For much of 2023, Donald Trump has held a monumental lead over his Republican rivals to become the party’s presidential nominee.
Even after four indictments, the former president leads nearest rival and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The two were once neck and neck, but now Gov. DeSantis leads a pack of candidates many have described as the “best of the rest.”
Trump’s advantage is such that if supporters of other candidates combined under a single candidate on an “anyone but Trump” campaign, the 77-year-old would still be the party’s nominee come the election. A strategy many donors hoped would work when Trump was an underdog eight years ago simply wouldn’t work in 2023, given the size of his advantage.
Instead, any candidate hopeful of securing the nomination must do the inconceivable in a Trump-controlled GOP: go after him.
The Case Of Chris Christie
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been by far the staunchest conservative critic of the half a dozen or so candidates who’ve thrown their hat in the ring for the Republican ticket.
It’s a strategy that may not have propelled him into double digits but certainly tripled his support since launching his campaign.
Christie was booed for his anti-Trump remarks at the August debate, but he’s held firm in his repeated criticism of the former president. Surprisingly strong performances from former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and businessman Vivek Ramasawamy limited his momentum, but Christie remains in fifth ahead of the sensible but agonizingly mundane Sen. Tim Scott with less than a year to go before the election.
Christie’s record is a weakness, having somewhat bowed down to the then-outsider in 2015. That being said, he’s the only candidate not to have a strong connection to the former president. Gov. DeSantis is largely pro-Trump in his policymaking, while Haley secured her job as United Nations ambassador under the previous administration. Ramaswamy, while lacking political experience, often speaks highly of Trump whenever he has the opportunity, resorting to an age argument which is often reserved for the 80-year-old President Joe Biden.
With last month’s withdrawal of Mike Pence, the only candidates left with any glimmer of hope all have strong MAGA connotations. In a nomination race that Trump leads, it’s perhaps no surprise that voters are not warming to the idea of “Trump in all-but name”. The obvious argument against voting for either of the aforementioned candidates is: “Why not just vote for Trump?”
That’s a question no one other than Christie seems able to answer. Yet, it’s not inconceivable to tell voters, at least from a perspective of political strategy, that voting for Trump comes with the risks of a courtroom-based campaign where cameras are (mostly) forbidden.
For sure, it comes with the risk of Trump’s personal attacks, but given that no one has made inroads in his lead thus far, what other options do his opponents have?
Shay Bottomley is a British journalist based in Canada. He has written for the Western Standard, Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express, Windsor Express, Berkshire Live and Southend Echo, and has covered notable events including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.