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Chris Christie ends his Republican presidential bid, criticizing his rivals on his way out

By STEVE PEOPLES, JILL COLVIN and HOLLY RAMER
Associated Press

WINDHAM, N.H. (AP) — Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday suspended his Republican presidential bid just days before Iowa’s leadoff caucuses, ceding to growing pressure to drop out of the race from those desperate to deny Donald Trump a glidepath to the nomination.

Addressing supporters at a New Hampshire town hall, Christie said he had come to the conclusion that he had no pathway to victory.

“Campaigns are run to win. That’s why we do them,” he said. “It’s clear to me tonight that there isn’t a path for me to win the nomination.”

“My goal has never been to be just a voice against the hate and division and the selfishness of what our party has become under Donald Trump,” he added, vowing to continue to warn the party and the country about the dangers of a second Trump term.

“I am going to make sure 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,” he said.

Christie did not immediately endorse any of rivals and instead continued to lace into them in his remarks for failing to directly target Trump for fear of alienating the front-runner’s loyal supporters. Underscoring his deep frustrations, he was overheard on a hot mic before the event began criticizing former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

“She’s going to get smoked,” he said in an audio broadcast on the campaign’s livestream feed. “She’s not up to this.” He was also overheard saying Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had called him, petrified, but the audio was cut before he finished the thought.

Haley responded in a statement calling Christie “a friend for many years,” and commending him “on a hard-fought campaign.” DeSantis posted on X, formerly Twitter, that he agreed with Christie that Haley would “get smoked.”

Christie’s dropout comes as a surprise, given the former governor had staked his campaign on New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, which is less than two weeks away. He had insisted as recently as Tuesday night that he had no plans to leave the race, continuing to cast himself as the only candidate willing to tell the truth and directly take on the former president.

“I would be happy to get out of the way for someone who is actually running against Donald Trump,” he said at a town hall in Rochester, New Hampshire, while arguing that none of his rivals had stepped up to the plate.

“I’m famous enough. … I’ve got plenty of titles. … The only reason to do this is to win,” he added. “So I’d be happy to get out of the way for somebody if they actually were going against Donald Trump.”

But Christie faced a stark reality: While recent polls showed him reaching the double digits in New Hampshire, Haley shows signs of momentum. A CNN/UNH poll conducted in the state this week found Trump’s lead down to the single digits, with 4 in 10 likely Republican primary voters choosing Trump and about one-third now choosing Haley.

Allies of Haley, including New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and other anti-Trump Republicans, had been urging Christie to exit. They are hoping a large portion of his supporters will flock to Haley, who is seen as the most moderate candidate remaining, giving her a chance to turn the race into a two-candidate contest with Trump, the overwhelming favorite for the nomination.

The New Hampshire poll — which showed Christie at 12% — found about two-thirds of his supporters would select Haley as their second choice.

Christie had run as the race’s fiercest critic of the former president-turned-GOP front-runner. He warned voters against nominating a candidate who has been criminally indicted four times and could very well be a convicted felon by the November general election. And he argued Trump will lose in a rematch with President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee.

While his anti-Trump message attracted much media attention and helped bring in waves of small-dollar donations that kept him in the race — and on the debate stage — far longer than many expected, Christie was plagued by high unfavorability ratings in a party that remains deeply loyal to Trump.

Nonetheless, Christie managed to outlast far better-known and better-funded candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, in part because he ran a frugal campaign. Instead of flying by private jet and hiring a litany of expensive consultants, he relied on a tight-knit staff of just over a dozen people and had a far lower “burn rate” than rivals like DeSantis, spending far less per day.

And just as he did when he ran in 2016, Christie banked his campaign on New Hampshire, believing his brash “tell it like it is” style would resonate with the state’s more independent-leaning voters, including those who are unaffiliated with a party and can vote in the Republican primary.

He also campaigned in South Carolina and hoped to emerge as the last man standing against Trump after the early state contests.

Christie had long insisted that he had no plans to leave the race before New Hampshire’s primary on Jan. 23 and appeared on track to perform better than he had in 2016, when he finished in sixth with just 7% of the vote.

At the town hall Tuesday, he delivered a sharply worded rebuttal to those calling on him to drop out to clear the path for Haley, arguing that she wasn’t even trying to beat the front-runner.

“I have no interest in being a spoiler for someone who wants to beat Donald Trump,” he said. “But if you’d be willing to be his vice president, if you’d pardon him if you became president, if you’d vote for him even if he’s a convicted felon … I mean, geez, really?”

Christie asked the crowd to imagine what would happen if he dropped out to support Haley and then she agreed to serve as Trump’s running mate.

“What will I look like? What will all the people who supported her at my behest look like?” he asked. “You know, I made that mistake once, eight years ago. I made an endorsement decision based on politics eight years ago when I supported Trump. I’m not going to make the same mistake again. Can’t do it.”

The campaign, in many ways, felt like a mission of redemption for the former governor, who arguably did more than any other Republican to help Trump win the presidency when they faced each other in 2016.

During that contest, Christie delivered a fatal blow to Marco Rubio, another 2016 presidential rival, during a debate that came just as the GOP establishment appeared to be coalescing around the senator from Florida as a Trump alternative. No other candidate ever emerged in his place.

Then, after Christie dropped out, he became the first major GOP figure to endorse Trump during a surprise press conference. He went on to lead Trump’s White House transition operation — before he was unceremoniously fired — and to serve as an on-again-off-again adviser, including preparing Trump for the debates.

It was during one of their 2020 debate prep sessions that Christie believes Trump gave him COVID-19, putting Christie in the hospital in intensive care.

But it wasn’t until the night of the 2020 election that Christie, who had been friends with Trump and his wife for 20 years, broke with the then-president after Trump falsely claimed victory long before all the votes had been counted. Christie later penned a book that was deeply critical of the former president.

After the announcement, Republican Norm Olsen, 71, of Portsmouth, said he wasn’t surprised by Christie’s announcement given his position in the polls.

“It’s very disappointing,” he said. “I think Chris Christie was the best Republican candidate and he had the courage to do what has to happen in this party, and that is stand up against former President Trump.”

Olsen said with Christie out of the race, he’ll be voting for Haley, in part because she, like Christie, has experience being a governor.

“The most important thing over the next couple of weeks is that former President Trump does not win,” he said. “It will be the first chance to save the Republican Party from him.”

___

Peoples and Colvin reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer Linley Sanders in Washington contributed to this report.

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