Illustration: Barbara Kelley

Chris Christie
has a theory for how to defeat Donald Trump: Attack him. If that sounds like something out of “Elections for Dummies,” it remains mostly untested in the 2024 Republican contest, which Mr. Trump leads with 53% support, according to Friday’s RealClearPolitics average. “Nobody else in this race is willing to take him on,” Mr. Christie says. “They all are either playing for a position in a potential Trump cabinet, or they just don’t have the ability to do it. And there’s no way to beat this guy unless you beat him.”

During a Tuesday visit to the Journal, the two-term New Jersey governor gives no quarter to Mr. Trump. “He’s the biggest liar in the history of the presidency, which is a high bar to clear, but he’s cleared it,” Mr. Christie says. Whatever today’s polls show, he’s convinced Mr. Trump is a sure loser against President Biden. “Trump can’t win,” he says. “By the time we get to the debate stage in three weeks, he will probably be out on bail in four different jurisdictions.”

The trouble for Mr. Christie is that even if he’s right about the general election, it might not matter until then. Mr. Trump is liked by Republicans, broadly speaking, and being indicted seems to have improved his standing. By the time independents and suburban moms get their say in November 2024, Mr. Christie might be watching from his couch with the rest of us. He has only months to convince the GOP that Mr. Trump can’t win while jetting from campaign stops to courtrooms.

“I did this work for seven years,” Mr. Christie says. “I know what he’s up against.” That’s a reference to his old job as U.S. attorney for New Jersey, the top federal prosecutor for about nine million people. Having written his share of indictments, he doesn’t hesitate before taking apart the first set of charges against Mr. Trump. Brought in April by Manhattan District Attorney

Alvin Bragg,
they accuse the former president of falsifying business records after paying

Stormy Daniels
in 2016 to keep quiet about their alleged affair.

“New York is a joke,” Mr. Christie says. “They are stretching those statutes to their absolute limit, and I think beyond them,” and while Mr. Bragg lets city life deteriorate, a conviction in a seven-year-old hush-money case “will not improve the quality of life in the island of Manhattan one scintilla.”

The second indictment is different. Obtained in June by special counsel

Jack Smith,
it accuses Mr. Trump of mishandling classified documents and covering it up. Mr. Christie calls it “a serious case, with serious evidence,” and, if proven, “absolute violations of the law.” As Mr. Christie tells it, invoking “The Godfather,” shortly after Mr. Trump got a subpoena for Mar-a-Lago security footage, he sent “Fredo” down to delete the server: “That’s classic obstruction of justice.”

The feds “quietly, professionally, privately asked him for 18 months to return the documents,” Mr. Christie continues. “He didn’t, of course, because he was too busy.” The sarcasm is deadpan. “I watched what he was doing for those 18 months. It seemed like mostly playing golf every day,” he says. “I think he could have squeezed a couple of minutes in.” Instead Mr. Trump “sends Fredo and the other guy running around moving the boxes, to keep them from his own lawyers, and then allows his lawyers to submit a certification saying they have reviewed everything.”

Republicans have rallied to Mr. Trump in part because they see a double standard, which Mr. Christie grants. If

Hillary Clinton
had been charged for her basement email server, “we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he says, and the Obama administration “absolutely played politics,” by letting her go. Yet he doesn’t think the answer is a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for the next GOP scofflaw. “We keep looking at the prosecutors as the problem,” he says, “rather than Donald Trump. He did these things.”

As for

Hunter Biden,

whose plea agreement on tax and gun crimes folded on contact with a federal judge, Mr. Christie says he’d have fired a prosecutor who brought him that “one-sided” deal. “It’s evidence either of a double standard or complete incompetence, and with the Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office, I think there’s at least a 30% chance it’s complete incompetence,” he says. “It is a rinky-dink office.” He estimates it employs one-eighth as many prosecutors as he oversaw in New Jersey. Mr. Christie believes the matter deserves a special counsel, with jurisdiction to “also look at the allegations that are now being made about the president’s involvement with his son’s business.”

That leaves the third indictment, charging Mr. Trump with conspiring to overturn the 2020 election. It was released hours after Mr. Christie left the building. Mr. Trump “violated his oath & brought shame to his presidency,” he wrote on Twitter. A spokeswoman told us his schedule wouldn’t permit him to elaborate. He turned out to be en route to Kyiv, Ukraine.

When he thinks the charges are meritorious, Mr. Christie’s attitude is to ignore the political ramifications and let justice be done. “If it turns out that indicting Donald Trump re-elects him president, while that would trouble me deeply, what would trouble me more is if we let him get away with significant crimes against the country,” he says. “That’s what he’s counting on, and besides his massive ego, it’s the only other reason he’s running. Think he gives a crap about the country, and he’s got all these great plans for the future of the country? Have you heard any of them?”

Apropos, does Mr. Christie have any great plans for the future of the country? “First is that we’ve got to go back to controlling government spending,” he says, which he argues he did in New Jersey. “I inherited an $11 billion deficit on a $29 billion budget, and everybody said that I was going to have to raise taxes to balance it. I didn’t. We didn’t raise taxes for eight years, and that first year, we cut 836 individual programs out of the budget.”

