Column: Sorry, Democrats — Chris Christie’s attacks on Trump don’t make him a moderate

Chris Christie
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses voters in New Hampshire upon announcing his candidacy for president in the 2024 election.
(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

One curious feature of the presidential campaign season’s current phase is the praise being lavished on Chris Christie by otherwise progressive or Democratic commentators.

The former Republican governor of New Jersey and former member of Donald Trump’s inner circle announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination on June 6.

Christie has tried to distinguish himself from the GOP pack by attacking Trump, the front-runner, comprehensively and by name. Trump “doesn’t give a damn about the American people, in my view,” he told CNN anchor Anderson Cooper during a June 12 town hall. On “Fox News Sunday” this weekend, he repeated the slam and called Trump a snake oil salesman. “If we want to lose to Joe Biden again,” he said, “then let’s nominate Donald Trump.”


How do you make a case against Trump when you were just slavishly defending every terrible thing he did six months ago? ... At least Christie says he’s wrong.

— Former Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer

Most of the other candidates have avoided criticizing Trump by name, like medieval necromancers wary of uttering the number of the beast for fear of having Satan materialize in front of them.

They tend to make only glancing and vague references to Trump’s wrongdoing, whether fomenting the Jan. 6 insurrection or hanging on to classified papers or paying off porn stars for their silence.

The one exception is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose campaign released a video over the Fourth of July weekend featuring an utterly bizarre attack on Trump dealing only with the ex-president’s supposed un-wokeness in supporting LGBTQ+ civil rights.

Christie’s pose has won him admiration, begrudgingly, from progressive sources that normally would view him with skepticism, not to say disdain. On a recent installment of “Pod Save America,” a liberal podcast, former Obama aides Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer chortled over Christie’s attack on Trump in his campaign announcement.


“How could you not love that?” Favreau said. Pfeiffer compared Christie favorably to the other GOP candidates, who had supported Trump over his two impeachments and indictments for the porn star payoff and classified materials issue. “How do you make a case against Trump when you were just slavishly defending every terrible thing he did six months ago?” Pfeiffer asked. “At least Christie says he’s wrong.”

Some of the respect falls into the “at least you gotta hand it to him” category. That’s the theme of a brief post by Cheryl Rofer, a reliably progressive environmental scientist, on the Lawyers, Guns & Money group blog.

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“All the other candidates have steered clear of attacking the eminently attackable Donald Trump,” Rofer observed. “It will be interesting to see where he goes with this, and how the media cover him. I look upon it as an experiment, and experiments are always fun.” She did, however, caution that “Christie is, first and foremost, a Republican, so this is by no means an endorsement.”

Christie expresses confidence that as Republican voters wake up to the potential electoral catastrophe of a Trump candidacy, they’ll come around to him. Anything’s possible, one supposes. At this stage of the 2024 campaign, the only thing about the outcome that anyone can be sure of is that nobody knows nothin’.

But that means that it’s wise now to take a closer look at Christie as a possible president. What one finds is that, for all his bluster and claim to be the only truth-teller in the GOP field, the truth is that he’s a bog-standard Republican committed to all the most noxious policies of his party.

Let’s start with the policy producing the heaviest opposition to GOP candidates: The party’s embrace of dangerous and immoral abortion restrictions.


Since June 2022, when a conservative Supreme Court majority overturned the protection of abortion rights instituted by its 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade, 13 states have banned abortions and at least 12 others have enacted strict limitations on the procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-reproductive rights think tank. In every case where voters have had a chance to express their opinions directly, including in red states such as Kentucky and Kansas, they have voted against abortion restrictions, either directly or through handing election victories to pro-choice candidates.

Christie has been as weaselly about this issue as all his fellow GOP candidates. At the CNN town hall, he said that abortion laws should be left entirely to the states. “The federal government should not be involved unless and until there’s a consensus around the country from the 50 states making their own decisions about what it should be.”

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This is a transparent dodge, and a cruel one. Is Christie really unaware of the disastrous impact on women’s health resulting from abortion restrictions in red states since Roe was overturned? Women facing near-death experiences because their doctors’ hands are tied by ambiguous legal jeopardy, or forced to travel for hours to receive needed care?

Christie knows damn well that the 50 states will never come together to create a consensus about abortion — there will always be some legislatures and governors that want to restrict women’s rights, not provide for them. Face the facts: He’s firmly in the anti-abortion camp.

