Chris Christie Doesn’t Want to Hear the Name Trump

An illustrated portrait of Chris Christie
Illustration by The Atlantic. Source: G Fiume / Getty

Blogger’s note: A few surprises here. Can Anyone really know Chris Christy? Smart guy like him or not. Very hard to pin hown. Changes stories a lot, but can “take you in.”


APRIL 22, 2023, 7:30 AM ETSHARE


“How many different ways are you gonna ask the same fucking question, Mark?” Chris Christie asked me. We were seated in the dining room of the Hay-Adams hotel. It’s a nice hotel, five stars. Genteel.

Christie’s sudden ire was a bit jolting, as I had asked him only a few fairly innocuous questions so far, most of them relating to Donald Trump, the man he might run against in the presidential race. Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, was visiting Washington as part of his recent tour of public deliberations about whether to launch another campaign.

Color me dubious. It’s unclear what makes Christie think the Republican Party might magically revert to some pre-Trump incarnation. Or, for that matter, what makes him think a campaign would go any better than his did seven years ago, the last time Christie ran, when he won exactly zero delegates and dropped out of the Republican primary after finishing sixth in New Hampshire.

But still, color me vaguely intrigued too—more so than I am about, say, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. If Christie runs again in 2024, he could at least serve a compelling purpose: The gladiatorial Garden Stater would be better at poking the orange bear than would potential rivals Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and Nikki Haley, who so far have offered only the most flaccid of critiques. Over the past few months, Christie has been among the more vocal and willing critics of Trump. Notably, he became the first Republican would-be 2024 candidate to say he would not vote for the former president again in a general election.

Read: Just call Trump a loser

Christie makes for an imperfect kamikaze candidate, to say the least. But he does seem genuine in his desire to retire his doormat act and finally take on his former patron and intermittent friend. Which was why I found myself having breakfast with Christie earlier this week, eager to hear whether he was really going to challenge Trump and how hard he was willing to fight. Strangely, he seemed more eager to fight with me.

It was a weird breakfast. Shortly after 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Christie strolled through the ornate dining room of the Hay-Adams, where he had spent the previous few nights. He was joined by his longtime aide Maria Comella. We sat near a window, with a view of the White House across Lafayette Square, and about 100 feet from the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, where Trump had staged his ignominious Bible photo op three springs ago.

I started off by asking Christie about his statement that he would not vote for Trump, even if the former president were the Republican nominee. “I think Trump has disqualified himself from the presidency,” Christie said.


So what would Christie do, then—vote for Joe Biden? Nope. “The guy is physically and mentally not up to the job,” Christie said.

Just to be clear, I continued, this hellscape he was currently suffering under in Biden’s America would be as bad as whatever a next-stage Trump presidency would look like?

“Elections are about choices,” Christie said, as he often does. So whom would he choose in November 2024, if he’s faced with a less-than-ideal choice? “I probably just wouldn’t vote,” he said.

Interesting choice! I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a politician admit to planning not to vote, but it’s at least preferable to that cutesy “I’m writing in Ronald Reagan” or “I’m writing in my pal Ned” evasion that some do.

I pressed on, curious to see how committed Christie really was to his recent swivel away from Trump, or whether this was just his latest opportunistic interlude before his inevitable belly flop back into the Mar-a-Lago lagoon. Say Trump secures the nomination, and most of his formal “rivals”—and various other “prominent Republicans”—revert to doormat mode. (“I will support the nominee,” “Biden is senile,” etc.) What’s Christie going to be saying then, vis-à-vis Trump?

We were exactly seven minutes into our discussion, and my mild dubiousness seemed to set Christie off. His irritation felt a tad performative, as if he might be playing up his Jersey-tough-guy bit.

From the July/August 2012 issue: Jersey boys

“I’m not going to dwell on this, Mark,” Christie said. “You guys drive me crazy. All you want to do is talk about Trump. I’m sorry, I don’t think he’s the only topic to talk about in politics. And I’m not going to waste my hour with you this morning—which is a joy and a gift—on just continuing talking, asking, and answering the Donald Trump question from 18 different angles.”

I pivoted to DeSantis, mostly in an attempt to un-trigger Christie. Christie has made a persuasive case that DeSantis has been a disaster as an almost-candidate so far, especially with regard to his feud with Disney. But would Christie support DeSantis if he were to somehow defeat Trump and become the nominee?

