Two Republicans are finding a second life in the topsy-turvy world that Donald Trump created with a post-presidency as tumultuous as his tenure. The first is Chris Christie, the Trump apologist turned boisterous critic. The former New Jersey governor was the first challenger to Trump for the 2016 presidential nomination to back his Queens-raised rival. He was on the shortlist for vice president even though, as a federal prosecutor, he indicted and convicted Jared Kushner’s father for a crazy extortion scheme that involved sending a prostitute to seduce Jared’s uncle. Usually such things can be hard to get over, but Christie and Trump called them a thing of the past. Even when the reality star chose Mike Pence as his vice president in 2016 and, to add to the humiliation, dumped Christie for Pence as his transition boss, the former varsity baseball player from Livingston, New Jersey, endured and he continued to support Donald. .
But the pretense of affection faded between Trump giving her a case of COVID that put Christie in intensive care for seven days in 2020 and the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Now, Christie wants to topple his former ally and, perhaps , renew your image. , making sure the first line of his obituary doesn’t include “Trump Supporter.”
He is deftly showing the whining field of 2024 Republican hopefuls that you can strip the emperor’s golf clothes, live, and have fun doing it. Since Christie’s announcement, Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who, if you haven’t heard, doesn’t like to wake up, has been losing support every week, registering 25 percent to Trump’s nearly 50.
The other shapeshifter in the Trump post-presidency is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, occupying space in a Venn diagram where MAGA cranks and relics of the Republican establishment overlap. With her initial status of three, MTG was once an outlaw, and she blamed Jewish space lasers for the California wildfires and was stripped of her committee assignments. (The once-controversial QAnon hasn’t blamed George Soros for this summer’s Canadian fires; maybe he’ll catch the “gazpacho” police.) Since he did much to put Kevin McCarthy in the Speaker’s chair this winter after 14 exciting ballots, he has enjoyed the good life on the inside. To my surprise and everyone else’s, she has gone from being an arsonist to the teacher’s pet.
As Greene aspires to power, Christie is on a kamikaze mission to take down the largest ship in the Republican fleet, knowing she is unlikely to sink the USS Trump. Sure, Christie enjoys the media love that Liz Cheney once enjoyed, but he’s still on a lonely mission that won’t end with him being the nominee. The former governor uses the superpowers he used to become a two-term governor and helped Trump win in 2016 and 2020 to deprive him of an encore. He employs the right hook and left uppercut of a professional boxer, the instincts of a prosecutor, and the zeal of a convert who found religion in the debris of the Capitol assault. This week, when the ex-commander-in-thief was caught on tape admitting to flaunting stolen classified documents in front of witnesses, Christie explained that it is Trump being “stupid and childish” and a “show-off” who stole documents to “ act like he’s president” because he “can’t live with the fact that he’s not.” He resembled the con-artist Trump family in another appearance, repeating his old prosecution that Trump undid with a pardon. “What was Jared Kushner doing in the Middle East?” Christie asked when he wasn’t secretary of state. Responding to his question, Christie said Trump “put him there to make those relationships and then collect” $2 billion from the Saudis six months after he left the White House.
At a CNN town hall in June, he called Trump, among other things, “angry,” “vindictive” and “utterly self-centered, completely selfish.” He only cares about himself and “doesn’t give a damn about the American people.”
In addition to diagnosing Trump’s pathologies, Christie is a barometer of the possible. He is no longer another Trump supplicant willing to endure any humiliation. (Remember the hot mic incident from 2016 where he told Christie on the track for him to go home.) Since the announcement, the 60-year-old has shown that the cult is crackable; he is a Leah Remini for the Republican Party. That’s no small achievement in a party that cringes when Trump frowns, grows more devoted when he’s impeached, and cheers when he smears the woman he’s just been convicted of libel. Christie’s showed that 5 percent of Republicans are willing to tell a pollster they are ready to break with his orange guru. Nikki Haley, DeSantis, Tim Scott and others have acted like Trump’s impeachment for stealing nuclear secrets and hiding them in his bathroom was no big deal, and they can be rewarded for his cowardice. Christie’s determination to beat up the biggest guy in the prison yard is unlikely to inspire them to do the same.
Elected in 2020, Greene is not interested in saving the republic from Trump. She is behind him for 2024 like so many House Republicans, including much of the Florida delegation that is rejecting her own DeSantis. With a penchant for acting in fitness videos like a normal RFK Jr., the Georgian is keen to save herself from being a side bench. The possibility of being Trump’s running mate seems plausible. Greene lacks the glitz of failed gubernatorial candidate for Arizona television news anchor Kari Lake, who is auditioning for the job. But unlike Lake, she has a job.
Greene’s is a familiar Washington story, a riff on the old saying, “They came to do good and stayed to do good.” Greene came in as a ruthless outlier and ended up as a welcoming primitive. He got a glimpse of what that would be like on the Speaker’s balcony during McCarthy’s run when he broke with his Freedom Caucus gang to support him. Instead of forcing McCarthy to keep the superficial promises he made to win or threatening to undo it five times a week like I thought he would, Greene loves being in the room where it happens. He’s still a boxer, but now mostly with his colleagues, engaging in an expletive-filled public fight with Rep. Lauren Boebert last week. The latest round of a prize fight began when Boebert, Greene’s raven-haired Joan Collins singled out Linda Evans, refused to endorse McCarthy. Now Greene accuses Boebert of copying her homework: Boebert’s articles of impeachment against President Biden are too similar to his previous articles of impeachment against President Biden.
The Freedom Caucus held an internal vote last week on what to do about a rogue Greene who sides with them. According Axios, the vote reflected “support to kick her out.” But Greene is unfazed. There are only 31 members in that caucus and 222 in McCarthy’s, and the smart money is Suzy Space Laser getting stronger in case her former allies martyr her. She’s the one with the plum committee assignments where she goes hard on Hunter Biden and soft on Vladimir Putin. Her strength is all the more remarkable, since McCarthy didn’t have to stay with her after her ascension, but he did. Give him credit. She got over the debt ceiling mess, her voice intact from her.
With his quixotic career, Christie has left behind the years in which he wished he was Trump’s vice president and, failing that, begged for the consolation prize of Attorney General and, failing that, settled for playing a Trump apologist. on A.B.C. He has a lot to answer for, but there are “side acts” in politics, as Richard Nixon demonstrated. Christie is running the best campaign by far by looking back to when he wore the white hat of a federal prosecutor, driving away bad guys like Kushner’s father. He’s reprising that role by going after the baddest guy with gusto. The bravado at Christie’s in Essex County, New Jersey can match Donald’s Manhattan-Queens mix for sheer chutzpah.
But Nixon’s resurrection in 1968 ended tragically, as did Christie’s. Barring a miracle, he will seriously hurt the bad guy but he won’t take his place. Christie can still redeem himself as the dragon slayer who stepped up when no one else did and prevented Trump from returning to the Oval Office. That’s not enough to secure the nomination, not in the Republican Party that Trump has remade, but it’s enough to enjoy the chill of respectable guys who want you back. (Ask Bill Barr.) This crusade will change the address of his obituary, which hopefully won’t be written for decades. Seeing the white light in the ICU that Trump put him in and fighting back may be enough of a reward.