trump’s inability to take responsibility for his actions “makes our country smaller.”
It was Christie’s finest moment. Ralph Reed and the Christian Right may have heard the voice of God that day. Indeed, maybe Reed and his followers are correct about God using flawed vessels to deliver His message. Those in attendance at the “Road to Majority” may have booed him, but I have yet to see them offer a satisfying answer to Christie’s Christian critique of Trump’s character.
Few Americans paid much attention to Christie’s policy proposals. But his campaign still served a useful purpose by telling the truth about Trump’s threat to democracy in a primary race filled with GOP candidates conducting a master class in cowardice. I understand why he had to suspend his campaign, but I will miss his voice on the trail. I now hope that Nikki Haley, in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, will find that distinctive New Jersey voice and start to channel it.
John Fea is Executive Editor of Current.