Then there are “entitlements,” that all-purpose Republican attack on Social Security and Medicare. Christie has made cutting Social Security benefits into one of his campaign calling cards. On this topic, like many others, he’s blowing smoke — and the people who will be left gasping for air are working men and women who depend on this crucial program for their survival.

“We need to look at all the different options to try to fix Social Security,” Christie told Fox’s Shannon Bream on Sunday.


He then immediately took the most effective option for shoring up the program’s finances off the table. That’s raising or eliminating the payroll tax cap, which reduces the tax on wage income over $160,200 (this year) to zero.

“We don’t need to look at raising taxes,” Christie said. “We’ve got plenty of taxes right now in this country.”

That means preserving a very nice break from the 12.4% tax on wage income enjoyed by the richest 5.3 million of America’s more than 32.6 million taxpaying households. (Those figures are drawn from Internal Revenue Service statistics for the 2020 tax year, the most recent available.)

The truth is that the tax structure in this country heavily favors the wealthy, and that’s especially true since the 2017 tax cuts enacted by Trump and a Republican Congress, which were giveaways to corporations and the rich. Christie hasn’t said word one about rolling those back.

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Christie turned instead to standard Republican claptrap about how to “fix” Social Security. One option he cited is to cut off benefits to billionaires.

“Do the extraordinarily wealthy need to collect Social Security?” he asked. “Do we really need to have Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk collecting Social Security, and others that are very, very wealthy?”


This is a line of chatter that was heavily promoted by the late private equity billionaire Peter G. Peterson, one of the most obdurate enemies of Social Security. (Peterson used himself as the prime example of a plutocrat who didn’t need his Social Security checks.)

The argument has built-in saleability — who doesn’t resent mega-billionaires like Buffett, Zuckerberg and Musk, down deep? But in terms of its real fiscal impact, it’s complete hogwash.

The truth is that the cost of providing Social Security benefits to the “extraordinarily wealthy” is minuscule to the point of being nearly invisible in the program’s accounts.

The main reason is that there aren’t very many of them. Only 5,148 households with income over $10 million collected Social Security in 2020, the IRS says. Their benefits totaled about $223.2 million. That’s less than two hundreths of a percent of the $1.24 trillion in annual benefits Social Security pays out.

In other interviews, Christie has mentioned “means-testing” Social Security — reducing or denying benefits to households with income over a given threshold. This is another chimera. Means-testing wouldn’t have a measurable impact on the program’s finances unless it started with households earning as little as $40,000.

If Christie is advocating cutting benefits to households for which Social Security checks are all that keep them out of poverty, he should say so outright.


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Christie’s other nostrum is to raise the retirement age. He says that workers in their 50s and 60s should be held harmless, but that younger workers should grin and bear it.

Speaking of his son who will turn 30 this year, Christie said, “If he can’t figure out how to plan for that over the course of the next 35 years, he’s got bigger problems than worrying about what his Social Security benefits are going to be.”

That may be true for someone who grew up in the household of a New Jersey governor, but not everybody lives on the Christies’ street.

As I’ve described the retirement age increase before, it would “fix” Social Security in the same sense that a pet owner “fixes” a cat or a criminal mob “fixes” a snitch. Raising the retirement age is a benefit cut, full stop.

It could place benefits out of reach for millions of households and would force many aged workers who can’t sustain their daily grind into the disability program, which means no savings for Social Security at all.

It’s a much different prospect for workers with physically demanding jobs than for those who do their work at a computer or behind a desk, like former governors. It has different consequences for Black workers and whites, because the former have consistently shorter life expectancies.


It’s possible that in the fullness of time, Christie will look almost rational in comparison with the rest of the GOP presidential field.

That wouldn’t be hard, considering that it includes the likes of DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who made a sycophantic appearance at the recent convention of Moms for Liberty, an extremist anti-government and anti-LGBTQ+ group known for having quoted Adolf Hitler approvingly in a recent newsletter. (Trump and DeSantis also appeared at the event.)

Christie’s truth-telling persona contrasts sharply with his behavior as New Jersey governor. Residents of his state still remember “Bridgegate,” when Christie’s aides allegedly orchestrated a huge traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to create a backup in Fort Lee, N.J., where the mayor had failed to endorse Christie for reelection. Christie dodged responsibility for the scandal, but not everyone believes his claim to have been unaware of the plot.

It’s not unusual for politicians to burnish their records, in the hopes that voters will forget who they once were. Christie’s fans in 2023 should remember the truth.