Chris Christie might run for president in 2024, Axios reports, based on “three people familiar with his thinking.” It seems like a great idea! If he’s built a time machine.
Once, in the distant past, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was a promising presidential candidate—armed with the very “crossover appeal to blue-collar and suburban right-of-center voters” that Axios mentions as a potential asset in 2024. He won elections in a liberal-leaning part of the country and was popular there. He convinced many voters and members of the press he was solving a high-tax state’s chronic budget problems, although in retrospect it seems like he was just being unusually belligerent about refusing to fund programs that had never gotten funded anyway. He got bipartisan points for working smoothly with the Obama administration to recover from Superstorm Sandy. In early 2013, his approval rating was 74 percent.
Unfortunately for the onetime U.S. prosecutor, time’s inexorable march trampled its merciless boots all over the face of his aspirations for higher office. In September 2013, some of his highest ranking staffers executed an absurdly petty and arrogant plot to create traffic jams on I-95 in order to punish a local mayor, and it blew up into a national story. With his in-state approval in decline, he decided to run for president anyway, only to get steamrolled over in the Vaguely Blue-Collar Tri-State Guy Who Tells It Like It Is lane by a true master of the form, Donald Trump, whom he then endorsed in a press conference marked by Christie’s legendarily sycophantic, passive body language. His campaign-related absences and alliance with Trump went over very poorly in blue New Jersey, as did a later incident in which a news photographer on a helicopter caught him sunbathing on a state beach he had closed to the public over the July 4 weekend in order to prove some sort of point to the state legislature. When he left office his approval rating was an astounding 15 percent.
What has he done since then? Mostly appear on ABC with Rahm Emanuel, another politician with pretensions to tough-minded realism that no longer match up with reality. He also helped prepare Trump for what was, empirically, probably the least successful debate performance in U.S. presidential history, possibly contracting a near-fatal case of COVID in the process because he, the president, and the rest of the president’s advisers were trying to make a point by refusing to wear masks indoors.
Christie’s friends who spoke to Axios evidently want to package this history of public failure as a credential. One bullet point notes that “he’d be the only person in the 2024 field with executive experience who has run a presidential race before,” and the next bullet contrasts that with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who “hasn’t yet endured the scrutiny of a presidential bid.” It’s true that Christie was tested under the scrutiny of a presidential race; it’s also true that he flunked the test in comical fashion and that DeSantis, unlike Christie, is currently popular with Republican and independent voters in his native state. The claim that he possesses the “mix of combativeness and charisma that Republicans are looking for to take on President Biden and Democrats,” meanwhile, is basically an admission that Christie’s plan is to be a lower-quality version of the candidate who easily out-alpha’d him before and eventually lost to Biden by 7 million votes in large part because he was seen as too combative. It’s a worst-of-both-worlds approach.
Finally, Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, hates Christie for prosecuting his father. Christie himself has cited this as the reason he never got a good job in the last administration, and the Axios piece doesn’t even make an effort to explain why this would not be a huge obstacle going forward. In a party where success is entirely dependent on how much weight you’re seen as carrying with the Big Man, why would primary voters be interested in someone who the Big Man defeated easily and then kept at arm’s length for years?
Is there a path to the presidency in 2024 for someone whose baggage makes him unappealing to both parties? What if that person ran on a 2000s-vintage centrist platform of fiscal austerity and foreign hawkishness?
In the seven years I’ve been covering news and politics for Slate, I’ve written about some of the United States’ best and worst moments, people, and ideas. Your continued support of Slate Plus will allow me to continue to give our country’s high-stakes struggle to define itself the coverage it deserves. Thank you! —Ben Mathis-Lilley, senior writer