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Chris Christie Gets In
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Chris Christie Gets In

Plus: A remarkable ‘sexual content in schools’ fight in Arizona.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with supporters at Saint Anselm College on June 6, 2023 in Manchester, New Hampshire. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Happy Wednesday! It’s a huge week for Republican presidential announcements, but before we get to those, let’s take a moment to notice Cornel West’s Monday news that he’ll seek the Oval Office as a candidate for the left-populist People’s Party. “Neither political party wants to tell the truth about Wall Street, about Ukraine, about the Pentagon, about big tech,” West said in his announcement video. “Do we have what it takes? We shall see.”

Up to Speed

  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced his second run for president at a town hall in New Hampshire Tuesday night. He won’t keep the launch spotlight for long: former Vice President Mike Pence and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum are both announcing their own runs this evening. You can watch Pence’s launch video here and Burgum’s here.
  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced Monday he will not run for president after months of flirting with the possibility. In an op-ed announcing his decision, Sununu warned that too-crowded a field would help former President Donald Trump, and that “if he is the nominee, Republicans will lose again. Just as we did in 2018, 2020, and 2022.”
  • Federal investigators looking into Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving office have been asking questions about an event last October, when an employee at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort drained a swimming pool and flooded “a room where computer servers containing surveillance video logs were kept,” CNN reported Monday.
  • Conservative hardliners in the House spiked a Republican messaging bill preventing the banning of gas stoves on Tuesday, saying they were frustrated by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s concessions to President Joe Biden during debt ceiling negotiations. But the malcontents have for now backed away from their most robust theoretical anti-McCarthy tool: a motion to strip him of his speakership.

Chris Christie Gets In

GOFFSTOWN, New Hampshire—Chris Christie is running for president again. The former two-term New Jersey governor announced his run with a town hall Tuesday night at Saint Anselm College, kicking off a campaign that promises to woo voters in New Hampshire and attack former President Donald Trump.

Throughout the two-hour event, Christie laid into Trump over his personal and political failings, from his admiration of foreign dictators to his inability to cut federal spending during his first term. To the extent Christie went after other candidates, it was over their reluctance to criticize the frontrunner as openly themselves.

“‘We need a leader who looks forward, not backwards’—I get it, you’re talking about the way the 2020 election was stolen,” Christie said, mocking his competitors’ tiptoeing rhetoric. “And you won’t say it wasn’t stolen.”

But he also insisted he isn’t in the race just to sandbag the former president.

“Who am I supposed to be worried about, Nikki Haley?” Christie asked voters. “The reason I’m going after Trump is twofold. One, he deserves it. And two, it’s the way to win.”

Whether it’s a way to win for Christie remains to be seen. If he wants to improve on his 7 percent result in New Hampshire in 2016, he’ll need to peel away some of Trump’s loyal supporters while convincing on-the-fence Republican voters and independents that he’s their guy—a tall order for a candidate who hardly registers in primary polls and who boasts a net negative approval rating among registered Republican voters, according to a recent Monmouth University poll.

One guy Christie won’t be competing with is Chris Sununu, the popular four-term New Hampshire governor. Instead of running himself, Sununu said he plans to endorse someone else ahead of the New Hampshire primary with an eye toward consolidating the field and stopping Trump.

“I couldn’t tell you who I’m going to endorse when or why,” Sununu told The Dispatch ahead of Tuesday’s town hall. But Christie, he said, “could be a great candidate—you can’t just be about beating Trump, and I think he appreciates that.”*

“There is a clear understanding from everybody—from pundits, from fundraisers, from funders themselves, from the candidates themselves—that all understand we cannot have Trump on the top of the ticket,” Sununu said. “And we’re going to have to narrow this down to two or three candidates at most, very, very quickly. Much quicker than what happened in ’16.”

Some voters on hand for Christie’s event said they liked what they heard. Steve Monier of Goffstown, a registered Republican, praised the positions the former governor staked out on China and Ukraine, as well as his willingness to hit Trump directly. Monier voted for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 primary, although he ultimately came around to Trump in the general.

“I voted for Trump both times,” Monier said. “I held my nose. I like some of his policies. I don’t like his personality. I never have and I will not vote for him again.”

Bill Rostron of Nashua, an independent, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020 but said he is open to supporting a Republican like Christie in 2024 after hearing his pitch. 

“He’s really one of the only candidates that’s not running for vice president,” added Aldrian Rostron, also of Nashua. “He doesn’t want to be Trump’s running mate.”

Book Ban Fight Gets Weird in Arizona

“Porn should not be filmed in our kid’s classrooms,” proclaimed the tweet from Arizona Republican Kari Lake. “I don’t think that’s controversial. I think that’s a bipartisan concept normal Arizonans can agree on. Unfortunately, @katiehobbs isn’t a normal Arizonan. She’s a radical hellbent on sexualizing our kids.”

