Gov. Chris Sununu says GOP presidential hopeful Chris Christie has “hit his limit” in the First in the Nation presidential primary. “Chris Christie is a friend. But his race is at an absolute dead end,” Sununu said on CNN. He said he believes it’s time for the former New Jersey governor “to be the hero,” get out of the race and throw his support to Sununu’s choice, Nikki Haley.
Christie says, “It’s not Sununu’s job to tell anyone to get out” of the race, and that the Granite State governor has abandoned his principles.
“Since Chris started to work for Nikki Haley and became an employee of Nikki Haley, it’s not the same Chris Sununu anymore,” Christie told CNN. “I remember when Chris used to care about Donald Trump. He’s the guy who came, I think, to the Gridiron Club and said that Trump belongs in a mental institution. And now he’s saying that he’d vote for him if he were the nominee.”
Tough talk between Republicans who, as recently as November, were still on the campaign trail together and who both believe Donald Trump is a detriment to their party. But since Sununu’s endorsement of Haley, the heat between the two “friends” has been rising.
“That’s when you know, in politics, when someone is going to knife you in the back, is when they start off with, ‘Oh he’s my good friend,’” Christie told MNBC Wednesday morning.
Sununu made perhaps his harshest critique when he said, “The only person who wants Chris Christie to stay in the race is Donald Trump.”
Public polls tend to confirm Sununu’s claim that Christie’s support in the First in the Nation primary has plateaued at around 13 percent. Meanwhile, Haley’s support has soared from 3 percent in September’s RealClearPolitics average to nearly 25 percent today.
However, both remain well behind frontrunner Donald Trump, who has had the backing of about 45 percent of Granite State Republicans since the summer.
Sununu told NHJournal Wednesday he doesn’t believe punches are being thrown — at least not by him.
“Chris is great. But he knew when he got in this race, like the other campaigns did, that he was not likely to win. And if he wants to fulfill his mission of defeating Trump, this is the offramp,” Sununu said. “This is the opportunity for him to be a hero.”
And, Sununu added, getting out of the race sooner rather than later makes the most sense for Christie, too.
“We all want Chris to have a voice [in Republican politics] after this is over. But if the Trump voters don’t like you, and the anti-Trump voters are mad at you because they believe you overstayed in the race and cost Haley the margin of victory — that doesn’t leave you with a lot of friends.”
Conventional wisdom is that if Christie does drop out of the race, his supporters would likely turn to Haley as their second choice rather than more MAGA candidates like Ron DeSantis or Vivek Ramaswamy. Christie has long struggled to get support from the GOP base, who have a 2-to-1 unfavorable view of him in the latest St. Anselm College Survey Center poll. Christie is far more popular with Democrats and unaffiliated voters than with his fellow Republicans, the poll found.
Of the New Hampshire GOP primary voters who have an unfavorable view of Trump, 56 percent are backing Haley, and just 31 percent are with Christie. Perhaps the most significant finding is that 79 percent of self-identified Christie voters say that, in a general election between Biden and Trump, they would vote for Democrat Joe Biden.
“Christie’s problem isn’t with Chris Sununu; it’s with Republican primary voters,” a New Hampshire GOP strategist told NHJournal. “The people who hate him are the GOP base, and the people who like him are Democrats.”
In his latest TV ad, for example, Christie says, “Donald Trump, he will sell the soul of this country.” Like most of his New Hampshire supporters, Christie says he will not vote for Trump in the general election against Biden.
While Sununu has also been critical of the former president (“Donald Trump’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal.”), he’s also said that, as a loyal Republican, he’ll support the party’s nominee — including Trump. That’s Haley’s stance as well.
Christie’s anti-Trump strategy always faced a significant hurdle in the fact that, in poll after poll, Republicans say they like Trump. Many Republicans who aren’t backing him in the primary say they would be OK with him as their party’s nominee. When Christie attacks Haley and Sununu on this point, he’s attacking the position of the vast majority of Republican primary voters.
“The end of any losing campaign is often messy and marred with bad choices,” said veteran GOP consultant Jim Merrill. “Chris Christie is talented; he has respected New Hampshire’s political traditions and played his hand here as well as possible. But if he were going to surge, we’d know it by now.
“Picking a fight in these final days with the most popular Republican in New Hampshire is a bad decision in the end stages of a fight Christie can’t win.”
Christie remains undeterred.
“Anybody thinks I’m getting out of this race, they’re crazy,” he told MSNBC on Wednesday.