In a highly anticipated confrontation, former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, known for his willingness to directly challenge Donald J. Trump, launched a blistering attack on the former president’s reported hesitation to participate in presidential debates.
“Obviously, he’s afraid,” taunted Mr. Christie, who has transitioned from a Trump defender to a critic, during an interview with the conservative media personality Hugh Hewitt. “He’s afraid to get on the stage against people who are serious.”
Mr. Trump, the current frontrunner in Republican polls, appears inclined to skip at least one of the initial two debates of the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race, indicating his reluctance to elevate lower-polling rivals. Notably, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, expected to announce his campaign soon, and other contenders have been hesitant to directly confront Mr. Trump, underscoring the extent of his influence over a significant portion of the Republican base.
“If he really cares about the country — and I have deep questions about that — but if he really cares about the country, then he’s going to get up there, and he shouldn’t be afraid,” Mr. Christie asserted. He further emphasized, “If, in fact, his ideas are so great, if his leadership is so outstanding, then his lead will only increase if he gets on the stage, not decrease.”
In response to Mr. Christie’s comments, Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, retorted with a dismissive “Who?” He added that Mr. Christie “has no idea what he is talking about and should stick to being a talking head instead of trying to play pretend candidate.”
During the interview, Mr. Christie, who is currently polling at a modest 1 to 2 percent, hinted that he would make a decision regarding his own presidential aspirations within the next two weeks.
“The presidency is not a scripted exercise, and so that’s why I think debates are important,” Mr. Christie remarked.
He suggested that Mr. Trump’s reluctance to engage in debates stems from a lack of substantive answers to the country’s pressing issues. Additionally, he criticized Trump’s continued false claims about the integrity of the 2020 election, stating, “All he wants to do is go back and reprosecute the 2020 election because his feelings are hurt. He’s a child in that regard.”