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Vocal anti-Trump candidate Chris Christie exits presidential race with hot mic moment

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering during a campaign event in Concord, N.H. on July 24, 2023.
Charles Krupa
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering during a campaign event in Concord, N.H. on July 24, 2023.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie mostly stood alone in this year's Republican primary contest as anuninhibited critic of the party's frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.

But he backed off that role Wednesday, just days before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15.

"It's clear to me tonight that there isn't a path to me to win the nomination which is why I'm suspending my campaign tonight for president of the United States," Christie said at a town hall in Windham, N.H.

Christie ended his presidential campaign after his stance on Trump's leadership and role in the Republican Party proved to diverge too far from where the GOP currently stands. Numerous conservatives had additionally been calling on Christie to end his campaign for weeks, so that former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who's been surging in the polls, could have a stronger chance to beat Trump for the GOP nomination.

Christie did not endorse another candidate at the time of his announcement but he did pledge to ensure that "in no way do I enable Donald Trump to ever be president of the United States again. And that's more important than my own personal ambition."

His announcement was somewhat overshadowed by a hot mic moment ahead of the town hall. In a live feed on his campaign YouTube page, his mic went live around 5:10 p.m. ET and he was speaking about his presidential rivals. Of Haley, he praised her for "punching above her weight" but said "she's going to get smoked." On Ron DeSantis, he said the Florida governor "is petrified" before his mic was abruptly cut.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Haley commended Christie, who she called a "friend," for a "hard-fought campaign."

"Voters have a clear choice in this election: the chaos and drama of the past or a new generation of conservative leadership," she wrote. "I will fight to earn every vote, so together we can build a strong and proud America."

While Christie failed to distinguish himself in the 2016 race, the former U.S. attorney tried to set himself apart this time around by confronting Trump. Christie supported and advised Trump during his presidency, even helping Trump prepare for debates against then-candidate President Biden in 2020. But the former governor turned against Trump over the former president's handling of the 2020 election results and role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

"No one was willing to take the case directly to Donald Trump as to why he — and, through his conduct — had disqualified himself for ever being president of the United States again," he said in an interview with the NPR Politics Podcast. "I want to make that case. I've been making that case. I think it's important not only for my party, but for our country."

Christie pressed other candidates to directly criticize Trump as well. In the fourth GOP debate in December, he said in reference to his fellow candidates Haley, DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, "Folks like these three guys on the stage make it seem like his conduct is acceptable. Let me make it clear: His conduct is unacceptable. He's unfit, and be careful of what you're going to get if you ever got another Donald Trump term."

Christie spent the last of his campaign throwing a Hail Mary in New Hampshire, where he launched his run months ago. He hoped that after an unmemorable performance in the first GOP debate, conservative voters in the first-in-the-nation primary would help him form a clearer path to the nomination.

But he failed to get the headway he so desperately needed. It didn't help that he didn't get the backing of the most influential politician in New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu, who endorsed Haley last December and called Christie's bid "an absolute dead end."

"I know he says he wants to stay in the race to speak the truth about Trump," Sununu said, "but that translating to votes in a primary is a very different thing, and he's hit a ceiling."

But Christie tried to stay in the race for as long as he can. In an ad that dropped on the last day of 2023, he posed this question: "Here's the choice: who do we want to be as a country?" Speaking directly to the camera, he continues: "Donald Trump — he will sell the soul of this country. I'm not perfect. I've made mistakes. ... But I will always tell you the truth."

By the time Christie bowed out, national polls had him in second to last place, polling at a meager 3.6%.

Trump, meanwhile, holds a dominating lead, polling at 61.3% nationally — a sign that the MAGA leader's pull with his base remains strong, despite four high-profile cases being litigated against him.

In concluding his suspension speech, Christie said he will continue to fight forces — presumably Trump — that threaten the country.

"Even though I am suspending this campaign, I am not going away and my voice is not going away," he said. "I am not going be a part of a generation who willingly stands by and says, 'It's too hard. He's too loud, he's too strong,'" Christie said in reference to Trump.

"That's what defeat looks and sounds like," Christie continued. "And the only country that can defeat America, is America. And the only people that can stop it, are us."

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Jeongyoon Han
[Copyright 2024 NPR]