Why Chris Christie’s Long Shot Presidential Run Matters

Former NJ Gov. Chris Christie standing with a microphone in hand
If Christie wants to make a final mark and a final push for some sort of political legacy, this is his chance, says Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of Rutgers’ Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.
Rich Koele/Shutterstock

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie entered the race seeking the Republican Party nomination for president today, challenging front runner Donald Trump in a growing field.

What are his chances of getting picked for the top of the ticket? And if they are low, why did Christie put his hat in the ring?

Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of Rutgers’ Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, talked to Rutgers Today about what the former Governor’s candidacy could mean in an increasingly crowded contest.

What are Christie’s chances to win the Republican Party nomination?

According to early presidential primary polling, Chris Christie’s chances of getting the Republican nomination for 2024 look pretty slim right now. He’s averaging 1 percent in an increasingly crowded field and has low favorability ratings among GOP voters. Let’s not also forget that he left office in 2017 with the lowest job approval and favorability of any New Jersey governor on record, and his presidential aspirations in 2016 quickly ended in New Hampshire after months of single-digit support in the polls.

Given all of this, it may be difficult to understand why Christie is throwing his hat back in the ring this time, especially when the height of his popularity within the GOP peaked over a decade ago. If he can hone his political talents to take down Trump, which he has already been working on in recent years, other Republican presidential candidates, politicians and voters in the never-Trump camp may be grateful. That kind of triumph could even give Christie a coveted position in a new Republican administration or within the Party – something he never received from his former friend Trump. If Christie loses the nomination, his involvement in 2024 could still be the redemption arc he sorely needs.

How can he influence the race and what role do you see him playing?

Christie may have never been a top presidential candidate in 2016, but he certainly had an impact on the field. His takedown of Marco Rubio during the debates eight years ago could be foreshadowing for Christie’s strategy – whether intentional or not – in 2024. Christie has not shied away from publicly criticizing the former president in recent years and shows no signs of stopping. That is something that could possibly benefit Christie himself but will also almost certainly benefit some of the other Republican presidential candidates. Christie has painted himself as a sharp contrast to Trump and thus a different direction for the Republican Party in its current state – arguably a return to a more moderate brand of Republicanism that garnered Christie accolades in his first term as New Jersey governor. His candidacy will act as both a distinct choice and different direction for the party, as well as something of a pot-stirrer.

How does he reconcile being one of Trump’s biggest supporters during his previous runs and now being one of his most outspoken critics in the GOP?

Times change, people change. We used to criticize politicians who changed their mind on issues and call them “flip-floppers,” but nowadays, changing your mind and your stances has become commonplace in politics. Christie was once briefly on the inside of the Trump administration, but the breakup was quite public, and Christie lost no time in hitting the airwaves to criticize the president. Christie can in fact shape the narrative of his former support to his advantage, claiming that his previously close relationship with Trump gives him insight into how the former president thinks. Nothing stings more or packs more of a punch than a (former) “friend” claiming to “tell it like it is” about where you went wrong on policy decisions.

What makes Christie stand out in the field? 

No matter how you feel about him, you have to give Chris Christie credit for being a noteworthy talent in the political sphere. He is a gifted orator with a brash yet impactful style that has been both a blessing and a curse to his political career. And whether or not you agree with his stances, he is policy minded, experienced, and has left some significant legacies – both good and bad – from his tenure as governor. He also arguably has across-the-aisle experience, being able to tout bipartisan efforts and collaborations in his heyday (whether voters actually care about bipartisanship anymore is a different story). His unique “straight talking” persona was overshadowed by Trump in 2016, but this time around, Christie will likely stand out by being a candidate unafraid to take on his former friend. Christie has gone viral a number of times throughout his career, so it will be interesting, to say the least, to watch how he campaigns in the months to come.

Is it harder for a New Jersey politician to be considered for the highest office?

The case is more glass half full here than half empty. New Jersey is one of only 21 states that has been home to a U.S. president. The Garden State was the birthplace of Grover Cleveland and the state of residence for Woodrow Wilson, who was governor when elected to the presidency. In recent decades, there have been a number of candidates besides Chris Christie with Jersey roots: U.S. Senator Cory Booker, former Rep. John Delaney, Steve Forbes, and former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley. I like to think that, for much of politics, there is always a Jersey angle.

Is there another explanation for his run? What do you think are his ultimate aspirations?

This is the million dollar question. Clearly, anyone who runs for president thinks they have something important to contribute to the country. Christie, in particular, was a political talent who burned bright but fast within the past decade, and his 2016 run was not what he had hoped. This second run could be an attempt at redemption for Christie and a foot back into the political world after a bizarre almost eight years of unprecedented election cycles and a pandemic … and perhaps just long enough after the Bridgegate scandal to where voters may not remember or care.  If Christie wants to make a final mark and a final push for some sort of political legacy, this is his chance.