As we saw in the GOP Presidential debate, Chris Christie was a very good debater and when faced off against a robot, it was quite ugly or beautiful (depending on who you are) to behold.
Now that Trump is solidly in the lead for the GOP nomination, republican elders are wondering why Christie didn't turn his venomous streak against Donald.
Jon Ward tried to find out.
Three days earlier, Christie had defenestrated Rubio on live national television in the final debate before New Hampshire voters went to the polls. In that same debate, Jeb Bush tangled with Trump — but Christie found the former Florida governor’s jabs wanting.
He said on “Morning Joe” afterward that Bush “had a chance to take on Donald Trump on Saturday night, and I don’t think really effectively delivered that punch.”Could you? I asked Christie.“Of course I could,” the New Jersey governor responded, mildly annoyed at even being asked about the limits of his sparring talents.So why hadn’t he?
“I do so at a time and place of my choosing. There’s no need for me to do that now,” Christie said. The next day, Christie dropped out. And the Republican Party said goodbye to the only presidential candidate with the combination of quick wit, charisma and gravitas necessary to stand up to Trump one on one.
I disagree with the gravitas compliment by Ward, but it was strange that Christie avoided a confrontation with the front runner. Knocking back Roboto did nothing for his own campaign, but what if he slew the dragon's head?
Many in the GOP now lament the missed opportunity. Nobody knows if a Christie vs. Trump showdown in a debate or other setting would have made enough of a difference to change the race. But just look at how dramatically Christie altered the Republican primary in a matter of mere minutes when he successfully goaded Rubio into robot mode. Who knows how Trump would have responded to Christie?
“It could have been very effective,” said one high-level adviser to a presidential candidate who is no longer in the race. “Trump talks a big game but often dials back in debates.”↓ Story continues below ↓
Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi, said, “Christie needed to be Christie, particularly with Trump.”
“Many of us are surprised Christie never went after Trump,” said Scott Reed, senior political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Christie responded this way.
“It’s ironic to me,” he said. “For a good part of my career, I got criticized for taking too many people on. Now those same people are saying I didn’t take on Donald Trump enough.
The criticism was that Gov. Christie bullied teachers and working class people, not billionaire blowhards.
I spoke with three different close advisers to Christie this week about their internal deliberations inside the campaign. Unlike any other candidate, Christie had knockout punching power, so why didn’t he go straight for the king of the hill rather than trying to outlast the other Trump alternatives?
“Is it a confrontation for confrontation’s sake? Was that going to accrue to our benefit or to someone else’s benefit?” the adviser asked.
Another top Christie adviser said, “A lot of times we were playing a short-term game. We were playing to get into the next debate.
“Nobody wants to be a suicide bomber,” this adviser said. “Then you’ve decided you’re part of a cause and not a candidacy.”
Now, some in New Jersey are already speculating that Christie could endorse Trump in order to curry favor with the GOP frontrunner in the hope of being named attorney general.
Christie has known Trump for 13 years. “We’ve always gotten along. Been friends for 13 years. I went to his wedding, the third one,” Christie told me over the summer.
A close Christie confidante, asked via text message Wednesday about the possibility of the governor endorsing Trump, did not rule it out.
“You never know,” he wrote back.
Christie's advisors were either very bad at their jobs or they knew Trump was inevitable and decided to help Trump by destroying Rubio so Christie could be named attorney general. Either way, it paints Christie as a coward when faced with the idea that he refused to take on a blowhard, just like himself.