Chris Christie brought his Talking Truth to Donald Trump performance back to New Hampshire Wednesday night and aimed a new quiver of poison arrows at the former president. His speech pleased a small Trump-skeptical crowd, but raised the big question about Mr. Christie’s candidacy: Where are all the other Republican voters?
Mr. Christie preached largely to the choir. He submitted to more than 90 minutes of town hall-sized questions and heard from an audience member who identified himself as a member of an extinct species, a “Rockefeller Republican”; from another who said he worked for a Republican senator but has not voted Republican since 2016; and from a woman who introduced herself by saying, “I’m a Democrat and you intrigue me.”
At times, the linoleum-floored room in a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Derry, with its circle of white folding chairs, took on the feel of a homeless therapy session from the Republicans in their party. “What do you think happened to the Republican Party,” one man wondered? We know that Trump lied about the election, but why did so many of our fellow citizens believe that?”
Since announcing his campaign two weeks ago, Mr. Christie has had a modest rise in early public polls of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire, bumping into third place, though still well behind Mr. Trump, the front-runner . At the same time, Mr. Christie, who has positioned himself as Mr. Trump’s most direct critic, tops the list of 2024 candidates Republicans say they will never consider.
Mr. Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, who was an early and enthusiastic Trump supporter in 2016 and stayed with him in 2020, presented himself on Wednesday as the only truth-teller in the GOP field — criticizing Mr. Trump as unfit for office, while mocking other primary rivals for being too intimidated to even challenge the former president’s lies about the 2020 election.
“Do you want to beat the incumbent?” Mr. Christie said, meaning Mr. Trump. “Then you have to beat the incumbent.”
Checking off a list of others in the race — including Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott and Asa Hutchinson — Mr. Christie said, “They can’t win if they don’t argue against him.”
He told voters to demand of any candidate, “Why are you defending the big lie that the election was stolen?”
Referring to a Fox News interview with Mr. Trump this week, Mr. Christie said in so many words that it depicted an emperor devoid of clothes. He said “most disturbing” was Mr Trump’s response to why he failed to return classified documents after receiving a subpoena in a case leading to his federal indictment.
“His response was that I was too busy going through all the boxes to comply with the grand jury subpoena,” said Mr. Christie, a former federal prosecutor. “I can guarantee that the interview will be Exhibit 1 in the trial over the classified documents because he essentially admitted to intentionally obstructing justice.”
Mr Trump “just sat there and told his lawyer to lie,” Mr Christie continued. “This is not the resume of someone you need back behind the desk in the Oval Office, and our party can do better.”
There were about 50 people in attendance and about the same number of unfilled seats. A live stream of the town hall event never seemed to attract more than about 125 viewers. A press contingent of about a dozen people spoke of the outrageous interest in Mr. Christie’s campaign from the news media and pundits, due to the phenomenon of a mainstream candidate so bluntly picking up a former president of his own party.
However, the room was missing the core of the Republican Party: voters leaning towards Mr. Trump who has propelled his turnout in recent months, but who are still open to an alternative. Nearly all of the voters present appeared to have turned their backs on Mr. Trump — a narrow segment of the primary electorate.
Mr. Christie took the fact to heart.
“I’ve been in this race for two weeks — two weeks — and I went from zero in New Hampshire to 9 percent, four points behind Ron DeSantis,” he said, referring to a survey last week for NH Journal, a Republican-leaning news site. The poll also showed that Mr. Christie topped the “no way” list of the state’s Republican voters.
On his way out, Kerry MacDonald, a Litchfield real estate agent, acknowledged: “I will openly say I was a Trump supporter” in 2020. “I realize that campaign is in absolute chaos.”
“I just don’t think he’s capable of uniting the party,” he said of the former president. “Governor Christie, on the other hand, is eloquent, he is a direct candidate. I like that he worked on both sides of the aisle as governor. I feel very strong when I walk out tonight.