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who defeated Lake in the governor’s race last year, did veto a bill this week that would, in part, have banned “filming or facilitating sexually explicit acts” in state-owned buildings. But it also would have made it a felony for teachers to “expose minors to sexually explicit materials” in “textual, visual or audio” form—which, as teachers groups pointed out, would have meant axing classic works like Brave New World and 1984 from high-school curricula.

“While I agree that not all content is appropriate for minors, this bill is a poor way to address those concerns,” Hobbs wrote in her veto letter, adding that the bill was “little more than a thinly veiled effort to ban books.”

As Republicans have become more accustomed in recent years to wielding state power to enforce conservative aims, a number of red states have passed bills restricting access in schools to material deemed not age-appropriate. Even by these standards, Arizona’s bill was uniquely stringent. (Contrast it with Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, hugely controversial last year, which focused on restricting classroom instruction for young grade schoolers and merely created potential civil liability, as opposed to criminal penalties and possible jail time, for offending schools.)

But Arizona’s bill also looped in a legislative response to a local news story from late last year—when two teachers at a western Arizona school were fired for filming explicit content for the site OnlyFans on school grounds.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Jake Hoffman, argued in February that the two issues were of a piece—“I don’t want minors in Arizona being exposed to sexually explicit materials.” Hoffman called Hobbs’s veto “sickening,” saying in a statement that “these should be safe spaces for our kids to learn in, not venues for the sexually explicit adult entertainment industry.”

All this might sound silly—it’s not clear why a single instance of wildly inappropriate teacher behavior at a single school should mean the state should start jailing teachers who assign their high school students Oedipus Rex—but it’s in keeping with a broader recent Republican effort to cast opponents of their culture war reforms as, in Lake’s phrasing, “hellbent on sexualizing our kids.” “If you’re against the anti-grooming bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children,” Christina Pushaw, then press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, said during the public fight over the Parental Rights in Education Act.

Asked late Tuesday whether Lake supported the provisions in the bill banning “textual” content, spokesman Ross Trumble told The Dispatch that “Banning 1984 is not the purpose of this bill.”

Eyes on the Trail

  • Why should the Democrats have all the early-voting fun? The Republican National Committee on Wednesday unveiled “Bank Your Vote,” a program to encourage GOP voters to pull the lever early, either in person or through the mail. Republicans in recent years have prioritized in-person, Election Day participation, encouraged by Donald Trump, who is suspicious of mail-in voting. But party operatives believe Trump’s preference for in-person Election Day voting has contributed to GOP underperformance versus the Democrats in recent elections. This tension has led to a strategic split in recent months even among Republicans who think (without evidence) that the mail-in system is rife with fraud, with some arguing that Republicans can’t afford to cede the early vote to the left. Others, like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, are convinced the party must insist on one-day, in-person, paper ballot elections.
  • Poll position: The super PAC supporting Ron DeSantis publicized internal polling showing the Florida governor at 43 percent in Iowa, neck and neck with Donald Trump at 45 percent. But in its memo issued Tuesday, Never Back Down goes further than simply claiming DeSantis is virtually tied with the former president. The group argues the contest for the Iowa caucuses is strictly a two-man affair, with all other candidates hopelessly out of contention. “Despite heavy media attacks against Governor DeSantis, along with some rallying to Donald Trump following the New York indictment, DeSantis’ ballot share has grown in the past month while no other candidate exceeds single digits,” the Never Back Down pollsters say in the memo. In their survey, conducted May 30-June 1, and with a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points, Trump led DeSantis 39 percent to 29 percent in a multi-candidate field. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina registered 7 percent; former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley received 6 percent; and former Vice President Mike Pence and Vivek Ramaswamy were each at 4 percent.
  • ICYMI: Be sure to read Audrey’s Tuesday piece on Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson of North Carolina, who is far and away the frontrunner for the state’s Republican gubernatorial nomination this year, despite a history of wildly controversial remarks. Uneasy GOP strategists have largely despaired of denying Robinson the nomination. Says one: “There’s a certain bit of desperation here that’s like: Well, why don’t we just try something new, and try something different?” 

Notable and Quotable

“Any political reporter/commentator claiming Christie ‘ended’ my campaign in 2016 is lazy or dumb. NH debate sucked because instead of hitting back when attacked like I wanted to, I listened to advice about ‘pivoting’ & not ‘punching down’ on a CC who was at 7% about to drop out. But it didn’t end my campaign.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on his memorable 2016 debate-stage spat with Chris Christie, Tuesday, June 6

*Correction, June 7, 2023: An earlier version of this newsletter misstated a quote from New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.