Chris Christie declares himself a ‘Brian Kemp Republican’ in Georgia

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, now a candidate for the GOP nomination for president, has close ties with Gov. Brian Kemp, right. "I was with Brian Kemp in 2018 when he ran the first time. I was with him in the primary in 2022 and obviously in the general election as well,” Christie said Tuesday during an appearance on "Politically Georgia" on WABE. “That’s the kind of Republican that can win in the state of Georgia.” (Audra Melton/The New York Times)

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, now a candidate for the GOP nomination for president, has close ties with Gov. Brian Kemp, right. "I was with Brian Kemp in 2018 when he ran the first time. I was with him in the primary in 2022 and obviously in the general election as well,” Christie said Tuesday during an appearance on "Politically Georgia" on WABE. “That’s the kind of Republican that can win in the state of Georgia.” (Audra Melton/The New York Times)

On the debate stage and on the campaign trail, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has loudly urged other Republicans to focus their attention not on their own internal squabbling but on Donald Trump’s comeback bid.

During an interview Tuesday on “Politically Georgia,” Christie also repeatedly brought up another GOP figure: Gov. Brian Kemp, a longtime ally who defeated a Trump-backed candidate last year and hasn’t yet taken sides in the 2024 race.

“I’m proud to be a Brian Kemp Republican. I was with Brian Kemp in 2018 when he ran the first time. I was with him in the primary in 2022 and obviously in the general election as well,” Christie said during the program on WABE. “That’s the kind of Republican that can win in the state of Georgia.”

Christie is struggling to gain traction in the polls and has staked his presidential campaign on his outspoken opposition to Trump, who he said is doomed to fail in Georgia after losing the state to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020.

“I don’t know how much more losing that Donald Trump has to do in Georgia to prove to folks that he can’t win here. That he won’t win here,” Christie said. “And there’s no path for a Republican candidate for president who can’t win the state of Georgia.”

Christie also warned that Trump’s dire legal problems — including indictments in Fulton County on election interference charges — will only alienate the moderate swing voters who are already skeptical of Trump’s bid to return to the White House.

“Georgia voters are smart,” Christie said. “They don’t want a criminal to be our nominee for president. And Donald Trump, I’m confident, is going to be convicted of felonies connected with Jan. 6 before Election Day. That will make him completely unelectable — in fact, he’ll be in a situation where he won’t be able to vote for himself.”

Here are other takeaways from the interview:

On his single-digit polling in Georgia:

“Eight years ago, the Iowa caucuses were led by Ben Carson. I’m still waiting for the Ben Carson administration. Polls that happen this far out are pretty meaningless. And in the end, what’s going to matter in a general election in Georgia is someone who is going to appeal to independent suburban voters. We’ve seen that over and over again. Brian Kemp was able to appeal broadly to independent voters … while at the same time the Trump-backed candidate, Herschel Walker, lost the Senate seat.”

On New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu backing former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley over Christie:

“I would love to have Gov. Sununu’s endorsement, but if I don’t have it, that means I have one less vote in New Hampshire. And it doesn’t mean a whole lot more than that. … I don’t think voters vote based upon who you’re getting endorsed by.”

On courting Kemp’s endorsement:

“Gov. Kemp knows that I would love to have his support. We speak regularly. Usually I speak to him once every week or 10 days to update him. … I don’t think he’s in any rush to make a decision. My sense is, knowing Brian Kemp, he wants to see people vote before he’s going to make any decision on what he’s going to do with any endorsement.”

Gov. Brian Kemp's support would be valuable, GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie said. “Gov. Kemp knows that I would love to have his support," the former governor of New Jersey said. "We speak regularly, Usually I speak to him once every week or 10 days to update him. … I don’t think he’s in any rush to make a decision. My sense is, knowing Brian Kemp, he wants to see people vote before he’s going to make any decision on what he’s going to do with any endorsement.” (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

On backing Trump in 2016 and opposing him now:

“Let’s be clear: Donald Trump was not my first choice for president. I was. But that didn’t work out. In this country, you don’t always get to vote for who you want to vote for. You have to decide who to vote for between who is left. And it was Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And my view was, and still is, that Hillary Clinton would have been a terrible president. …

“When I look back on it, I did the best I could to try to make (Trump) the best candidate and the best president that I can make him. And it didn’t work out. I don’t, in the end, have any regrets about opposing Hillary Clinton, but I would never support Donald Trump.”

On the Fulton County election-interference case:

“The underlying facts are absolutely legitimate. If I were making the decision, I wouldn’t have indicted Donald Trump in Fulton County personally because he had already been indicted federally for the same conduct, so to me it was duplicative. …

“But if you’re asking me, is the underlying conduct criminal, I believe it is. And I believe that will be proven in the (federal) Jan. 6 trial, which is set to start sometime this spring. So in that sense, I feel very strongly about his conduct being disqualifying for him.”

On Vivek Ramaswamy:

“He’s an obnoxious blowhard, as I said the other night. He’s completely unqualified to be president of the United States. He’s there as Donald Trump’s wingman, playing a support role for Donald Trump since he doesn’t have the courage to get on the debate stage. So Ramaswamy is playing the role of a younger Donald Trump on that stage.”

On Trump’s enduring support among Georgia Republicans:

“That support will last as long as Donald Trump continues to be perceived as someone who’s inevitable to win. As soon as he has a rough moment in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina, I think that those numbers will decrease significantly. He has the advantage of essentially being the incumbent in this race, and a lot of advantages come along with that. Once people really are focused on voting and they see the results, I think it’s going to be a much, much tougher race for Donald Trump than the way it appears right now.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, from left, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott take the stage for the third Republican presidential debate in November in Miami. Christie has used the debates to attack former President Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner, who has not participated in the events. He also has attacked Ramaswamy as a blowhard who, he said, "is playing the role of a younger Donald Trump on that stage.” (Scott McIntyre/The New York Times)

Credit: NYT

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Credit: NYT