Christie will be remembered as a guy who helped Trump

For the second time in less than a week, a poll suggests that Chris Christie could be saving Donald Trump from an embarrassing defeat in New Hampshire.

A CNN/University of New Hampshire survey released on Tuesday — exactly two weeks before the primary — found Nikki Haley closing in on the former president, at 32 percent compared to Trump’s 39 percent. But Christie is sucking up 12 percent of the votes. This follows another poll by ARG that had Trump at 37 percent and Haley at 33 percent, with Christie’s 10 percent support also more than exceeding the margin between the top two contenders.

If this is an accurate representation of the state of the race, it means that if Christie were to drop out, and Haley were able to retain most of the former New Jersey governor’s supporters, she’d have a legitimate shot to win the state. This prospect becomes much more difficult if Christie is campaigning against her and pulling double-digit support, mostly composed of anti-Trump voters.

There are a few important caveats here. New Hampshire polling can be unreliable given that independents, many of whom are Democrats, can cross over and vote in the Republican primary. This makes it much more difficult for pollsters to predict who is going to show up. Also, both of the pollsters cited above have whiffed in past races. There is also another recent poll in New Hampshire showing Trump so far ahead that Haley couldn’t catch him even if she absorbed all of Christie’s supporters.

In a recent interview with Hugh Hewitt, Christie conceded that, at most, 15 percent of his support would transfer to Trump were he to drop out (which, if he’s at around 10 percent, would give Trump a boost of one or two points max). Christie answered “yes” when Hewitt asked him, “Does your data show that a significant number of Christie voters would vote for Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis if you dropped out?” Christie also suggested some voters would stay home if he were to drop out.

Essentially, Christie’s argument for staying in the race is that he’s the only one willing to tell the truth about Trump. DeSantis is strategically trying to criticize Trump from the right — attacking him on Covid policies, his failure to build a border wall, etc. — while equivocating when it comes to issues such as Trump’s conduct after his 2020 election defeat. Haley, meanwhile, is out there saying she’d pardon Trump if he’s found guilty and offering nonsense answers on a variety of questions out of fear of saying something that may turn off a segment of the electorate (most notably her gibberish on the Civil War that didn’t mention slavery). Christie has been speaking in blunt terms about Trump.

But since Christie likes to pride himself on speaking hard truths, here’s some truth about his candidacy: Christie is never going to be the Republican nominee. He is wildly unpopular among Republican primary voters. The only reason he has low double-digit support in New Hampshire is that independents (including those who are effectively Democrats) can vote in the primary. Going into the campaign, he hoped to be able to dress down Trump on the debate stage. But when Trump refused to show up to debates, Christie was deprived of that opportunity.

In 2016, when many of us were warning of the dangers of nominating Trump, Christie was running interference for him, including decapitating Senator Marco Rubio in New Hampshire. He then endorsed Trump, campaigned for him, ran his transition team, and defended him for years. He changed his tune after the 2020 election and the riot at the U.S. Capitol, but it wasn’t until recently that he admitted that his Trump endorsement was a mistake.

The 2024 campaign has essentially been an effort by Christie to create a redemption arc in his political story, in which he is the only one willing to tell Republican primary voters what they need to hear about Trump.

To be clear, I have never been a fan of the term “spoiler.” I believe that elections are about persuading voters, and in this case Haley has no right to a clear shot at Trump. If she thinks she’s the best alternative, she needs to make the case and win over Christie’s voters rather than counting on him to drop out based on polls. Also, Trump is still the heavy favorite for the nomination regardless of what Christie does.

That said, if we’re talking about Christie’s political legacy, that’s a different matter. Right now, the knock on him is that he wants attention for being the guy to speak out against Trump more than he wants Trump to actually lose. Nothing would more clearly demonstrate he’s changed than a speech in which he says that he will continue to speak the truth about Trump but acknowledges that he can’t win — and that dropping out at this point will improve the odds of actually beating Trump. If Trump wins New Hampshire and coasts to the nomination anyway, Christie could still argue for the rest of his days that he put aside his ego and did everything he could to stop this from happening.

But if the results in New Hampshire track recent polling, with Haley close to Trump and Christie drawing more than the difference between them, this is not how Christie will be remembered. He will instead be remembered as a guy who twice helped Trump become the Republican nominee.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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