Most people following Chris Christie's 2024 presidential bid believe he stands no chance of winning the Republican nomination.
The former New Jersey governor isn’t a widely popular figure in today's GOP, and it's very possible he will fail to meet the polling and donor thresholds to qualify for the party's primary debates.
Nonetheless, the debates are being framed as a potential golden goose for the Christie campaign. The idea is that if Christie has a chance to confront Donald Trump onstage, he’ll rhetorically embarrass and expose the former president for being a political disaster and an obstacle to the GOP's electoral chances.
But if Christie is actually seeking the nomination (and not just seeking to keep it from Trump), he’s going to have to broaden his rhetorical savagery beyond Trump — as he did quite effectively in 2016. That’s where Christie poses a unique threat to Ron DeSantis, whose campaign has consistently ranked a distant second behind Trump's in the polls.
On Tuesday’s episode of “The ReidOut,” Joy Reid reminded viewers of Christie’s famous exchange with Sen. Marco Rubio during a debate in 2016, when Christie called out Rubio for repeatedly using an obviously rehearsed line. Here's a clip from NBC News' 2016 coverage of the debate:
That exchange went viral and helped sandbag Rubio’s campaign by portraying the senator as a robotic candidate unfit for prime time.
Rubio still seems hung up on that moment, given he tweeted about it Tuesday night after Christie’s campaign announcement.
But here's the thing: DeSantis has a similar vulnerability. He’s painfully awkward, and his rhetoric often sounds over-rehearsed.
Joy helped highlight this Tuesday with a compilation of recent instances in which DeSantis used variations of a single attack line — seemingly aimed at Trump. That line is essentially: “At the end of the day, leadership is not about entertainment. It’s not about building a brand. It’s not about virtue signaling."
As Joy noted, DeSantis has trotted out this line of attack multiple times now. It has apparently become a rhetorical crutch for him.
His attempt to repurpose Winston Churchill’s pre-D-Day speech to frame the fight against so-called wokeness as similar to World War II seems primed to become another crutch. But Christie has shown a willingness to obliterate that kind of focus group-tested schlock. And even scarier for his potential primary opponents: He’s entering the race intent on making memorable moments out of the debates.
Even in the likely event he doesn’t secure the GOP nomination, he could still do damage.
Florida’s governor better pray Christie saves his sharpest barbs for Trump. If he doesn’t, DeSantis might just get Rubio’d.