Chris Christie Isn’t Apologizing For Once Riding the Trump Train: “I’m Not Perfect”

Chris Christie has been the most entertaining candidate of the 2024 presidential election cycle. His barbed attacks on front-runner Donald Trump have made the former federal prosecutor and two-term governor of New Jersey a rare figure in the crowded Republican field, and they have earned Christie a wealth of media attention. Republican primary voters, however, don’t seem to be buying the act: Christie has been polling in the single digits, and 35% of New Hampshire primary voters say they’d never vote for him, by far the highest negative share among the contenders. Christie will keep punching away, though, invigorated by the fact that he has nothing to lose and by his stark conversion from prominent Trump endorser in 2016 to gleeful Trump baiter in 2023, a turn he argues is about telling the truth, not opportunism. “Unlike a lot of other people, I’m willing to admit that I was wrong about something,” Christie says. “You don’t see that happen often in American politics.

Vanity Fair: In the past month you’ve called former president Donald Trump a liar, a coward, a loser, a lonely mirror hog, a spoiled child, a baby, and a puppet of Putin.

Chris Christie: I think you’re missing a few.

Will you say any or all of that to his face on the debate stage in August?

Of course. Why wouldn’t I? It’s all true.

And if he doesn’t show up, how does it change your strategy?

The biggest change will be we’ll all have a lot more time to speak. If you’re on that stage, you have two jobs: one is to make the case for yourself. And the second is to make the case against the frontrunner.

So make a case for yourself on a few big policy issues. The U.S. immigration system is a mess, and Congressional Republicans have blocked comprehensive reform, then used the border as a campaign issue. How would you make progress?

People have played politics with the issue on both sides. You’re right, there are times when Republicans have stood in the way of changing the immigration system. And then Barack Obama had 60 votes in the United States Senate where he could have gotten any changes he wanted through Congress. And he chose not to do it. It’s going to take a Republican from a blue state who knows how to make deals. I’ve always been able to do it. I did it for eight years with a Democratic legislature in New Jersey.

Do you want a wall?

Let’s finish it and let’s do it the right way. I’m not going to lie to people like Donald Trump did. I’m not going to say I’ll build a wall and then I won’t, I’ll only build 52 miles of new wall in four years. And I’m certainly not going to say Mexico is going to pay for it, because they’re not.

You say you’re pro-life but that as president you would leave abortion laws to individual states. If you believe legal abortion is wrong, isn’t it wrong everywhere?

The Constitution is silent on this issue, and that means that the power reverts to the states. Every state and their people should have the right to make the call on what they think is best for their state. We’ve been arguing this as conservatives for 50 years, that Roe was wrong because it wasn’t in the Constitution. We finally won. There’s no reason for us to get the federal government involved at this point.

In 2015 you said climate change was real but it was “not a crisis.” How about now, when the water temperature in Florida is 100 degrees?

Yeah, look, I think we have to take action on climate change, but we can’t do it by ourselves. In the last decade we’ve lowered our carbon emissions by a billion tons a year. And at the same time, the Chinese have increased theirs by 5 billion tons a year. There’s no doubt in my mind that it would make sense for all of us to be moving towards things that don’t add to carbon, and you could also do things like carbon capture. But America can’t fix this one on its own. That would be one of the items on my agenda with the Chinese after I’m elected.

Okay, back to the election. Trump has a huge lead in the polls. What evidence do you see that there are a substantial number of Republicans who want to see a candidate go hard after Trump?

It’s the right thing to do and it needs to be said and the truth matters. I’m still enough of a nerd to believe in that. Secondly, I hear from people all the time who say, ‘Yeah, I might vote for Trump, but I might consider somebody else, too.’ And I think that’s a majority of voters in the Republican Party. If we stopped the campaign based on polls eight years ago, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker would have been battling it out at the convention. I’ll tell you this. Eight years ago, 50 days into my campaign, I had 6,000 donors. Eight years later, 50 days in, I have 51,000 donors. I don’t know. That seems to be more of an indication than somebody answering a poll on a computer or over a cell phone, when they are actually willing to pony up some money.

Speaking of eight years ago, here’s what I don’t understand. During the 2016 campaign you talked about having had a long relationship with Trump.

Fifteen years, yup.

So you had seen him, up close, run New Jersey casinos into the ground. You had seen Trump cheat on his wives. In 2010, he had called you to offer the ludicrous advice that as governor you should allow New Jersey to go bankrupt. You knew all that, plus you’re a savvy and experienced guy, and yet you still endorsed Trump and said, “Donald is a leader…There is no one better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs both at home and around the world.” How do you square those things?


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