MANCHESTER, N.H. ― Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday called Vladimir Putin a “modern-day Hitler,” while criticizing President Joe Biden for not having armed Ukraine earlier and more aggressively to help it fend off the Russian dictator’s invasion.
Christie, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and appears likely to do so again in 2024, said Biden should have given Ukraine more Javelin and Stinger missiles, as well as a more advanced air defense system to shoot down higher-altitude planes, and that he should have started this as soon as he took office.
“When Joe Biden decided to stop arming the Ukrainians in January of 2021, when he entered office, that was a huge mistake. Because, again, it was a signal to Putin: We don’t care,” Christie told about 150 attendees at a “Politics and Eggs” breakfast at Saint Anselm College, a traditional visit for presidential aspirants.
He acknowledged, though, that even if Biden had done all the things Christie said he should have done, Putin still might not have been deterred.
“Sometimes people are so nuts, you can’t deter them,” Christie said, comparing today’s situation to the attempts to avoid a war with Adolf Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s. “Putin is the modern-day Hitler. It may be that Putin would have done this no matter what.”
Christie also had harsh words for former President Donald Trump, who in 2019 tried to extort Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy into smearing Biden ahead of the 2020 election by holding hostage $391 million in military aid.
“Donald Trump didn’t help, when he was, you know: ‘Say, hey, give us some dirt on Joe Biden and then I’ll give you your Stinger missiles,’” Christie said. “Not helpful.”
The former governor also excoriated Trump for praising Putin, even after his invasion began, and in the process creating fresh propaganda for Putin to use.
“When you have leaders who look at Vladimir Putin, at the moment he invades Ukraine, and says ‘That’s genius,’ and ‘Very savvy,’ we need to ask ourselves, is that who we want to be?” Christie said. “Do we want to send admiring words to someone who, as we speak this morning, is directing the slaughter of women and children in Ukraine, without any conscience? Words matter, everybody. Words matter. And those words, of people from our party, who called him genius and very savvy, are being replayed over and over on Russian television to justify and prop up a dictator who is sending his soldiers to slaughter in Ukraine.”
Christie, like Biden, said he would not send U.S. forces to engage with Russia directly, but that he would, like Biden, honor the terms of the NATO alliance by coming to the aid of any member nation that is attacked.
He said he would provide more lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend itself than Biden’s administration has been willing to do ― by, for example, agreeing to Poland’s offer to send older Russian MiG-29 fighter planes to Ukraine in return for getting new U.S. F-16s.
Christie was among the 16 GOP candidates in addition to Trump who ran for president in 2016, in what was considered a strong field of current and former governors and senators. Like almost all the others, his strategy was not to take on Trump’s constant lies and insults directly, but to try to become the last non-Trump candidate standing. He spent much of 2015 campaigning in New Hampshire and dropped out of the race after a sixth-place finish. He then immediately endorsed Trump, becoming the first major establishment party figure to do so.
Christie said later that he realized Trump was going to be the nominee, and that an early endorsement would let him influence both Trump’s general election candidacy and a potential presidency.
Trump made Christie the head of his transition team, in charge of recruiting and vetting senior and mid-level officials for a Trump administration ― a move that party figures in the autumn of 2016 cited as proof that Trump, despite his wild talk, would govern as a standard Republican if he won.
That theory went out the window, however, when Christie was pushed out of that job shortly after the election by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and all of Christie’s work product was discarded. Christie, as the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, had prosecuted Kushner’s father for hiring a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law in order to blackmail his own sister.
Of the Republicans considering presidential runs in 2024, Christie has been among the few willing to take on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election directly. While he often speaks euphemistically about “looking forward and not backward” to the 2020 loss, Christie has also been clear that the reason Trump lost reelection was that too many Republican and independent voters were fed up with him.
He pointed out in a podcast last summer that Trump lost the four suburban counties around Philadelphia by more votes in 2020 compared to 2016 than his total margin of loss for all of Pennsylvania. He noted that Republicans gained a dozen House seats that year, effectively held their own in the Senate and flipped one governorship, and cited this as evidence that voters did not see all Republicans as toxic ― just the man at the top of the ticket.
In that recording, Christie also used a line that is likely to catch on with other GOP 2024 hopefuls: that Trump is the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose the House, the White House and the Senate in a single term, and that Republican voters should not go with a proven loser.
On Monday, Christie again told his now familiar story of breaking with Trump because of his repeated lies that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him.
“He is dead wrong about the election. There is no evidence that the election was stolen. None,” Christie said. “Not even stolen in one state, let alone the six states he would have needed to reverse the result of the election.”
And when those repeated election lies fed the anger among his followers that culminated in the violent 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, Trump again betrayed the country by not doing something sooner to stop it, Christie said.
“You cannot sit in the White House and watch that happen and not stand up and say ‘Stop.’ And I tried to call the president that day. He would not take my call, because he knew what I was going to say, as he sat in the dining room off the Oval Office and watched it happen on TV,” Christie said.
He added that no one should accept the revisionist histories that Trump and his allies are selling that Jan. 6 was not really that bad.
“Don’t let anyone distract you with that nonsense. We saw it, everybody. It was televised ... That’s just wrong,” Christie said, earning the only round of applause that interrupted his 33 minutes of remarks and 45-minute question-and-answer session.
Christie is among more than a dozen Republicans taking the steps typically taken by presidential candidates two years out. Others include former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
While Christie would not commit to running in 2024 ― he told reporters afterward that he would likely decide by the end of this year ― he said other Republicans thinking of challenging Trump should be ready to handle his abuse and insults. “If they’re going to get into a primary fight with Donald Trump, they’d better be ready. Because it will not be tiddlywinks,” he said.
He added that since it’s almost certain Trump will make his claims of a stolen election a central issue in 2024, Republicans who have so far avoided that question need to figure out how they will confront it.
“If you believe it was stolen, well then, OK, what are you doing here?” Christie said. “Why are you even running? If it was stolen from him, I guess he deserves to get it back.”
Unlike other Republicans like Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, though, Christie said he does not consider Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election and remain in power to be disqualifying.
“The voters will decide that,” he told reporters, after signing dozens of the event’s trademark wooden eggs for attendees. “I am never going to be presumptuous enough to tell 330 million Americans who they should be allowed to vote for, who they shouldn’t be allowed to vote for. That’s for them to decide.”