Chris Christie has warned that a second Donald Trump term in the White House would become a “vendetta presidency” where the former president would go after those he feels have wronged him.
Speaking with ABC News in his first interview since dropping out of the Republican race, Mr Christie said that a second Trump administration would have a massive personnel problem.
“Mayhem. Absolute mayhem,” he predicted about the future of the country should Mr Trump win the 2024 presidential election.
“First off, people forget that in the first term, he got a lot of good people to work for him in that administration.”
The former New Jersey governor mentioned a number of cabinet-level officials who were eventually fired or quit, such as former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, former defence secretaries Mark Esper and Jim Mattis, former attorney general Bill Barr, as well as former White House chief of staff John Kelly.
“Whether you agree with their policies, these are really solid, experienced people in government,” Mr Christie said.
“âI cannot imagine the crew that he’ll put together” in a second term, he added.
“And he will do it with an eye much different than in ’16. In ’16, he was scared. He didn’t expect to win, and he was intimidated by the presidency when he first got there. He will not be this time.”
Mr Christie also ran unsuccessfully against Mr Trump for the Republican nomination back in 2016. After dropping out of the race that time, he endorsed Mr Trump and took the helm of his transition team – something he has since said was a “mistake,” pointing to Mr Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
Since then, Mr Christie has become one of the former president’s most outspoken Republican critics, prompting personal attacks from Mr Trump against his former ally.
Mr Christie told ABC that he doesn’t think Mr Trump will look for competent people to staff a possible second administration.
“âWhat he wants ... are people who will just nod their heads, say yes and execute whatever his next rant will be. And so, one, it’ll be a huge personnel problem of people who have no business being in senior positions in the federal government,” he said.
“âAnd then secondly, I think we have to take him at his word. This is gonna be the vendetta presidency. This is gonna be, ‘I am your retribution.’ And I think he will use the levers of government to punish the people who he believes have been disloyal to him or to his approach,” he added.
Mr Trump has faced criticism for his increasingly authoritarian rhetoric, using words like “vermin” to describe his political opponents.
He has also said that he would be a “dictator” for the first day of his second term, though he has recently appeared to try to backtrack his comments.
“We’re going to make the country so successful again, I’m not going to have time for retribution,” he has since said. “And remember this: Our ultimate retribution is success.”
Reflecting on his own failed 2024 run, Mr Christie told ABC: “I think the biggest frustration for me is that we have so many people in our party who complain about Donald Trump, but none of them are willing to do the hard work that needs to be done to rid our party ... and our country of Donald Trump.”
He added that he thought “the entire primary was over the night of the first debate... because when they asked, ‘would you still support him if he was a convicted felon’ ... six of the eight people raised their hands on that stage”.
“What it says to the largest debate audience we were ever going to have during the primary is his conduct is normal. Six of these eight candidates who are running against him say it’s okay. So how do you expect voters to think it’s not okay,” Mr Christie said.
EXCLUSIVE: “None of the people in leadership have been willing to do the hard work to push back against Donald Trump's lies.”
Former GOP candidate Chris Christie speaks out against former Pres. Trump and the Republican party in an exclusive interview with @GStephanopoulos. pic.twitter.com/nzvtaRVJLy
— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 6, 2024
Asked about the last remaining challenger to Mr Trump, former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and her chances in her home state’s primary, Mr Christie said: “It doesn’t look like it – the polling, interestingly, has been pretty accurate this year. New Hampshire ended pretty much ... the way we thought it would end.”
He added: “To me, once I became convinced I couldn’t beat [Mr Trump] in New Hampshire, it was time to get out.”
The former governor was then asked about a recent hot mic moment, in which he said Ms Haley is “going to get smoked. You and I both know that she’s not up to this”.
Mr Christie told ABC that the conversation was a “complete mistake”, noting that he only found out his mic was still on when he got a phone call from his son, who was watching the livestream.
He added that he heard from Ms Haley the following day.
“It was a 45-second conversation. She told me, ‘I know, it’s a personal decision to get in a race. And it’s a tough decision to get out. I heard everything you said last night, including the hot mic.’ And I said, ‘Uh huh’. And she said, ‘Well, good luck’. And I said, ‘good luck to you’,” he said, adding that an apology wasn’t “warranted”.
Mr Christie said he will not be endorsing Ms Haley based on what she has said so far. “If I endorse someone who then turned around and endorsed Donald Trump – I’m not going to be put in that spot,” he said.
“I made a decision in 2016 – the only time in my political career where I endorsed someone purely for political reasons, even though I had some misgivings. And that’s when I endorsed Donald Trump. And that was the biggest mistake I made in my political career. And I’m just not going to repeat that mistake for anybody.”
Mr Christie added that he thinks the Senate should have convicted Mr Trump in his second impeachment trial in early 2021 over the Capitol riot.
“I believe he’ll be convicted by a jury of his peers for that conduct,” Mr Christie said. “My guess is that he will be more likely than not a convicted felon when he gets on the stage at the nominating convention in mid-July in Milwaukee.”
Speaking about the upcoming general election, Mr Christie said: “I don't know what I'm going to do in November. But I’m not voting for Donald Trump under any circumstance.”
Speaking about the centrist, independent group No Labels, which looks set to nominate a presidential ticket of its own, Mr Christie said it depends on who they nominate if the group will pull more voters away from Mr Trump or from President Joe Biden.
The former governor said the group hadn’t yet asked him to run – but he didn’t reject the idea he would consider it.
“I’d have to see a path for anybody, not just me. But I think anybody who would accept that would need to see a path to 270 ... electoral votes. If there was ever a time in our lifetime when a third-party candidate could make a difference. I think it’s now. The question, though, is what kind of difference,” he said.
Mr Christie said the most important thing to do to beat Mr Trump in November would be to replace Mr Biden atop the Democratic ticket.
“I just think that Joe Biden is probably the only major Democrat who Donald Trump could beat,” he said, adding that Mr Trump is also the only Republican that Mr Biden could beat.
“I’ve known Joe Biden for 40 years. I like President Biden personally, always have. But you know, he’s past his sell-by date, it’s just time,” Mr Christie said.
“Joe Biden could sell it better in 2020 than he’s able to in 2024. And that is just a product of age. And this is not me making some clinical diagnosis. I’m making a political diagnosis, that the guy isn’t as good as he was four years ago.”