Christie rips DeSantis, Trump while campaigning in Florida

Christie visited Miami just days before the first GOP presidential primary debate.
Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie chats with attendees during a town hall at Casa Cuba restaurant in South Miami, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023.
Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie chats with attendees during a town hall at Casa Cuba restaurant in South Miami, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. [ PEDRO PORTAL | El Nuevo Herald ]
Published Aug. 18, 2023

MIAMI — Insurgent Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie visited the Miami area Friday, pitching himself not only as a better option than former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, but also as an alternative to their brand of politics.

Speaking to voters in DeSantis’ and Trump’s backyard, Christie criticized the two leading GOP candidates’ policies as antithetical to Republicans’ long-standing principles of limited government and personal responsibility. As voters sipped on cafecito and munched pastelitos at Casa Cuba in South Miami, the former New Jersey governor also took aim at Vivek Ramaswamy, a businessman and upstart politician rising in the polls.

“We have this group now, folks like Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump and Vivek Ramaswamy. And these folks who believe in big-government conservatism, if there’s something going on in the country that they don’t personally like, they want the government to pass a law to stop it,” Christie said, adding later that “they want to put more power in the hands of the government.”

“That’s not what conservatives have stood for my whole life,” he said. “And if I’m president, I’m about empowering families to make decisions about their children’s lives, their education and their futures …”

Christie, who took questions from the audience, was expected to head later Friday morning to Versaille, a traditional stomping ground in Little Havana for Republican presidential candidates looking to connect with voters in majority-Hispanic Miami.

Christie, who like the rest of the Republican presidential field trails Trump badly in polls, came to Miami less than one week before the first GOP primary debate, to be held Wednesday in Milwaukee. He is one of the eight candidates known to have qualified for the debate, alongside Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. (Miami Mayor Francis Suarez announced late Friday morning that he has qualified for the debate, but that has not yet been verified by journalists or the Republican National Committee.)

In a large field of candidates, Christie has positioned himself as a harsh critic of Trump. While DeSantis and others have portrayed themselves as better choices than the former President, Christie is calling for an upheaval of Trumpism within the Republican Party.

Asked to comment about a leaked campaign memo from a pro-DeSantis Super PAC that suggested Florida’s governor defend Trump — and attack Christie — on the debate stage rather than rip into the former president, Christie said DeSantis’ mixed messages have been a contributing factor in his long slide in GOP presidential polls.

“Well, this campaign of his has gone from up here to down here, because people are really beginning to wonder what the hell he stands for,” Christie said. “And if what he stands for is defending Donald Trump, then just drop out of the race and endorse him.”

It wasn’t that long ago that Christie was considered one of Trump’s allies. He endorsed Trump in 2016 after he himself dropped out of that presidential race before eventually turning on the former president as Trump challenged the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Christie is behind five other candidates in national polls and, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll, he has little to no support in Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation nomination contest of the GOP. Even though he’s not a leading candidate, one recent poll found that he has managed to catch DeSantis for the second-place spot in New Hampshire.