Mr. Christie wants universal vouchers for K-12 schools. “In the city of Newark, we spend $36,000 per pupil. In Asbury Park, we spend $40,000 per pupil, for really bad results,” he says. “Why not take that money and give that money to each individual family, in a controlled account that they can spend on education, send their kid wherever they want?” Schooling is a state and local function, but Mr. Christie says a president can use the bully pulpit and put strings on federal funds.

“On crime, I am tired of seeing what’s happening in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and all of these places,” he says. “I am going go to each one of these states and appoint United States attorneys, and their policy instruction from me is to go after violent crime in each one of these cities, to supersede the local authorities on it, to take these folks federal, and to put them in jail. And when the localities get tired of it, of us intervening, then they’re going to go back to doing it themselves.”

He calls himself “an unabashed supporter of Ukraine” and says he’d have sent its defenders the big guns long ago, before
Vladimir Putin’s

invasion last year. “I think the Biden policy has failed, because they’re giving them just enough to not win,” he says. “Trump was not interested in deterring the war. He was interested in continuing to be friends with Putin. So he did just enough to do more than what Obama had done.”

Mr. Christie also argues that a Republican governor from a blue state, used to haggling with a Democratic legislature, could change the dynamic in a polarized Washington that has forgotten how to get anything done. “It takes developing relationships with people in Congress—and that’s going to really stink,” he says. “I’m going to have more dinners and lunches and drinks and events with people that I can’t stand.” As governor, his phone sometimes rang at 11:30 p.m. “It was often, almost exclusively, the Senate president,” he recalls. “I always took the call.”

Why isn’t his case against Mr. Trump getting more traction? “I don’t know,” he says. “Eight weeks is how long I’ve been making this argument. But give me a little more time.” Does he have the resources to stick with it until the voting? “Well, I certainly don’t have them as we sit here today,” he admits. “Look, if I perform on the debate stage, I’ll raise more money, and if I don’t, I won’t.” Even Mr. Christie seems to know he’s taking a flier, though a recent New Hampshire poll has him at 11%, in third place behind Florida Gov.
Ron DeSantis


One disadvantage is the 60-year-old Mr. Christie is no longer a fresh face. He has been out of office for half a decade, lobbying and filling TV airtime. He will never outrun the cries of “Bridgegate,” despite insisting he didn’t order, uh, some traffic problems in Fort Lee. After he lost the 2016 presidential primaries, he was the first big Republican to endorse Mr. Trump and was nearly named vice president. Then he didn’t get attorney general. He turned down lesser cabinet posts, and fair enough: No child dreams of growing up to be labor secretary.

Mr. Christie hopes this history will lend his criticisms credibility, if Republicans care to recall that he was never a Never Trumper. “I’m actually coming from the perspective of, I tried to make this guy a better candidate,” he says. “I tried to make him a better president.” A lesson he took from the 2016 primary is that Mr. Trump’s opponents can’t wait around for gravity to pull him down.

This time, Mr. Christie’s plan is to train his fire on Mr. Trump. Or, most of his fire, at least. A dilemma for 2024, not so unlike last time, is that if Republican pooh-bahs want to narrow the contest quickly to Mr. Trump and a single challenger, Mr. Christie and the rest know that they need to be the crab at the top of the barrel when it happens. For all his ire at Mr. Trump, he’s also tough on Mr. DeSantis.

“If we were endorsing résumés, then the DeSantis campaign would be neck and neck with Trump, if not ahead. We don’t,” Mr. Christie says. “You actually have to go out and be a person—be a human being, and show that you can relate to other humans, whose votes you want to have.” He gets some laughs. Two days earlier, as if to illustrate the point, Mr. DeSantis tells a barbecue in Rye, N.H., pop. 5,600: “All these deep-state people, you know, we’re going to start slitting throats on day one.”

Mr. Christie then gets on a roll about Mr. DeSantis. “The hill you want to die on is the curriculum on African-American studies in the K-12 school districts in Florida? OK. You want to send out homoerotic videos and then pretend they’re not yours, but then get caught, that they are yours? I mean, this is like amateur hour. And people see that, and they go, oh, maybe he’s not ready to be president.”

DeSantis supporters emphasize his record in Florida. Mr. Christie argues it’s “a red state with a red legislature and no discernible critical media,” suggesting that

Jeb Bush
was overrated for similar reasons in 2016. Give up on these Florida politicians, he says. “They have not had a fight. It is like Candy Land down there if you’re a Republican. It just is—I mean, come on. I’ve never seen a more compliant legislature in my life.”

If going after Mr. DeSantis with a Louisville Slugger seems like a strange tactic for a candidate who promises to focus on Mr. Trump, it could be the political incentives. Or maybe Mr. Christie the entertainer simply can’t resist good material. The same might prove true at the Aug. 23 debate. “I do not intend to get on the stage with a shotgun and start spraying, you know, buckshot all over the place,” he says. “Now, if someone says something monumentally stupid, and I see it as the moment to say, ‘That’s really stupid,’ I’m going to do it.”

Mr. Peterson is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.