Chris Christie drops out of the 2024 presidential race

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WINDHAM, N.H. — Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Wednesday that he is getting out of the 2024 presidential campaign — as his main competition for moderate votes in the New Hampshire primary, Nikki Haley, gains on Donald Trump in the state.

“It’s clear to me tonight that there isn’t a path for me to win the nomination,” Christie told voters at an evening event. “Which is why I’m suspending my campaign for president of the United States.”

“I want to promise you this,” Christie continued. “I’m going to make sure that in no way do I enable Donald Trump to ever be president of the United States again. And that’s more important than my own personal ambition.”

Christie is not expected to make any endorsement at this time, according to a source familiar with the campaign, who speculated that Christie may want to wait until after the Iowa caucuses next Monday before making any announcement to amplify its effect.

A Christie fundraiser said she heard from the candidate himself that he would be dropping out.

“I am very saddened by this. I wanted him to stay in. He did not have discussions with Nikki about this,” the person told NBC News.

The decision removes the most high-profile and consistent critic of Trump still in the Republican primary, with Christie weathering boos and catcalls at GOP debates when he stuck to his message against the former president. 

But Christie’s departure may also boost Nikki Haley, who has also selectively criticized Trump and who has been fighting for a similar group of moderate voters in New Hampshire. Haley and Christie have both overperformed among self-described independents in polls ahead of New Hampshire’s Jan. 23 open primary.

Christie had been resisting calls to drop out and make room for Haley to grow her support further in recent days, arguing that she was damaging her candidacy by pandering to different audiences and by refusing to rule out becoming Trump’s running mate.

Christie was caught on a hot mic before his Wednesday evening event apparently talking about Haley, saying, “She’s going to get smoked — you and I both know it. She’s not up to this.” NBC News has reached out to the Christie campaign for comment about Christie’s remark.

But it became clear that some anti-Trump Republican primary voters were having trouble sticking with Christie as Haley emerged as the main threat to Trump in New Hampshire. 

“My heart wants to vote for Gov. Christie, but my brain tells me to vote for Nikki Haley,” New Hampshire Republican Greg Leach, 49, told NBC News on Tuesday after attending a Christie town hall. He said his decision is based on current polling numbers. He views Haley as being “within close striking distance of Trump.”

“I want to vote for Christie, but I feel like right now my vote would be wasted and, in a sense, a vote for Trump,” Leach said.

Christie’s drop-out was sudden: One Christie donor said the campaign talked to him this week about organizing fundraisers and that they had a finance call last week where they were discussing fundraisers on both coasts. The message was “all systems go,” the donor said.

Christie’s mission has been clear from the start of his campaign: take on Trump. It was both a campaign strategy and the ingredients for a personal redemption tour, after Christie was one of the first governors to endorse Trump during the 2016 primaries. Christie then supported Trump throughout his presidency, only to break with him after the 2020 election and Trump’s false claims about voter fraud that culminated in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Christie apologized for backing Trump during the campaign, including in a digital ad.

Christie focused most of the effort behind his take-on-Trump strategy in New Hampshire, figuring more conservative Iowa would not be as receptive to his message among the early-voting states. He did not set foot in Iowa during his campaign.

On town hall stages and during debates, Christie repeatedly spoke out about why he believes it would be dangerous for Trump to be president again — and called out other candidates for not doing the same. 

During the fourth Republican presidential debate in December, Christie criticized Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, saying, “We’ve had these three, acting as if the race is between the four of us. The fifth guy who doesn’t have the guts to show up and stand here.” 

As he exited the race Wednesday, Christie said that “if Donald Trump becomes the nominee of this party, the moment that it happened was when Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis and Tim Scott and Mike Pence and Doug Burgum and Vivek Ramaswamy stood on that stage in Milwaukee in August, and when they were asked, would you support someone who was a convicted felon to be president of the United States, they raised their hands … and I did not, and will not.”

Christie was releasing new TV ads with a similar theme as recently as Tuesday. In one new spot, Christie looked straight into the camera and said, “Most of the other candidates in this race are all trying to look into people’s eyes and figure out what they want to hear. I’m looking into people’s eyes and knowing that the truth is ultimately what they need to hear and what they deserve to hear.”

Trump wasn’t the only theme of Christie’s campaign: He also talked often about addiction, reprising a major theme from his 2016 campaign, when he went viral while talking about losing a friend to an overdose. He spent significant time visiting recovery centers in New Hampshire and gave a speech on addiction policy in December.

However, Trump and Christie’s position on him dominated his time in the race. Christie also slashed at Trump by regularly talking about the importance of character. At a Rochester, New Hampshire, event on Tuesday, he mentioned a little girl in the audience who had asked him a question and said, “I want her family to be able to point to the White House again and say, ‘Be like that person.’”

As a result, Christie didn’t capture much national support within the GOP. But he did dig in with a slice of voters in New Hampshire, though Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s coveted endorsement went to Haley instead.

During a town hall in Hooksett, New Hampshire in early December, Christie told a crowd of voters that no one was begging him to run this election cycle. 

“I ran this time because I looked at the field and I said none of these people are going to take him on,” Christie said of Trump. “No one’s going to tell the truth about him. And I’ve known him for 22 years. I have an obligation to go out there and tell the truth about him. And that’s the thing that motivated me and got me over the finish line to run.”

He often told voters that they might not like everything he has to say, but he will always tell it like it is. 

During his time on the campaign trail, Christie also visited two war-stricken countries, Ukraine in August and Israel in November, and advocated for U.S. aid to be sent to both nations. He often told harrowing stories of what he saw in Ukraine while on the trail, and he was the first and only Republican presidential candidate to visit Israel just a few weeks after the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

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