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Chris Christie's Trump pivot has given us some zingers. Why it won't help him win.

Christie is doing a lot more damage to Trump’s perpetually wounded ego than he is to Trump’s poll numbers.
Donald Trump and Chris Christie in Bedminster, N.J.
Donald Trump and Chris Christie in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 20, 2016. Carolyn Kaster / AP file

The personal insults flung between Donald Trump and Chris Christie have given the 2024 campaign the tenor of a slumber party. Trump is the mean girl whose taunts go too far (the way he cagily called Christie a “fat pig” without actually calling him a fat pig is the kind of thing a 14-year-old would find clever). But even Christie has come across as sassy and not serious. He’s mocked Trump as a “child” and a “baby” (if also “an angry old man”) and described the situation at Mar-a-Lago as “Abbott and Costello meets the Corleones” and an exercise in “stupidity.“ This one could have come from an early draft of “Heathers.” Donald Trump, Christie said, is “a lonely, self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog.” 

Granted, Christie’s negging stems from Trump being a threat to democracy, which is only discussed at slumber parties when I throw them.

The spat makes great fodder for political Twitter (or whatever) and suggests that the upcoming GOP primary debates could be extra spicy — if Trump shows up. Do the exchanges mean anything for the race beyond that? Trump’s determination to keep punching down at Christie (hardly his biggest threat) probably says more about what Trump thinks of his own chances than it says about the actual state of play. Which is to say, Christie is doing a lot more damage to Trump’s perpetually wounded ego than he is to Trump’s poll numbers and, sadly, there is not much of a correlation between the two.

For his part, Christie will likely walk away from the verbal melee with even more fans who will never, ever vote for him, either because they are Democrats or because they live outside of New Jersey. And New Jerseyans will only vote for him if his brand refresh works a miracle, as Christie left state office with the lowest approval rating of any governor since we started keeping track. (People forget this, that’s how good with the one-liners he is.) Without a doubt, Christie is creating another round of clips to keep his talking head job alive, and now he will get to add “I tried to stop Trump!” to his resume. But he’ll have to hope people stop reading immediately after that, because only a couple of lines down are all of the things he did to help get Trump elected in 2016. 

Christie will likely walk away from the verbal melee with even more fans who will never, ever vote for him.

In Christie’s florid retelling now, his breaking point with Trump came on election night 2020, when Trump “stood behind the seal of the president in the East Room of the White House and said the election was stolen... When you undercut the American people’s belief in democracy from behind the podium at the White House, to me, that was it.” Stirring stuff. 

Now let’s roll the tape from that night. You can find it yourself. In that moment, Christie does not sound offended, or experiencing a profound shift in consciousness and/or conscience. He says he “disagrees” with Trump on the issue. “It’s a bad strategic decision, it’s a bad political decision,” Christie remarks. “And it’s not the kind of decision you expect someone to make tonight, when you hold the position he holds.” I guess that last part is a little stirring. Or have I had too much coffee today?

His current defense for his first ride on the Trump train is less polished than the rousing “I did it for America!” he has rolled out to justify getting off. A reporter recently asked him how he could have gotten on board with Trump knowing what he knew about the reality TV star from having dealt with him in his pre-political form. 

Christie replies as if all he’d done was predict a winning season for the Mets: “I turned out to be wrong. OK?” It was, he said, “one decision in a public life that now spans almost 23 years.”

Judging him just for that one time he backed a guy who he now describes as a “crybaby and a loser” in addition to a threat to democracy? Well, that “wouldn’t be any fairer than me judging you on any one story that you’ve written over the course of your career,” he said. I’m glad he still believes that journalism has that kind of power — he might be the only Republican that does — but we’re not talking apples-to-apples here. 

Christie minimizing his first about-face regarding Trump is merely disingenuous. But by his own logic, it’s also an argument to ignore Christie entirely. If he doesn’t want us to make a big deal out of his decision to back Trump — it’s just one decision! give a guy a break, etc. — why should it mean very much that he’s decided to oppose Trump now?