Q&A with former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie
The 2024 Republican presidential candidate spoke to The Dartmouth about his campaign and former President Donald Trump.
On Nov. 2, the Rockefeller Center and the Dartmouth Political Union co-hosted former Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., as part of the “Path to the Presidency” speaker series. Christie, who served as Governor of New Jersey from 2010 to 2018, announced his White House bid in June, marking his second presidential campaign after losing the 2016 GOP nomination to former President Donald Trump. The Dartmouth sat down with Gov. Christie to discuss his campaign, his political career and his thoughts on former President Trump in the lead-up to the New Hampshire primary.
TH: More so than almost any other GOP presidential candidate, your path to the nomination runs through New Hampshire. Your campaign has little presence in Iowa, the first GOP nominating contest. Recent polling averages here have you in fourth place. What would a successful performance in New Hampshire look like for you?
CC: Look, I want to do as well as I possibly can here. I don’t think I have to win, but I think I have to do well. And, I’m looking forward to these last 80 days as a time to get people really focused. We’ve been anywhere between second and fourth place throughout. We expect to continue to be tracking in that range, and hopefully with the input of the most open, transparent primary process in the country in New Hampshire that we’ll see a really good result.
TH: You’ve said that if former President Donald Trump doesn’t show up to the Nov. 8 debate in Miami, you’re going to take a new approach in which you potentially follow him around the country until there comes a time when you two can talk and debate more directly. What would be your goal with those conversations?
CC: To embarrass him into getting on the debate stage. I wouldn’t expect there to be any kind of full-blown debate for two reasons: One, because he wouldn’t do it in that context and two, he doesn’t know enough to have a full-fledged debate. And that’s why he’s not on the stage. We were going to confront him at his filing hearing in New Hampshire, except his campaign and the Secret Service closed the state house building at 8:30 in the morning. And the only people allowed in were people cleared by the Trump campaign, which I was confident I would not be. He’s tried to avoid it, and if I were him with his record and the things that he’s been saying and his four criminal indictments and his civil trial for fraud going on right now, I’d probably want to avoid a confrontation, too.
TH: Let’s say you find an opportunity to talk to former President Trump more directly, barring any complications with the Secret Service. What would you ask him about first?
CC: Hard to say what I would ask him about first. I guess the first thing I’d say to him is “why aren’t you showing up to the debates?” I’m sure he would blow off an answer to that. Then I’d say “why did you lie to the people of New Hampshire and tell them Mexico was going to pay for the wall?” I’d ask him which case he’s going to be found guilty in first — see how he’d answer that one — and ask him how he’s going to like jail.
TH: Former President Trump is currently leading the GOP field by a wide margin. Some analysts believe that lower polling candidates in the race may repeat the events of the 2016 Republican primary, in which Trump won pluralities with his base while the rest of the electorate split. How do you intend to prevent that aspect of 2016 from repeating itself?
CC: First off, he’s not as popular as he was in 2024 as he was in 2016. But secondly, remember, at this stage in early November of 2015, we had 15 candidates. As a practical matter, we may have as few as five.
TH: But he is still leading most polling measures by around 30 points, which would seem like a fairly wide margin.
CC: Well, it doesn’t seem like a fairly wide margin — it is. But look, I don’t think people are focused on exactly how they’re going to vote yet. And if we believed in polls, he wouldn’t be president. So I don’t think people have a lot of interest in telling pollsters the truth these days, and I think lots of Republicans are very concerned about saying they’re not for Donald Trump out loud. It’s not politically correct to do so among the Republican Party. So, I don’t know what the polls really mean. I think they’re more about trends than they are about actual numbers. And we’ll see what happens in January.
TH: That’s interesting you say that, because a lot of pollsters’ reasoning for why Trump won in 2016 was that people were fearful of representing their support. You think the inverse is now true?
CC: I think it’s different this time. I think that time it was very much politically incorrect to say you were against Hilary Clinton in the general election. I think this time it’s politically incorrect to say in the Republican Party to say you’re against Trump.
