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Chris Christie comes out swinging against Trump

Chris Christie on making the case against Trump
Chris Christie on making the case against Trump 08:47

Chris Christie has always been ready to mix it up. Now, he is now running for president, and preparing to take the debate stage against a former president. "Me and Donald Trump, how much fun will that be, huh?" he said. "Get ready, baby!"

Talking to passers-by on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, N.J., the former governor said, "He's never gotten his ass kicked by somebody from Jersey before, right? So, we know how to do that."

Former Gov. Chris Christie, with CBS News' Robert Costa, on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, N.J.  CBS News

A decade ago, critics called him the bully on America's Boardwalk. In 2013 Christie sat down with "Sunday Morning" correspondent Tracy Smith, who asked him, "Are you a bully?"

"No, no. I'm not a bully," he replied. "But what I am is a fighter."

Bully or not, Christie made that attitude, and his response to Superstorm Sandy in 2012, his calling cards. Some Republicans loved him; others, less so, especially after he worked with President Obama, a Democrat, in the aftermath of the storm.

Still, enough Republicans thought, This might be our guy. And even Christie, in the wake of a commanding reelection win in 2013, started to think the presidency could be next. "We were in really good position, and I felt ready," Christie said.

But Christie's White House dreams were eventually dashed. The infamous George Washington Bridge traffic scandal (a.k.a. Bridgegate) cast a shadow over his campaign.

And then, there was Trump. Suddenly, Christie's wasn't the loudest voice. His 2016 bid sputtered to a stop. 

These days, after years in the political wilderness, the 60-year-old Christie is seeking a comeback. A big test will come this month, at the first Republican primary debate in Milwaukee.

Asked if he is ready, Christie said, "I was born ready, babe."

Christie says, regardless of what Trump might say, he will speak the truth. "'Cause the truth matters. And I think Republican voters need to hear the truth."

Trump has suggested he might not show up for the debate; Christie is convinced he will. "He loves to tease."

But, if Trump does not show up, Christie knows how to describe him: "Coward. Complete and total coward, a yellow streak so far down his back."

"But he might think he's elevating the rest of the field by showing up?" asked Costa.

"He's elevating? I've never seen Donald Trump elevate anything except for the ego factor."

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  CBS News

But Christie's pitch that he's a truth-teller who can save the Republican Party from Trump (who this past week pleaded not guilty to federal criminal charges for his alleged role in trying to overturn the 2020 election) is complicated. After clashing with him in 2016, Christie had an about-face, endorsing Trump, even vying for a top position in the administration.

Campaigning for Trump in Iowa in February 2016, Christie assured the crowd, "Under the Trump administration, everyone is going to get so rich, so wealthy, we're not going to have to worry about Social Security."

But after the 2020 election, Christie broke with Trump.

He described his last conversation with him: "Told him he should concede the election to Joe Biden and go to his inauguration."

Trump's response? "'I will never ever, ever do that. What else ya' got?' And I said, 'I have nothin' else, Mr. President, 'cause there is nothing else.'"

Christie knows what critics say about him: Hypocrite. Opportunist. Flip-flopper.

Costa asked, "You say you broke with Trump in 2020 when he wouldn't concede the election. But you must have had character questions going back a long time about him. When 'Access Hollywood' happens in 2016, why wasn't that a breaking point for you?"

"Because elections are choices," Christie replied. "There was still a choice between him and Hillary Clinton."

"Some voters might be already asking you, 'You were with Trump.' They may even say you were sucking up to Trump. What do you say to them?"

"Just what I just said to you. In fact, it did happen in one of my early town halls up there. And I said to the guy, 'Look, I made a mistake.' But I'm telling you why I did what I did at the time."

"What about voters who have a little skepticism about how you've been anti-Trump, [then] with Trump, [then] anti-Trump?"

"I'm a good Republican," Christie said. "And it was clear to me, Donald Trump was gonna be the nominee. And I, at that time, I had a relationship with him for 15 years. And I wanted to make him the best candidate, and if he won, the best president he could be. And I make no apologies for that. And I did the very best I could for four years. And he failed me, and he failed the country. And on election night in 2020 when he stood in the White House and said, 'The election had been stolen,' when he had no evidence to prove that, that moment was the breaking point for me.

"And to me, there's no turning back."

Christie denied that he is a flip-flopper. "No. Trump abandoned me. I'm no different today than I was when I supported him in 2016. He's the one who kept classified documents against the law, then lied to his lawyers and lied to the government. I had nothing to do with any of that. He did."

On the trail, Christie is plowing ahead, convinced he can emerge as an alternative to Trump, even if others aren't so sure. "None of his Secretaries of State would work for him again," he said. "None of his Attorneys General would work for him again."

"But do voters care about any of this?" Costa asked.

"Well, they should."


"They should. But the case has to be made, Bob. No one's making the case. No one is."

Christie's case might as well be a flashing alarm; he told the Financial Times, "Trump wants to be Putin in America."

Costa asked, "Are you saying you believe Trump wants to be a dictator?"

"I don't think he'd have any objection to it if we were willing to give it to him," he replied.

"That's serious stuff."

"Do you come to any different conclusion than that?"

"So, you think he's a danger to democracy?"

Christie said, "I don't think he cares.  And the proof of that are his own words, when he said, 'It's okay to suspend the laws and suspend the Constitution.' Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution is what the president takes an oath to do. And he said, 'It's okay to suspend it.' These are his own words."

But it's not all about Trump. Christie is also running as a more traditional Republican, including on foreign policy. And on Friday he was in Kyiv to underscore his support for Ukraine and to meet with President Zelenskyy.

Christie's other positions are a smorgasbord of GOP standards, though he does not lean into the culture war. But even as he makes inroads, he knows he's a longshot – and he's OK with that. "In every good race I've ever run, I've been an underdog," he said, "but I feel like I'm an underdog on a mission."

That mission, for now, is taking on Donald Trump his way. As he told an audience in New Hampshire last month, "I oppose him for his incompetence, I oppose him for his broken promises, before we ever get to any of the criminal indictments."

Costa asked, "What's the truth on Trump?"

"He's a completely self-centered, self-possessed, self-consumed, angry old man," said Christie. "And he doesn't care about anybody else other than him. And if he were ever to become president again, I'll take him at his word; he said, 'I am your retribution.' Well, he's not our retribution, Bob. He will be his own retribution."

"Why is everyone else in the field seemingly avoiding Trump, tiptoeing around him?"

"I think it's one of two things. They're either unwilling to do it, because they have aspirations – maybe a vice presidential bid, or a Trump cabinet [post]. And some of them are just unable to do it. If you wanna be the man, Bob, you gotta beat the man."

And to voters who may wonder, should Trump win the presidency again, would Christie go back into Trump's inner circle? He smiled. "No. No. Not a chance. 100%, no chance.

"Take it to the bank!"

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Story produced by Jon Carras. Editor: Ed Givnish.

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