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    Douglas Schoen: Chris Christie may lose the battle but win the war against Donald Trump
    • July 7, 2023

    Trump-acolyte turned Trump-rival Chris Christie is off to an intriguing start in his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. Since launching his dark horse candidacy in early June, Christie has taken swipes at Trump and DeSantis and garnered a modest bump in the polls.

    Although a longshot for the nomination, Christie has been stronger than most pundits predicted. Due to his consistent schedule of television interviews and soundbites of him attacking Trump, he is receiving more national media attention than most other Trump challengers.

    Arguably more important than the momentum and early success of Christie’s campaign is the blueprint he is laying out for other candidates. While Christie himself may have a limited path to winning the GOP nomination due to his unpopularity within the party, he’s creating a salient, persuasive, and effective anti-Trump playbook that not only another Republican could use to make up ground on the former president, but one that Democrats must leverage in 2024 to rebuild a winning coalition.

    Christie’s head on approach to the GOP frontrunner has focused on Trump’s faults, missteps, and lies. He has all but said his purpose for running is to defeat his former friend and ally who he calls a “loser” and a “child.” 

    The Christie playbook has included calling out Trump’s election lies, highlighting his repeated electoral losses, pointing to the evidence in Trump’s indictments rather than blaming the Department of Justice, questioning why so many of his former staffers say he should not be president again, and framing him as an unserious candidate who wants to be President again solely for personal gain.

    During a CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper, Christie repeatedly lambasted him, saying Trump “doesn’t give a damn about the American people.” He continues to make the rounds on CNN, NBC, ABC, and Fox News shows to attack Trump’s record and his grievance politics. 

    This strategy marks a stark difference from the rest of the field, including second leading candidate and Trump’s main rival Ron DeSantis, who has mostly tiptoed around criticizing Trump even when given clear opportunities to do so. Yet, it has been validated by a strong jump for Christie in the key state of New Hampshire, where he now finds himself in third place in the two most recent polls from the key state. In fact, the New Hampshire Journal poll has Christie just four points behind DeSantis.

    The anti-Trump remarks have also garnered Christie a steadily growing donor network, which is critical to qualifying for the RNC debates. On June 18th, after just twelve days of campaigning, Christie announced he had reached 15,000 of the 40,000 donors required to make the debate stage. 

    Christie has generated enough buzz to draw attacks from Trump himself, despite Trump’s claim that he only targets the opponent who is currently in second place. While sitting at just low single digits in national polls, Christie clearly has the former president’s attention and knows it, as he joked in this tweet.

    To be sure, the former Governor of New Jersey faces a steep climb to the nomination due to his poor ratings among the GOP base. CBS/YouGov’s June poll found 79% of Republican primary voters currently say they are not even considering him, and a Monmouth University poll found his favorable ratings 26 points underwater. 

    Yet, Christie has the potential to create the biggest lasting impact in the Republican Party – even if he doesn’t win. Christie is taking on Donald Trump directly, and by doing so, may be the one who can pave the way for a post-Trump Republican Party.

    By continuing his viral attacks on Trump through the summer and fall, he may be able to take the former president down a notch in the polls and create an opening for a viable alternative who can follow Christie’s script. 

    Indeed, even if a candidate with a strong chance to win employs Christie’s playbook, Trump is still the prohibitive favorite to secure the GOP nomination and the indictments have only further consolidated the Republican base behind him. 

    Thus, Christie’s anti-Trump playbook likely offers more benefits to the Democratic Party in a 2024 Biden-Trump general election rematch. 

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    Due to President Biden’s low approval ratings and poor marks on the economy, the Democrats must run a negative campaign that leverages Christie’s lines of attack to present a choice between Biden and Trump. Christie’s emphasis on Trump’s selfishness and irresponsibility may not work with GOP primary voters but will likely be persuasive with independent and moderate general election voters who were crucial to Biden’s 2020 win.

    These voters, whose support will be imperative in 2024, swung to Biden largely because of fatigue from Trump’s drama and recklessness, which is exactly what Christie’s campaign is seizing on. Further, the nonstop attacks on Trump will turn out the liberal base for Biden and galvanize grassroots fundraising.

    Realistically, Chris Christie’s campaign will be a success if he can knock down Trump and DeSantis enough to give an alternative, more sensible candidate a chance at winning the nomination. But the more likely scenario is he will refine anti-Trump messaging that will prove crucial to the Democratic Party’s effort to give Trump one final defeat.

    What is the payoff for Chris Christie, a senior position in the next Biden administration or a high-level ambassadorship?

    Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant. 

    ​ Orange County Register