There’s an axiom in basketball that when you are playing against a gifted shot-blocker, the only effective strategy is to go right at him or her. Don’t shoot fade-aways; jump right into them.
Chris Christie is doing just that against Donald Trump as they both circle the 2024 race.
Asked by Axios how he responded to an attack by Trump that Christie had left office with a single-digit approval rating, the former New Jersey governor said this:
“I’m not gonna get into a back-and-forth with Donald Trump. But what I will say is this: When I ran for reelection in 2013, I got 60% of the vote. When he ran for reelection, he lost to Joe Biden.”
Which, well, OK!
Lest you think this was just a spontaneous line without a strategy behind it from Christie, I’d refer you to the speech he gave to a high-profile Republican Jewish Coalition crowd in Las Vegas over the weekend.
“We can no longer talk about the past and the past elections — no matter where you stand on that issue, no matter where you stand, it is over,” Christie told the crowd, which was packed with major donors to conservative causes. He added that the party better “take our eyes off the rearview mirror and start looking through the windshield again.”
(It was that speech, and the wall-to-wall coverage that Christie received from it, that prompted the former President to attack his onetime ally.)
Christie is doing all of this on purpose. What he’s going for — I think — is to cast himself as the guy in the Republican Party who isn’t afraid to stand up to Trump and tell it like it is.
Which is itself a callback to the reputation Christie built so successfully at the start of this decade — frank talk about the problems facing the country — before he wound up endorsing Trump in 2016 and spending much of the following years as one of the president’s most high-profile lackeys.
Unfortunately for Christie’s political brand, he can’t memory-hole those years — no matter how much he might want to. (Hear Christie talk about this more extensively on Monday night — he sat down with CNN’s Dana Bash for an episode of her ongoing series “Being…”)
Regardless of whether the take-it-to-Trump strategy works, it will be interesting to see how the former President and his voters react to Christie’s maneuvering. With very limited exceptions (Marco Rubio for a few days in 2016), no prominent Republican has ever gone directly at Trump in a sustained manner. (The Lincoln Project probably did the best at giving Trump a taste of his own medicine.)
The Point: Does, and can, Christie keep this up? And is there any bloc of voters under the Republican tent who would respond well to this confrontational approach to Trump?