Christie sees mild jabs at Trump as a route to 2024, but he could get pummeled

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Chris Christie has edged out onto the tightrope and is struggling to keep his balance.

The onetime confidant and supporter of Donald Trump has a new high-wire act, which is maneuvering for another White House run while criticizing the former president — to a point — without alienating his voters. If Christie falls off and face-plants, his 2024 ambitions are probably toast.

The former New Jersey governor is part of a second wave of ex-Trump loyalists who are distancing themselves from their old boss, either to boost their new careers or disavow the stolen-election rhetoric.

Alyssa Farah, a top Mike Pence aide until she became Trump’s communications director last year, now tells CNN she’s worried about what a reelected Trump would do, from further attacks on the press to politicizing the military. Farah, who quit after the election, recently got whacked by the former president, who called her a “clown,” a “backbencher” and “now a nobody again. We put her out there to face the public as little as possible.” He also denied Farah’s claim that he admitted to her that he lost the election.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting at The Venetian hotel-casino on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. 
(Associated Press)

Stephanie Grisham, the longtime Melania aide who served as White House press secretary, savaged them both in a tell-all book, calling Trump a paranoid man with a terrifying temper. Grisham, who resigned the day after Jan. 6, was promptly ripped by Trump as “angry and bitter” after breaking up with a colleague.

These are among the people who hopped the last train out of Trump World, joining such earlier exiles and escapees as John Bolton, Jim Mattis, Anthony Scaramucci and John Kelly. And it’s certainly fair to say they have mixed motives.

Christie just happens to be peddling a new book, “Republican Rescue,” and is making the TV rounds in the guise of chief rescuer. 

I interviewed Christie several times during the 2016 campaign and even though he got clobbered (along with Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and the rest), he is media-savvy and has considerable political skills. Remember how the ex-prosecutor eviscerated Rubio during one debate? And he was also hobbled by the Bridgegate mess.

Christie began his new drive with a common refrain in parts of the GOP: We can’t dwell in the past, elections are about the future. In other words, whether or not you agree with Trump that 2020 was rigged, it’s time for the party to move on.

The high-road approach didn’t stop Trump from hitting back. In one of his many releases to reporters, he said Christie “was just absolutely massacred by his statements that Republicans having to move on from the past, meaning the 2020 Election Fraud. Everybody remembers that Chris left New Jersey with less than a 9 percent approval rating — a record low, and they didn’t want to hear this from him!”

Then-President-elect Donald Trump, left, waves to the media as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrives at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse, in Bedminster, New Jersey, Nov. 20, 2016.
(Associated Press)

Christie, an ABC News commentator, argues that he criticized Trump’s conduct in real-time after the election and on Jan. 6. He told CNN’s Dana Bash he doesn’t think Trump’s speech on the day of the Capitol riot “caused what happened. I think everything he was saying from Election Night forward incited people to that level of anger.”

And therein lies the rub. The more specific Christie is in faulting Trump’s post-election conduct, the more he risks alienating the former president’s fierce supporters. But the more he soft-pedals his rhetoric, the more he gets called out by the media.

When Christie hemmed and hawed over whether he would support Trump in 2024, saying no one knows whether he’ll run, Bash shot back: “With all due respect, that sounds like a cop-out.”

During the Jan. 6 riot, Christie was both a player and critic. “I was desperate to try to get in touch with him,” he told “Axios on HBO,” “because I felt like what was happening was awful and was going to be a stain on his presidency, and I wanted him to be the guy to stand up and stop it. But he didn’t take the call, and so I said what I would have said to him privately on the air on ABC.” He also called Trump’s treatment of Pence “awful.”

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump wave to the Washington crowd on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017. (Getty Images)

When the former governor said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he didn’t regret backing Trump in 2016, co-host Mika Brzezinski pushed back hard. Christie said he agreed with most of Trump’s policies and thinks Hillary Clinton would have been a worse president. Brzezinski kept asking whether Trump embraced anti-democratic values, and Christie kept ducking.

And Christie certainly didn’t endear himself to his old friend when he told “The View” that when contracted a serious case of Covid after a White House super-spreader event, Trump called him to ask: “You’re not going to blame me, are you?”

If the GOP nominee three years from now is anyone other than Trump, that person will have to bridge that gap. A candidate might win the primary by embracing the stolen-election argument, but that would be considerable baggage in the general election. Chris Christie is an agile performer, but I’m not sure he can square this circle.

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