MANCHESTER, N.H. (CN) — Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will reprise his 2016 attempt to win the White House, despite worsening odds over the intervening years.
Formally announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, Christie spoke Tuesday at a small town hall in Manchester, New Hampshire, and the theme of his speech may have given the Republican field a new slogan: Make America Big Again.
"We have leaders who have led us to being small, small by their example, small by the way they conduct themselves,” Christie said, saying former presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden have all divided their political parties into manageable pieces. "We always picked big" in American history, Christie said, citing "big decisions" made during the American Revolution, space race, and Cold War.
During the speech Tuesday night, Christie laid into Trump even more than he did Biden, saying he could not "sit by and watch this happen” as he saw "leaders who have shown us over and over again that they are devoid of character but they don’t care” enter the 2024 race.
"We can’t dismiss the question of character anymore," he said.
Responding to a question from a 15-year-old attendee, Christie waved away concerns he wouldn't be able to win over Trump voters. "There is no such thing as Trump voters. He doesn’t own them," he said. “They are not one of his buildings, they are not one of his failed casinos in New Jersey.”
He also said Biden never beat anybody outside of Delaware except when he faced Trump.
"The people in the middle said enough" with Trump in 2020, Christie said.
Christie also dodged a question about whether he would pardon Trump. However, he said Richard Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment before Gerald Ford pardoned him, and Trump has never and likely would never admit any wrongdoing. “It is not an easy question to answer,” Christie said.
A former federal prosecutor, Christie took on a national profile during the first of his two terms as New Jersey governor when Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the New Jersey coastal communities in fall 2012. He worked closely with President Obama on the recovery but his popularity cratered only a year later in the political storm that was Bridgegate — a scandal in which two of three lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge were closed for a supposed “traffic study” and snarled traffic for days in Fort Lee. Several former Christie aides claimed that the governor himself orchestrated the shutdown as political payback against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor.
Christie has repeatedly said he knew nothing of the plan to shut down the lanes, and while the scandal did not derail his second gubernatorial run it tarred his legacy.
In 2016, at a trial of two Christie appointees, the governor's political hatchet man David Wildstein turned government witness and claimed he had laughed with Christie about the traffic during a photo shoot within sight of the Statute of Liberty.
Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, also claimed the governor gave the green light for Bridgegate and that other staffers had lied to cover up his involvement. Kelly was later sentenced to 13 months for her role in the shutdown.
In July 2017, the governor also caught flak for a photograph of him and his family laying on a beach even after state beaches had been shutdown during a budget crisis in the state. Christie’s response to his critics at the time was: “I’m sorry they’re not the governor.”
During his speech, Christie joked that he was far from the perfect candidate or person, having made numerous mistakes over his career. “And when I made those mistakes, I admitted them," he said. "But beware of the leader who won't admit any of those shortcomings."
Responding to an audience question, he called Bridgegate a “prank” and blamed the staffers who orchestrated it, noting it cost him credibility in many circles. “They tried to send me to jail for it,” Christie said.
Christie, now 60 years old, has had previous presidential ambitions. In 2015, he began his first presidential bid but was soundly beaten in the primaries, dropping out in early 2016. He then endorsed Donald Trump and was reportedly offered the vice president job after Trump won only to be snubbed for Mike Pence.
While heading up Trump's transition team, Christie suggested attorney Christopher Wray to lead the FBI among a slew of cabinet appointments. Wray gained notoriety during Bridgegate when it was revealed he had possession of Christie’s old cellphone, and Trump would later refer to Wray as “the worst member” of his administration.
Christie’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien also joined the Trump White House in its early days and managed to survive a purge of other Christie staffers. Stepien, who was romantically linked to Kelly at one point, had been implicated in the Bridgegate scandal and was fired by Christie in the fallout.
Trump tapped Christie again to help his campaign in 2020, working on debate prep against Joe Biden. This also brought cracks in the two men’s relationship, however, after Trump allegedly hid his infection with Covid-19. Christie caught the virus and was hospitalized for several days.
The Christie-Trump relationship soured after the January 6, 2021, riot on the U.S. Capitol, with Christie calling the events of that day a “red line” for his support of Trump and criticizing many Republicans for downplaying what occurred. “January 6 was a riot that was incited by Donald Trump in an effort to intimidate Mike Pence and the Congress,” he told a right-wing radio program last year. “He wanted the election to be overturned.”
Going on to target Trump on other issues, Christie has called the former president a “coward” for refusing to back Ukraine against Russia and saying Trump has nothing but a “big mouth.” Trump has also taken his own jabs, nicknaming the former governor “sloppy Chris Christie” and mocking his poll numbers.
Echelon Insights shows Christie polling with roughly 1% of support, trailing virtually all other Republican hopefuls and far behind the approximately 49% support Trump enjoys in that poll.
The former governor's “Tell It Like It Is” political action committee meanwhile describes Christie as a “proven leader who fearlessly tells it like it is” and “has consistently confronted challenging issues head-on.”Follow @NickRummell
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.