(NEW YORK) — Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Sunday that he believes Republican front-runner Donald Trump will — despite suggesting otherwise — end up attending the first GOP primary debate, in Milwaukee next month.
Christie, a former ABC News contributor, told ABC “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos he thinks Trump’s “ego” will “not permit him to have a big TV show that he’s not on,” as Stephanopoulos said Christie may be trying to “bait” Trump into changing his mind and attending the Aug. 23 debate.
“I don’t think I have to, but I’ll happy to say right now: Come on, Donald, get on the stage and defend your record,” Christie said.
“If you want to be the nominee, you need to defend your record,” he said, criticizing Trump’s handling in the White House of the Affordable Care Act, the growing national debt and bolstering the southern border wall.
“He has a record, four years as president, where he didn’t deliver on a lot of issues that Republicans cared deeply about,” Christie said.
In an interview with Fox News last month, Trump said he didn’t see real value in a primary debate given his major lead in early polls. “I like to debate. I mean, I probably am here because of debates. … But why would I let these people take shots at me?” he told Bret Baier.
Trump has also dismissed Christie as a “failed governor” and told Baier that Christie has “got nothing going.”
Given Trump’s current status as, far and away, the leader in the early GOP primary polling, Stephanopoulos on Sunday pressed Christie on how he plans to change the hearts and minds of the base’s voters.
“Look, George, I think it’s just about patience and persistence on this,” Christie said.
“This guy’s been at the front of every Republican primary voter’s mind for eight years. I’ve been in the race for five weeks,” he said. “Give me some time. And you can see already … I think we’re in his head.”
Christie reiterated what has become a key part of his campaign so far: The only path he sees to the Republican nomination is through Trump.
“You have to make the case against Donald Trump and convince Republican primary voters two things: One, that he is not electable, and he will not beat Joe Biden, and probably, Joe Biden would bring a Democratic House and Senate with him,” Christie said. “And, two, that his record doesn’t merit him to be the nominee again given all the failures, both personal and policy, that he’s had.”
Christie also sought to draw a contrast between himself and some other conservatives, including fellow White House hopeful Ron DeSantis, who question the scope of U.S. aid to Ukraine.
Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson pushed back on the importance of American support in the war during an event in Iowa on Friday, which Carlson moderated with multiple other 2024 candidates, but not Christie.
“How would you have responded?” Stephanopoulos asked Christie.
“You’ve always been wrong about this, Tucker, and you’re still wrong. That, in fact, what’s going on, George, is that this is a proxy war with China. … If the Chinese watch us back away from Ukraine, as Tucker Carlson and others would advocate, believe me, the next move will be Taiwan,” Christie said.
Asked about the news that top officials in the Trump administration, including son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, have appeared before a federal grand jury investigating Jan. 6 and the push to overturn the 2020 race, Christie said those developments show special counsel Jack Smith is “running a serious investigation, and that’s what he should be doing because the American people are owed at least that much.”
“If you’re going to bring charges related to Jan. 6, you better be right, and you better have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a jury is going to be able to understand, and that’s unimpeachable,” Christie said.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the insurrection and claimed he is being politically persecuted.
Christie on “This Week” also explained why he has said he won’t get involved in the group No Labels’ push for a “unity” campaign in the 2024 race that would include Republicans and Democrats.
“It’s a fool’s errand. … I’m not in this for show time. I’m not in this, you know, for making a point,” Christie said.
“There are only two people who will get elected president of the United States in November of ’24: the Republican nominee for president and the Democratic nominee for president,” he said, “and I don’t want to participate in something, which by the way, is also a scattergun approach to this.”
“They want to hurt Donald Trump if he’s the nominee,” Christie continued. “But you know, when you get into a third-party campaign … you never quite know who you’re going to hurt in that process.”
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