Pressure is growing on former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to drop out of the GOP primary in order to clear a path for either Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, as Republicans look for a viable alternative to former President Trump.
Christie has largely centered his campaign around his criticism of Trump, but that message, coupled with a crowded primary field and a New Hampshire-centric operation, has complicated his path in the Republican field. There was even speculation that he wouldn’t qualify for Wednesday night’s debate, which will be hosted at 8 p.m. ET by The Hill’s sister news organization NewsNation, though in the end he did.
But with the Iowa caucuses steadily approaching, Republicans are pressing the New Jersey Republican to exit the race.
“I think he should absolutely drop out. There’s just no path for him to win the nomination,” said Sarah Matthews, a former Trump administration official who’s backing Haley.
“I think he did add a really important voice to the race, but obviously his whole campaign was centered around trying to deny Trump the nomination,” she added. “And I think that right now, if he stays in the race, all he’s doing is helping Trump to secure the nomination, because he’s dividing the vote.”
Christie launched his bid for the 2024 GOP nomination in June, focusing his campaign operations mainly on New Hampshire and leaning into attacks against Trump as a focal point in his campaign. Although Christie sits in third place in RealClearPolitics’s polling average of New Hampshire surveys, behind Trump and Haley, he’s trailing his opponents by wider margins in Iowa and South Carolina.
The New Jersey Republican, for his part, has defended staying in the race.
“I think Gov. Haley and I both have the same goal, and that is to be president of the United States,” Christie said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” last month. “And I think we’re showing great momentum in New Hampshire. We have been gaining over the last couple of weeks. I think we’re going to continue to gain in that — in that fight. And I think we’re going to do very, very well in New Hampshire on Jan. 23.”
“And this idea of people just doing math and adding up numbers, that’s not the way voters vote. And so I would say to everybody out there: Let’s let the campaign move forward,” he added.
Christie campaign adviser Mike DuHaime told The Hill that the campaign hasn’t been hearing feedback for Christie to drop out and pointed out that DeSantis is still trailing Trump in Iowa, where the Florida governor has staked his campaign, while Haley has been lagging behind the former president in her home state of South Carolina.
“First of all, I’d say, ‘Like who?’ because apparently people talk to reporters, but not to us,” DuHaime said. “So you know, there’s been very little of that to us. I think the Haley camp is trying to manufacture this through some donors and through the press, and they do not have the courage to directly come to us and say that. They haven’t.”
“I just don’t understand why would we get out for people who are also way behind Donald Trump, who also have certainly a difficult path, but even more importantly, are not willing to take on the guy who’s in first place,” he added.
Some of Christie’s supporters also believe it’s unfair to ask the former New Jersey governor to suspend his campaign.
“First of all, it’s too early to suggest that somebody’s failure to withdraw is going to throw the nomination from an alternative to Trump,” said former Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), who’s supporting Christie. “If this were April or May, or April of next year, it’d be a different story.”
A spokesperson for Haley pointed The Hill to her past comments, in which she said it’s on voters and donors to help winnow the field. The DeSantis campaign did not respond to a requests for comment.
Roy Bailey, a former Trump donor who is now backing DeSantis, argued that the Florida governor has a path to the GOP nomination. Bailey said “the pathway is in a non-diluted primary” and added that DeSantis “needs to get one-on-one with a former president.”
New Hampshire-based Republican strategist Mike Dennehy, who worked on the late Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2000 and 2008 presidential bids, said Christie “doesn’t really have a strong path forward after New Hampshire.”
“I can see why people would call on him to withdraw … and I would tend to agree with those folks unless Chris Christie can detail a path forward — a successful path forward for him after New Hampshire,” he said.
Dennehy, who’s unaligned in the primary, suggested that Haley has a path to the GOP nomination.
“Nikki Haley has a much more national operation than Chris Christie does, which is why I say he has to — he has to detail a path forward, but not to mention, let’s face it, in the last week or so, Nikki Haley has also announced solid endorsements from around the country, and she has the full backing of the Americans for Prosperity,” he added, referring to the political wing of billionaire Charles Koch’s conservative network.
Yet Trump has continued to hold a dominant lead in the 2024 GOP field in both national and early state polling, despite four separate indictments. The surveys have raised questions about whether any candidate can topple Trump as the Iowa caucuses rapidly approach.
While some Republicans are concerned it may be too little too late to take on Trump at this point, even if Christie were to drop out and endorse Haley, others say the sense of inevitability is premature.
“An awful lot of people are acting as though they know the outcome of events that are going to be affected by things that haven’t happened yet, and I think we’ve all been around this game long enough to have a little more humility than that,” Republican strategist Whit Ayres said.