“I have to see how he performs as a candidate,” Christie said. “I really don’t know Ron DeSantis all that well … I’m going to be a discerning voter,” Christie added. “I’m going to watch what everybody does, and I’m gonna to decide who I’m gonna vote for.” (Reminder: unless it’s Trump or Biden.)

Read: Just wait until you get to know Ron DeSantis

I had a few more follow-ups. “So, I know you don’t want to talk about Trump …”

“Here we are, back to Trump again,” Christie said, shaking his head.

Trump, I mentioned, has been the definitional figure in the Republican Party for the past seven or eight years, and probably will remain so for the next few. Not only that, but Christie’s history with Trump—especially from 2016 to 2021—was pretty much the only thing that made him more relevant than, say, Hutchinson (respectfully!) or any other Republican polling at less than 1 percent.

This was when Christie lit into me for asking him “the same fucking question.” Look, I said, at least 40 or 50 percent of the GOP remains very much in thrall to Trump, if you believe poll numbers.

Christie questioned my premise: “No matter what statistics you cite, what polls you cite, that’s a snapshot in the moment, and I don’t think those are static numbers.”

“It’s been true for about seven years,” I replied. “That’s pretty static.”

“But he’s been as high as 85 to 90 percent,” Christie said, referring to Trump’s Republican-approval ratings in the past. There will always be variance, he argued, but those approval ratings would be much smaller now. Christie then accused me of being “obsessed” with Trump.

Read: Why won’t Trump’s Republican rivals just say it?

At this point, Christie was raising his voice rather noticeably again, an agitated wail that brought to mind Wilma Flintstone’s vacuum. I was becoming self-conscious about potentially disturbing other diners in this elegant salle à manger.

A waiter came over again and asked if we wanted any food. Christie, who was sipping a cup of hot tea, demurred, and I ordered a Diet Coke and a bowl of mixed berries. “What a fascinating combination,” Christie marveled.

I told Christie that I hoped that he would in fact run, if only because he would be better equipped to be pugilistic than the other milksops in the field. Obviously, it would have been better if Christie had taken his best shots at the big-bully front-runner seven years ago instead of largely standing down, quitting the race, and then leading the GOP’s collective bum-rush to Trump. But he has grown a lot and learned a lot since then, Christie assured me.

“I certainly won’t do the same thing in 2024 that I did in 2016,” Christie said. “You can bank on that.”

“Well, I would hope not,” I said. This seemed to reignite his pique.

“What do you mean, I hope?” Christie snapped. He took umbrage that I would question the sincerity of his opposition to Trump: “How about just paying attention to everything I’ve said over the last eight weeks?”

I told him that I had paid attention to what he said about Trump over the past eight years. Christie nodded and seemed to acknowledge that maybe I had a point, that some skepticism might be warranted.

Read: Chris Christie says his new book isn’t an act of revenge

I asked Christie if he had any regrets about anything.

“I have regrets about every part of my life, Mark,” he said.


“And anybody who says they don’t is lying.”

That said, Christie added, he would not change anything about his past dealings and relationship with Trump. He is always reminding people that he and Trump were friends long before 2016; that they went way back, 22 years or so. Christie told me that he and Trump have not spoken in two years. Did he miss Trump?

“Not particularly,” he said.

Do you think he misses you?



“I do,” Christie said.

“Has he called, or tried to reach out?”

“No, that wouldn’t be his style,” Christie told me. “That would be too ego-violative.” (I made a mental note that I’d never before heard the term ego-violative.)

“But I do think he misses me, yeah. I think he misses people who tell him what the truth is. I think he misses that.”

Christie had another meeting scheduled at nine at the Hay-Adams, this one with Congressman John James, a freshman Republican from Michigan. From Washington, he would head to New Hampshire, where he had a full two-day schedule planned—a town hall, a few campaignlike stops, some meetings. He told me he would make a decision in the next few weeks whether to run.

Before I left the hotel, I asked Christie whether his wife, Mary Pat, thought he should run. “My wife affirmatively wants me to do it, which is different than 2015 and 2016,” Christie told me. “She thinks I’m the only person who can effectively take on Donald Trump.”

That’s kind of what I think, I told him—that he could at least play the role of a deft agitator. Good, Christie said, but Mary Pat’s vote counted for more than mine. “I sleep with her every night,” he explained. I told him I understood.

“Have fun in New Hampshire,” I said as Christie shook my hand and pirouetted out of the dining room. He seemed to be no longer mad, if he ever was.

Mark Leibovich is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s