Former Gov. Chris Christie shared his town hall stage Thursday night with Gov. Chris Sununu, but the politician who was top of mind for both the candidate and the crowd was former President Donald Trump.
“I promise you to restore honesty, integrity, and honor to the Oval Office,” Christie told the crowd of 200 or so at the VFW hall in Merrimack. “So let me be plain about this: We cannot nominate a criminal for the Republican nomination for president of the United States.” Enthusiastic cheers greeted his comments.
Christie recalled his experience as U.S. Attorney in New Jersey for seven years, and he assured the audience that Trump would be convicted of a felony during next year’s primary campaign. And once he was a convicted criminal, Democrats would use that to ensure another term for President Joe Biden.
“I tried 130 political corruption cases, and my record was 130 to zero,” Christie said. “He is going to be convicted. He is guilty of the crimes he’s charged with, and [former Chief of State Mark Meadows] is going to prove it. Then what are we going to do?”
Christie said it was up to Republican voters to decide that it is time for the party to move past Trump, and he made a prediction.
“His time on the stage is over, and I know who is going to end it — the 603.”
Sununu kicked off the town hall, as he has for Republican POTUS candidates Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, with a lot of enthusiasm.
Sununu said Christie “crushed it” in Wednesday night’s debate. And he rejected the conventional wisdom that the First in the Nation primary is a lock for Trump.
“This thing is so far from over. And if you’re here in New Hampshire, you know we are really just getting started. People won’t get serious about who they are, maybe starting to get behind until Thanksgiving,” Sununu said.
Meanwhile, “There are a few candidates rising to the top, and Christie is one of them.”
In addition to taking on Trump, Sununu also reiterated his support for a strong U.S. foreign policy abroad, including continued support for Ukraine and Israel.
“Israel is facing an enemy that has said it wants to kill every Jewish person in the world. America cannot just stand by,” Christie said. He also used the event to announce that he’s traveling to Israel on Friday.
“I want to see it for myself because I don’t think you can try to be president of the United States and be afraid to go and see what’s happening on the ground,” Christie said. “If I’m going to continue to be a strong advocate for doing everything we need to do to defend Israel, I got to see it for myself.”
And Christie used the opportunity to recap some moments from Wednesday’s debate, like his stance on reforming Social Security.
“If you were watching, you know I gave the same answers in the debate that I gave at town halls here in New Hampshire,” Christie said. “But did you hear that — I’m gonna use some New Jersey language here — that bulls**t [answers] from DeSantis and Scott and Ramaswamy?”
The audience was strongly pro-Christie, though several attendees told NHJournal they were still “shopping around.”
Chris Freson of Merrimack and his wife Laura said they are a “mixed couple:” He’s a Republican and she’s a Democrat. He attended a Democratic event with her in the past, and now she had to make up for it.
Asked who he was leaning toward in the primary, Chris said, “I feel like this is my guy, I really do. He was able to govern in a deep-blue state, and I think that’s important. Some of these other [candidates] are too extreme, I’m afraid.”
Asked if she was tempted to take a GOP ballot, Laura said she liked what she heard from Christie.
“I appreciate Nikki Haley’s stance on abortion. I’m pro-choice, but I think she has a bipartisan way of looking at it,” Laura said.
Asked about his plans to endorse in the First in the Nation primary, Sununu said he is “partial to governors,” and the voters should be, too. After the event, Sununu told reporters his endorsement is almost certain to go to a governor, and his short list is DeSantis, Christie, and Haley.
But he repeatedly refused to rule out other candidates and said his endorsement won’t come until after Thanksgiving.
And Sununu couldn’t resist one moment to seize the spotlight.
When a member of the audience condemned Trump for his unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen, Christie replied Trump had to lie about the outcome because his fragile ego couldn’t handle losing.
“Chris [Sununu] and I know that when you get into politics, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose,” Christie said, prompting Sununu to respond, “Not me!”
Chris Sununu has never lost an election for executive councilor or governor in New Hampshire.