TH: Barring any sort of financial complications with your campaign, is there any reason you would see, personal or otherwise, wanting to drop out before the New Hampshire primary, which some see as a benchmark for your campaign?
TH: At the first GOP debate in August, you were one of two candidates who refused to support Trump if he becomes the nominee. Would you support a candidate who themselves has indicated they would endorse Trump?
CC: That would be different. I think that the real issue here is the other candidates who said they would support Trump even if he was a convicted felon. I think we should have a much higher bar for President of the United States. And you can see, even now, they’re starting to back off of it a little bit. You can see comments from Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Gov. Nikki Haley that seem to indicate something different. But in the end, voters need to understand that I would not support a convicted felon for president, and they would.
TH: On Oct. 28, former vice president Mike Pence announced he was dropping out of the race. Have you or are you planning to ask for his endorsement?
CC: Of course I will. And I’m sure everybody else will, too. He’ll make that decision on his own timetable. But Mike and I have been friends for 12 years. I campaigned for him the first time in 2011 when he was running for Governor of Indiana. And so we’ve known each other for a long time. I’d be happy to have his endorsement because I think he represents some of what is the best about our party.
TH: McKay Coppins’s book, “Romney: A Reckoning” was released last week, and includes passages about yourself. According to the book, after you endorsed Trump in 2016, Romney said he emailed you, writing “I believe your endorsement of [Trump] severely diminishes you morally. You must withdraw that support to preserve your integrity and character.” What do you remember about your reaction and your response to Sen. Romney’s email at the time?
CC: I remember writing back to him and saying, “Maybe if you had gotten involved in the race and endorsed somebody during the primary, maybe Trump wouldn’t be the nominee. But you were too much of a coward to do it.” He decided not to do so and now he wants to be critical of me, after the voters have already pretty much determined Trump is going to be the nominee? That I’m going to try and prevent Hilary Clinton from becoming president?
TH: That was your mentality at the time? That Trump was the best alternative?
CC: Not only the best alternative, but he was the alternative. I endorsed him after South Carolina, so he had won New Hampshire two-to-one, he had won South Carolina by double digits. No one was going to beat him in the primary.
TH: So what did your endorsement do? Just solidified his standing, you thought?
CC: I don’t know if it did anything. I don’t know that endorsements do anything.
TH: Well, some people thought that you were giving him one of the most high-profile endorsements at that point in the race, being a former candidate yourself.
CC: Well, I’m incredibly flattered. But again, I don’t know if it meant anything. But if it did, it did. I’m not trying to back away from it. I did it, and I did it because I didn’t want Hilary Clinton to be President of the United States. And the most disappointing part of this is that Gov. Romney would release private emails. When he sent me that email, he didn’t write “and by the way, I might give this to a reporter someday in the future to let people know that I sent it in the first place.” It’s disappointing.
TH: What are your thoughts on Sen. Romney’s message, now looking back on it about seven years later?
CC: Maybe he should’ve done something to make the situation different. It’s easy to throw stones at people in the process when you’re out of the process. If you want to change the process, get in it and change it yourself.
TH: If President Biden and former President Trump wind up becoming the major party nominees, who would you vote for? Would you vote third party, write someone in? If so, who?
CC: I think the best way for me to answer is to say pretty clearly, and I said on the stage with my failure to raise my hand, that if Donald Trump is a convicted felon, I’m not voting for him. I can’t support someone that way. And I’ve also said that I think Joe Biden is mentally and physically incapable of being an effective president. So, that would leave me with a pretty lousy choice. But I think my feeling is with 75% of the American people, the last time I saw it, saying they don’t want it to be Trump versus Biden, I’m trying to make it so that’s not the choice they have. I’ll deal with the rest down the road.
TH: I know that on the debate stage the question was if former President Trump was a convicted felon. Is there any circumstance under which you could support former President Trump?
CC: I have asked and answered this question a million times, and I’m not doing it again today. Go back and refer to the way I’ve spoken about this before. The fact is I’m in it to beat Donald Trump. And that’s what I intend to do over the course of this primary campaign. And I intend to be the nominee in Milwaukee in July of next year.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.