A group of centrist Republicans is worried nobody on the GOP primary debate stage will hold Donald Trump accountable for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. But they have a plan to fix that: boost Chris Christie.
The group Country First — a centrist nonprofit founded by Adam Kinzinger, a former GOP lawmaker and member of Congress’ Jan. 6 committee — plans to use direct mail, text messaging, and other outreach efforts to encourage voters to donate to Christie, according to a source familiar with the group’s thinking. To qualify for the August debate, candidates must have at least 40,000 donors, according to the rules set by the Republican National Committee, and the group hopes its advertising can put Christie over the edge.
Country First isn’t planning to endorse Christie or any other candidate as of yet, but it views the former New Jersey governor as the candidate most likely to offer a forceful response to Trump, the source tells Rolling Stone.
By encouraging even small donations, the source says, “It doesn’t really add up to doing anything big for Chris Christie if you have a problem with Chris Christie’s politics. But it’s the difference between Donald Trump going unchallenged on the stage and verbally destroying all of his opponents or actually having a real challenge.”
The plan is not without its hurdles. It’s still unclear whether Trump will attend the August debate in Milwaukee, as he has threatened to instead hold a rival event.
And Christie was also one of Trump’s first major endorsements during the 2016 primary and campaigned unsuccessfully to be his vice president, making him complicit in Trump’s rise to power and his acceptance within the GOP. But Christie has since turned on the former president. He has said he hasn’t spoken with the former president since Jan. 6, and called that day “a riot that was incited by Donald Trump in an effort to intimidate Mike Pence and the Congress.”
Thus far in the primary, he has criticized Trump more vociferously than other candidates who’ve feared alienating the frontrunner’s supporters.
“I don’t understand the other candidates who won’t even mention his name,” Christie said in a CNN town hall event last month. Trump, he said, was “like he was Voldemort from Harry Potter. Nobody wanted to mention his name.”
Primary candidates such as Vivek Ramaswamy, Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Mike Pence, and Nikki Haley have painted themselves into an uncomfortably small corner while trying to contrast themselves with Trump without alienating his diehard MAGA voters and have been hesitant to exploit Trump’s various scandals and failings.
Christie has blasted other primary candidates for running away from the issue. When Gov. Ron DeSantis responded to a question about the insurrection by saying he “wasn’t anywhere near Washington” at the time and that he “has nothing to do with what happened that day,” the former New Jersey governor ripped him for dodging the question.
“He wasn’t anywhere near Washington. Did he have a TV? Was he alive that day? Did he see what was going on?” an incredulous Christie told CNN in a recent interview. “That’s one of the most ridiculous answers I’ve heard in this race so far.”
Christie has a track record of torpedoing other candidates on the debate stage. In 2016, he famously bullied Marco Rubio during a debate in New Hampshire, accusing him of having only memorized lines while Rubio attempted to counter with what sounded very much like memorized lines. The two officials have since argued over whether Christie “ended” Rubio’s campaign, but it’s clear he didn’t help.
The issue may have new relevance in the GOP primary as the special counsel office has refocused its efforts on the second investigation in its mandate: Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Prosecutors have recently issued subpoenas to members of Trump’s legal team including Rudy Giuliani and a number of so-called “fake electors,” who falsely presented themselves as members of the electoral college in battleground states, signaling that the case is moving ahead following the indictment of Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents case.
The Christie campaign hasn’t been involved in Country First’s efforts to get him on a debate stage with Trump. A Christie campaign source tells Rolling Stone that while the governor hasn’t made Jan. 6 a focus of his campaign, “If the issue came up or the opportunity presented itself, it is not something he would shy away from and it would very likely be part of the case the governor is making towards his qualifications for the presidency and his overall character.”
Asked about Country First’s plans for 2024, group President Riley Berg said the organization is planning to remind voters about primary candidates’ positions on the insurrection in congressional primaries. “We’re not working to hand a majority to a particular party. We’re really trying to hand a majority to a reasonable majority.”
“Right now, it seems that a key litmus test to get the MAGA primary base of support is that you have to really double down on this alternate reality that [Jan. 6] was not a violent day,” Berg says. “We’re going to be continuing to remind voters in districts where there are election deniers or people who are trying to rewrite that history. We will be active in those primaries reminding voters about it and trying to activate non-traditional primary voters with our messaging so that it’s much more difficult for those sorts of candidates to win.”
Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/chris-christie-donald-trump-gop-debate-jan-6-1234783142/