This is not just because Christie could lose New Hampshire while sucking up enough votes to spoil the race for other non-Trump candidates (though that could happen); it’s also because… Christie could possibly win.
Why would that be a bad thing? Let me explain.
It’s possible that Christie’s brash style could play well in a contrarian state like New Hampshire. His willingness to overtly criticize Trump could also appeal to undeclared voters who can vote in the New Hampshire primaries and who have no real Democratic presidential primary to worry about, since Joe Biden won’t be on the ballot.
“Vote in the Republican primary, baby. We’re the only game in town, and we’re the only way to stop Donald Trump,” Christie told voters earlier this month.
The only problem is that Christie’s success in New Hampshire—in the event he could pull off a surprise victory—would be unscalable and unreplicable.
Conversely, it’s conceivable to imagine that Nikki Haley, who is gaining in the polls, could parlay a victory in New Hampshire into something much bigger—including a surprise win in her home state of South Carolina.
Even in New Hampshire, Christie tops the “never vote” list, which is to say that he is the candidate for whom a strong plurality of reliable Republicans say they “would never vote … under any circumstances.” (For this reason, Christie should avoid overtly endorsing Haley, even if he withdraws from the election to boost her chances.)
While the number of Republican faithful who disdain Christie might be surmountable due to New Hampshire’s vagaries, it would be deadly in almost any other state (case in point: Christie appears to have completely written off Iowa).
Indeed, it seems likely that a Christie win in the idiosyncratic state of New Hampshire would do little other than bolster Christie’s ego and prevent Haley (or someone else) from having the chance to catch fire. And that is the best-case scenario.
You may ask why my focus is on Haley. Well, it’s partly because I believe she has the best chance to defeat Trump and Biden, partly because I think she is the most sane and decent candidate running, and partly because Christie’s exodus would specifically help her.
Unlike Ron DeSantis (whose voters probably go to Trump), Christie’s voters would likely go disproportionately to Haley.
And make no mistake: Those voters would be a welcome addition to Haley’s coalition. According to a recent CNN/University of New Hampshire poll, Trump is still in the lead (Trump at 42 percent, Haley at 20 percent, and Christie at 14 percent). It’s not hard to see how a Christie exodus could boost Haley’s competitive edge in the race for the Granite State.
Again, though, it’s difficult to ask someone who thinks he has a chance to win New Hampshire to drop out before testing that hypothesis.
Getting out of the race would be a noble sacrifice for the greater good. It’s the kind of thing Democrats did very quickly in 2020, when they consolidated around Biden to stop Bernie Sanders.
But is Christie the kind of guy to prioritize the greater good over his own self-interest?
In a sense, it would help redeem his reputation. He was once heralded for his plainspokenness and ability to work with Democrats, while maintaining his conservative bona fides. Then he dropped out of the 2016 race early, endorsed Trump, and tried to get a job in his administration—only to be thwarted by his nemesis, Jared Kushner.
Will Christie now help Trump win another nomination this time by refusing to drop out?
For now, Christie seems to be determined to give it a go. Regardless of how he fares, if he stays in through New Hampshire, it’s hard to see Christie as anything other than a primary spoiler.
Now, I don’t want to be too hard on Christie. To this point in the race, he has been a net positive. Christie has attacked Trump in a manner that no other primary opponent has willingly embraced. That has been both commendable and helpful. It’s entirely possible he will pull the rip-cord just in time.
But let’s not forget that his primary raison d’être was always to destroy Trump on stage during a Republican debate. I always saw this as a sort of kamikaze mission that would potentially hurt Trump and most certainly not result in Christie winning the nomination.
Trump adeptly avoided this fate by avoiding the debates. As such, Christie’s primary value-add never materialized.
What this means is that his mission is nearly complete, and overstaying his welcome will result in diminishing returns.
I am grateful for Christie’s contribution to the 2020 race, and I’m hopeful he won’t undermine it by overstaying his welcome.
Thank you for your service, Chris Christie, from an appreciative cohort of Republicans who desperately want the party to move on from Trump. Now drop out of the race.