Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie embarked on an unannounced visit to Ukraine last Friday, marking the second instance of a Republican presidential candidate engaging with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
Chris Christie: Why Now?
The GOP Presidential candidate met with Zelenskyy within the confines of Ukraine’s presidential palace, following a poignant journey through villages that have become the unfortunate theaters of conflict since Russia’s incursion into the region a year prior. The meeting, which held deep significance against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict, saw Christie affirm his unwavering support for sustained U.S. assistance to Ukraine. He underlined the purpose of his visit as a firsthand exploration to comprehensively understand the challenges faced by the allied nation.
“My presence here allows me to witness the hardships and the suffering, and it allows me to comprehend the urgency,” Christie voiced his emotions while inspecting the communities of Bucha and Moschun, situated on the outskirts of Kyiv. “This experience is evocative of a compelling need for America’s resolute intervention to thwart such atrocities.”
During his tour, Chris Christie paid his respects by placing flowers at the memorial complex in Bucha, where a mass grave of civilians serves as a somber reminder of the toll the conflict has exacted. Additionally, he offered prayers in honor of Ukrainian volunteers who fell victim to Russian forces during the war’s onset in Moshchun.
After the meeting with President Zelenskyy, Christie expressed his reflections to a pool of reporters, noting that the Ukrainian president underscored the importance of continued bipartisan backing from the U.S. Congress. Interestingly, Zelenskyy refrained from commenting on the ongoing U.S. presidential race.
Reflecting on his interaction with Zelenskyy, Christie shared, “The president acknowledged President Biden’s efforts and viewpoints, but also stressed the imperative for further action. Our discussions did not veer into the ongoing race, which I appreciated.”
Christie’s voyage to Ukraine marks the second instance of a Republican contender’s visit, following former Vice President Mike Pence’s recent trip. Pence had emphasized that Ukraine’s victory over Russia was vital to the national interest of both the United States and the broader free world. Among Republican primary candidates, figures like Christie, Pence, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley have resonated as vocal supporters of maintaining U.S. aid to Ukraine.
Conversely, former President Donald Trump, the prominent frontrunner, has advocated for Congress to halt military aid to Ukraine unless the Biden administration collaborates with Republican inquiries into alleged unethical business dealings involving the Biden family. Trump has also asserted that he possesses the capacity to broker a peace settlement ending the conflict within “24 hours” if reelected.
In contrast, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has expressed skepticism about heightened U.S. involvement in the conflict, suggesting that negotiation of a cease-fire should be prioritized over deploying American troops to the region.
During a town hall event in Columbia, South Carolina, Christie framed the Ukraine-Russia conflict as a “proxy war” between the United States and China. He also highlighted the Ukrainians’ yearning for access to military hardware to counter Russian aggression.
In his meeting with President Zelenskyy, Christie acknowledged the potential for political disagreements surrounding increased aid for Ukraine. Nevertheless, he positioned himself as a staunch advocate for the nation’s cause.
Expressing gratitude for Christie’s visit, Zelenskyy reaffirmed the importance of unwavering American support in Ukraine’s battle. “I extend my sincere appreciation to you and your colleagues, especially the members of Congress, for the invaluable bipartisan support. This solidarity is of immense significance to us. We are deeply grateful to President Biden and his administration. The alignment of your entire nation, every American, in support of truth and democracy, and their belief in Ukraine’s triumph, holds profound meaning,” Zelenskyy affirmed, as per statements from his office.
Proxy War With China?
Christie has been vocal in his support for continued U.S. assistance to Ukraine. During his visit to Ukraine, he reiterated his commitment to U.S. aid for the country, expressing that he witnessed the urgent need for American intervention to prevent atrocities and provide essential support to the allied nation.
Christie has framed the conflict between Ukraine and Russia as a “proxy war” between the United States and China.
However, he has stressed the view that Ukrainians do not want American troops on the ground in their country. He has indicated that providing military hardware and resources would be more in line with Ukrainians’ preferences
Chris Christie’s entry into the 2024 presidential campaign looks to be an uphill battle, and he is currency polling at around 1 percent.
FiveThirtyEight’s senior elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich suggests that he “missed” a better opportunity to run in 2012, when he was a popular governor. Despite his 2016 campaign, he starts in a worse position now. His impact could be in taking down a front-runner, but his low popularity may hinder that. In 2011, his potential was high, with strong polls and elite backing, but scandals like the Bridgegate incident damaged his image.
He struggled in the 2016 race and starts this one with minimal support. His anti-Trump stance after endorsing him in 2016 could impact the race, but his unfavorable ratings among Republicans and limited debate qualification chances could hinder his effectiveness. Christie’s chance at the nomination is slim, and his role as an influencer may also be diminished.
Georgia Gilholy is a journalist based in the United Kingdom who has been published in Newsweek, The Times of Israel, and the Spectator. Gilholy writes about international politics, culture, and education.