Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey who was eclipsed by Donald J. Trump in the 2016 presidential primaries, filed paperwork on Tuesday saying that he would seek the 2024 Republican nomination, setting up a rematch with the former president and expanding the field of G.O.P. candidates.
In making a second run for the presidency, Mr. Christie, 60, has positioned himself as the person most willing to attack both Mr. Trump, his former friend turned adversary, and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has been in second place in nearly every public Republican primary poll for months. Mr. Christie’s presence in the race could be unwelcome for Mr. DeSantis, for whom every additional candidate harms his ability to consolidate support.
Mr. Christie, who declared his run at a town-hall-style event in New Hampshire on Tuesday evening and promised “straight talk from New Jersey,” has already begun laying out an aggressive case against Mr. Trump based on the former president’s policies — namely, that he made a number of promises that he never delivered. That case is one that other hopefuls have generally sidestepped, instead largely avoiding saying Mr. Trump’s name. By contrast, Mr. Christie has gone directly at him.
In a speech that began with a history of America standing up to foreign dictators, including during World War II and the Cold War, Mr. Christie said, “The reason I’m here tonight is because this is one of those moments.”
He has previously mocked Mr. Trump’s dwindling crowd sizes, called him a loser and said that he crossed a line with his actions that led a pro-Trump mob to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
And he has described himself as able to capture the nomination. “I am the viable Trump alternative,” Mr. Christie recently told The Daily Beast.
Still, Mr. Christie’s path to winning the nomination is complicated. He is a northeastern Republican who has not been enmeshed in the culture wars of the Trump era. His main path would necessarily be through New Hampshire, a state where he waged a fierce campaign in 2016 but ultimately came up short. And to gain traction, he will need to rely on attention from candidate debates.
The audience on Tuesday, at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, appeared to be almost entirely composed of independents — who can vote in the primary — with a scattering of Democrats thrown in. Nearly all disapproved of Mr. Trump, suggesting that Mr. Christie might activate a small but passionate group of supporters.
“He’s a very capable guy,” Paul R. Kfoury Sr., a retired judge from Bedford, N.H. said of Mr. Christie. “Very centrist. Not a right-wing nut like so many of them, frankly, if I may be candid.” But he was skeptical of Mr. Christie’s chances in his party. “It’s a heavy lift,” he said.
New Hampshire’s many independents could play a crucial role in the 2024 Republican primary because there is unlikely to be a competitive Democratic race.
Mr. Christie’s campaign will depend heavily on media coverage and a nimbleness to travel to places where that is likeliest. New Hampshire is the state where he will begin his campaign, but not necessarily where he will hunker down.
He still needs to meet the criteria set by the Republican National Committee to get on that debate stage, which includes 40,000 unique donors.
Yet if he makes it, as a onetime friend of Mr. Trump, he has a keen understanding of the former president and how to get under his skin. Depending on how the race goes, Mr. Christie’s main impact could be in badly damaging Mr. Trump, whom he has been attacking with gusto. But he has been encouraged by a number of Republican donors and senior officials in recent weeks, particularly as Mr. DeSantis stumbled before even becoming a formal candidate.
Mr. Christie, a former federal prosecutor, will be in a unique position to attack Mr. Trump’s various legal travails, as he is the first former president to be indicted and is facing the potential for additional indictments in other cases.
Still, Mr. Christie will face questions about his conversion from Trump supporter to detractor. (Mr. Trump, after leaving office, referred to Mr. Christie as “an opportunist.”)
Mr. Christie was a favorite of some Republicans to run for the nomination in the 2012 campaign, when he was one of the country’s most famous governors, known for tangling with union leaders and selling himself as knowing how to balance a budget. But instead of running that year, while his star was rising, he chose to focus on running for re-election, receiving national attention for his response during the devastating Hurricane Sandy — and criticism from some Republicans for appearing with President Barack Obama in New Jersey days before the election at an event related to the storm’s aftermath.
The anger among Republicans presaged a political environment in which Republicans punished their elected officials for comity with Democrats.
By the time Mr. Christie announced he was running for president in 2015, when there was no longer a Democratic incumbent, his candidacy had been hobbled by the so-called Bridgegate political revenge scandal that swamped his administration two years earlier. Mr. Christie denied involvement in the alleged payback scheme involving closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge to get back at a political opponent of the governor, and convictions against two defendants were overturned in 2020 by the U.S. Supreme Court. But by then, Mr. Christie’s political fortunes had been damaged.
After dropping out of the 2016 race, Mr. Christie endorsed Mr. Trump that February, one of the first prominent national Republicans to do so. That endorsement was valuable to Mr. Trump as he tried to appeal to Republicans who were skeptical of him over his comments calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, or his misogynistic statements about the Fox News host Megyn Kelly.