How Christie became a ‘monumental problem’ for Haley — and a potential boon to Trump

Chris Christie has singularly devoted his presidential campaign to tearing down Donald Trump.

But with the start of the primaries just a few weeks away, some top Republicans in New Hampshire say Christie is now positioned to help pave the way for Trump’s nomination by siphoning votes away from Nikki Haley, Trump’s closest-polling competitor in the state.

“Chris Christie is a monumental problem for Nikki Haley,” said Mike Dennehy, a former Republican National committeeman from New Hampshire who is neutral in the race. “They are both currently splitting the Independent vote, and Haley desperately needs those votes if she is to have a chance of knocking off Trump in New Hampshire.”

A recent CBS News poll backs up that concern. The poll showed Trump leading Haley 44 percent to 29 percent, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 11 percent and Christie, the former New Jersey governor, at 10 percent. But the survey, conducted Dec. 8-15 and among 855 registered voters and with a margin of error of 4.1 percent, provided evidence that Christie was cutting into Haley’s prospective vote share.

Among those people supporting Christie, 75 percent said they were also considering Haley — far greater than the percentages who said they were considering picking DeSantis (24 percent), Trump (9 percent) or Vivek Ramaswamy (10 percent).

“Christie definitely makes Haley’s math more challenging,” said Jim Merrill, who spearheaded Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s past primary campaigns in the state and who is not supporting a candidate. “It’s safe to say that few Christie voters here would ever back Trump, so Haley would benefit if Christie withdrew.“

Christie advisers said no one has asked the candidate to drop out. And there is no indication he is slowing down either. Tell It Like It Is PAC, a pro-Christie outside group, is running a $3.5 million TV advertising campaign in New Hampshire.

In a statement, the Christie campaign said “one former presidential candidate and one potential candidate called” Christie “within the last week [and] encouraged him to stay in the race.” The campaign declined to say who those people were.

Christie adviser Mike DuHaime said the campaign had seen “much less correlation between Christie voters and Haley voters as of late,” while also taking the opportunity to tear into Haley.

“Many Christie voters now see Haley as just another enabler and excuser of Donald Trump and his worst actions, as if she’s really only angling to be his VP, not actually beat him,” DuHaime said. “Christie is 100 percent alone in the lane for those people who believe Trump is unfit to be president.”

Christie himself has called Trump a “dictator,” a “petulant child” and a “crazed lunatic.” And Christie has gone after his rivals for their reluctance to take on Trump, saying they are “afraid to offend” the former president.

Christie was prodded by an attendee at a town hall-style event in Bedford, New Hampshire, on Tuesday night to consider getting out of the race so he doesn’t split the non-Trump vote. It’s not the first time this month that Christie has faced such a question.

“At this point eight years ago, I was second in the polls, behind Donald Trump. Right now. And I didn’t see Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz, or John Kasich, or any of those guys going ‘oh, well we should get out and help Christie beat Trump.’ But I will also admit to you that Trump was seemingly less of a threat than he is now. So you have to think about it differently now,” Christie said.

“But here’s my problem. If I were to drop out and support Nikki Haley, I have no confidence — no confidence — in the fact that she’ll make the case against Trump,” Christie said. Even if he did drop out, he said, “not all of my voters are going to go to her, because a lot of the people who are voting for me are voting for me because I’ve had the guts to stand up to Trump.”

A Haley spokesperson declined to comment. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who has endorsed her, acknowledged the significance of consolidating support behind her, however.

“There’s only one path to defeating Trump in New Hampshire,” he said. “That’s with everyone getting behind and supporting Nikki Haley. I believe Chris Christie supporters are quickly coming to that same conclusion and are already moving over to team Haley.”

Sununu added, “Chris will have to make his own calculations of what he wants to do with his campaign, but the voters are excited, and the momentum is real.”

Those who argue Christie should withdraw from the race note that he has a tortured path to the nomination. National polls show a majority of primary voters view Christie unfavorably; he’s the only candidate for whom that’s the case.

Further, Christie isn’t competing in the Iowa caucuses, and his low standing in national polls means he’s almost certain to be left out of CNN’s nationally televised debate in Des Moines on Jan. 10. And while he’s earned an invitation to CNN’s pre-New Hampshire debate on Jan. 21, he’s still fighting with DeSantis for a distant third place in the state where he’s banking his entire campaign.

Whether Trump can be stopped by anyone from winning the nomination has become a matter of debate within Republican circles. With the former president leading early state and national polls by large, double-digit margins, some party strategists think it will be exceedingly difficult to beat him. But in an indication that Trump strategists see Haley emerging as the biggest threat to him in New Hampshire, the pro-Trump super PAC began running a TV ad in the state on Tuesday targeting her.

Those who see a path to beat Trump are also zeroing in on New Hampshire. The state is filled with independents, and the pro-Christie super PAC made explicit appeals for Democrats to cross over in the primary to support the former New Jersey governor.

The stakes in the state are high. If Trump were to win in Iowa — where polls show him with a commanding lead — a follow-up victory eight days later in New Hampshire could make him virtually unstoppable, many Republicans believe.

New Hampshire State Rep. Bill Boyd, who is also neutral, said each candidate would need “to do some soul-searching” to determine if their presence in the race would ultimately make it harder to take down the former president.

Time is running short.

“As a candidate,” Boyd said, “you have to weigh whether you’re going to be viable in this state or not.”

Lisa Kashinsky and Steven Shepard contributed to this report.


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