Former President Donald Trump and ex-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have engaged in a heated war of words, each hurling accusations at the other.
Their feud, among two Republican presidential candidates separated with one on top of the polls and the other delving at the bottom, sheds light on the tension between two prominent political figures who enjoyed a long friendship.
The exchange began when Christie claimed that Trump “goes to bed every night thinking about the sound of the jail cell door closing,” during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Christie, a longtime Trump confidant and pal who backed the real estate mogul after his own failed 2016 presidential candidacy crashed has become a vocal critic, implying that the former president was haunted by the prospect of facing legal consequences.
“Because part of what the Department of Justice has always done, under all of the attorneys general that I’ve seen in my lifetime, is if we offer you a plea — which I’m certain they will — and you turn it down and you take us to trial and you’re convicted, that judge is sending you to jail,” said Christie.
“No matter what he says, no matter how he’s bragging and going on and on, about him not being afraid, he goes to bed every night, thinking about the sound of that jail cell door closing behind them,” he said. “So the point of all that really is to say, when push comes to shove, I’m not so sure [Trump] won’t take a plea. Because if that’s the only way he knows he can avoid prison, I think he just may.”
Reacting to Christie’s remarks, the Trump campaign fired back with accusations seeking to undermine the ex-governor’s credibility and portray his aspirations as delusions of grandeur.
“Chris Christie lives in a perpetual fantasy land where he thinks he can be president. Everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie wrapped in an incoherent psychotic rage, and he needs to get some professional help,” said Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump’s campaign who once drew criticism for denouncing the Crusader, a Ku Klux Klan newspaper that declared support for Trump in 2016.
Christie stunned the Republican establishment by endorsing the New York billionaire, who was waging an insurgent campaign against the Republican establishment, after Florida Senator Marco Rubio shattered months of relative peace by repeatedly attacking Trump’s character in a February 25, 2016, GOP debate.
Declaring “there is no better fighter than Donald Trump,” at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, a day after the debate, Christie said: “Donald and I … have been friends for over a decade. He has been a good and loyal friend to our family.”
Christie’s claim about his fear of jail time raises the specter of legal consequences that have loomed over Trump’s post-presidency.
Trump pleaded not guilty to 37 federal charges in a Department of Justice indictment alleging he violated both the Espionage Act and obstructed justice in taking classified records from his presidency and refusing to return them. An FBI search found classified documents at his private residence in Mar-a-Lago.
He may also face charges in Georgia for an attempt to pressure officials to change the election results, in New York for tax fraud and other white-collar crimes, and in federal court over his involvement in the failed coup d’etat that led to rioting on January 6, 2021.
Trump’s campaign counterattack against Christie stems from the former governor’s standing in the 2024 race for president.
He left office in January 2018 with the lowest approval ratings of any New Jersey governor and today, he barely registers in polls, running behind such Republicans running for president as Tim Scott, Nimarata Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy, and level with two current governors who aren’t even running.
The public clash between Trump and Christie highlights deep divisions in the Republican Party with the 2024 presidential race on the horizon, as tensions have been mounting amid different factions vying for influence and control.
Trump’s continued prominence despite the uncertainty surrounding his legal battles has left the GOP grappling with its identity but the Trump-Chrisite feud provides few hints about its future direction as the political landscape continues to shift, and the Republican Party struggles for power, credibility, and control over the party’s narrative.
The exchange of allegations and accusations between these two influential figures is likely to escalate as the 2024 elections draw closer.
Christie’s aunt’s husband’s brother was a ranking member of the Genovese crime family —twice convicted of racketeering, sentenced to 25 years in prison and linked by investigators to several murders, including one in which the victim was strangled with piano wire. Christie visited the powerful waterfront racketeer, Tino Fiumara, in prison in 1991.
Three of Christie’s allies —Republican National Committee member Bill Palatucci, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Chiesa, and former U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks—launched the Tell It Like It Is PAC to support his presidential campaign.
The super PAC is a transparent attempt to circumvent federal election laws governing presidential campaign financing but it is not the only example of hypocrisy for Christie, who suggests that he is the only one criticizing Trump.
Watergate journalist Bob Woodward said Trump “looks at democracy as enemy territory,” and there are legions of other vocal critics. Among them are a large number of Republicans other than Christie.
After the former president was indicted for the second time, Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said, “Trump’s actions—from his willful disregard for the Constitution to his disrespect for the rule of law—should not define our nation or the Republican Party.”
“This is a sad day for our country. While Donald Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence, the ongoing criminal proceedings will be a major distraction,” said Hutchinson. “This reaffirms the need for Donald Trump to respect the office and end his campaign.”
Republican Will Hurd, an African-American former US representative and ex-CIA officer who grew up in San Antonio, Texas, called Trump a “failed politician” who cost the Republican Party control over the House, the Senate, and the White House.