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Trump critic Chris Christie ends his presidential campaign

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he is ending his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. He made the announcement at a town hall in New Hampshire tonight. NPR's Don Gonyea joins me now from Iowa, actually, where the 2024 caucuses are just days away. Hey there, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: Hi. So you were listening in as Christie spoke. Why is he dropping out and why now?

GONYEA: His basic rationale was that it's so important that Donald Trump not win another term, that that would be disastrous for the country. Now, it's also important to note that that has been his message from Day 1 of his campaign, and it's a message that's gotten, you know, virtually no traction in the campaign so far. And it's that lack of traction that has prompted him to say today that he doesn't want to have done anything to make a Trump win more likely. He doesn't want to divide up the vote, so he's dropping out. And here's how he framed it as he spoke at this town hall in Windham, N.H.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS CHRISTIE: If you put him back behind the desk in the Oval Office and a choice comes and a decision is needed to be made as to whether he puts himself first or he puts you first, how much more evidence do you need that he will pick himself?

KELLY: Don Gonyea, it is just so interesting to hear those words from Chris Christie because, let's recall, Christie endorsed Trump back in 2016. I gather he offered sort of a mea culpa for that today?

GONYEA: He did. And again, we should not underestimate the help that the Christie endorsement was for Trump back then. He was the first national figure of his stature to endorse him. And Trump, you know, helped him pay off his campaign debts. Christie had his eye back then on maybe being Trump's running mate or maybe being attorney general. Neither happened. Still, he campaigned for him in 2016 and did a lot of work for him. But here's Christie today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTIE: I knew his flaws, but I also knew he was going to win the nomination. So I decided that I would get behind him and support him. I let the ambition get ahead and in control of the decision making.

KELLY: Don, how was Chris Christie polling?

GONYEA: You know, in New Hampshire, which is the only place he was really running, he was, like, cracking maybe 12%. Nikki Haley was in the high 20s, Trump in the 40s. So it wasn't happening.

KELLY: OK. And the big question, did he endorse anyone else on his way out the door?

GONYEA: He did not. But, you know, he's also criticized Nikki Haley for not doing enough to directly confront Trump. She says it would mean chaos. And she's pledged to, you know, be a different kind of president than what Trump was, that we need a new generation. But there was a hot mic moment today before Christie took the stage, and we could hear him questioning Haley's toughness and her ability to truly confront Trump. The way he put it is, she's going to get smoked.

KELLY: Wow. NPR's Don Gonyea, thank you.

GONYEA: All right. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.