Christie did not endorse any candidate on Wednesday. And Haley has not reached out to Christie in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with their communication — or lack thereof. But she issued a statement Wednesday evening calling Christie a “friend for many years” and pledging to “fight to earn every vote.”
New Hampshire Republicans who are desperate to block Trump from the nomination — and who see the state as the only early contest in which they have a shot at diminishing his lead — had undertaken an intense pressure campaign in recent days to push Christie out of the race. They had prodded him publicly, on television and radio shows, and in private conversations with the candidate and his wife, Mary Pat.
On Wednesday, in front of a few dozen supporters who had gathered at a wedding chapel in Windham, New Hampshire — for what had been sold to some of them as an important policy speech — Christie conceded that he had no path to victory.
“I would rather lose by telling the truth than lie in order to win,” Christie said. “It’s clear to me tonight that there isn’t a path for me to win the nomination, which is why I’m suspending my campaign.”
But even as he stepped aside, Christie made clear he does not believe his now-former rivals are up to the task of taking on — and taking down — Trump.
“No one will tell the truth about Donald Trump,” he said. “No one will tell the truth about his divisiveness, his stoking of anger for his own benefit.”
Christie’s early exit in New Hampshire represented another low point for a former governor who at one point held so much promise but found himself a lone voice with a message virtually no one wanted to hear. He ended his last presidential bid, in 2016, after finishing a dismal sixth place in New Hampshire. This time around, he didn’t even make it to primary day.
Christie launched his latest White House bid in June with the almost single-minded mission of destroying Trump. But with Trump refusing to participate in the presidential primary debates, Christie was unable to take on the former president directly — left to make his case on network news shows and to dozens of voters a time in New Hampshire’s Elks lodges and VFW halls.
The former New Jersey governor had staked his campaign on New Hampshire, banking on his bipartisan past and his anti-Trump message winning over the state’s more moderate Republicans and independents who can pull ballots in the GOP presidential primary.
But polls and interviews across dozens of campaign events in recent weeks showed many of those same voters were also interested in Haley. The former U.N. ambassador under Trump, Haley’s standout debate performances and foreign policy credentials sent her rising in New Hampshire surveys.
Christie suffered a major setback when the state’s popular Republican governor, Chris Sununu, endorsed Haley in December, helping her climb into second place in several polls — in some, she is within single digits of Trump — and tipping many torn voters in her direction.
Christie, too, was torn — caught between his quixotic quest to take out Trump and the reality that if he wanted to have any real shot at taking on his former friend directly, he would have to go through Haley.
And so Christie recalibrated into the winter, using the opening monologues of his town halls — he eschewed rehearsed stump speeches — to accuse Haley of flip-flopping on issues like abortion and being too deferential to her former boss.
But New Hampshire voters, primed from near-birth on how to vet presidential hopefuls, were already playing prognosticator. And for those in the anti-Trump faction, it was becoming clearer and clearer that Haley was going to be their best shot of getting close to him.
Attendees at Christie’s town halls began prodding him to step aside, asking him to consider that it could be in the anti-Trump movement’s best interest to consolidate that vote before any ballots were cast. A member of Christie’s New Hampshire steering committee, prominent restaurateur Tom Boucher, flipped to Haley’s campaign at the start of the year.
And Sununu, a longtime friend of Christie’s, kept piling on, going so far as to say on a New Hampshire radio show on Tuesday that casting a ballot for Christie would be a “wasted vote.”
Forces were at work behind the scenes, too. Republicans affiliated with Haley’s campaign were calling their friends in Christie’s camp to press the point that Trump’s most forceful critic in the GOP primary was poised to become his biggest enabler, according to a person directly involved in those conversations granted anonymity to speak candidly.
Shortly after the new year, Ken Solinsky, a member of Haley’s state steering committee who had supported Christie in 2016, came to his town hall in Hollis on a mission to get Christie to consider getting out. He spoke briefly with Mary Pat, impressing on her that the best way to consolidate the anti-Trump vote was to coalesce around Haley.
She said she would discuss it with him, Solinsky recalled.
Christie had been adamant as late as Tuesday night that he was not getting out of the way, saying as much at a town hall in Rochester.
“I would be happy to get out of the way for someone who is actually running against Donald Trump,” Christie said. But his opponents, he argued, are not.
Later that night, he recorded an interview with a local television station saying Sununu was a “liar” for suggesting the walls were closing in on his campaign.
But on Wednesday, Christie hinted that he knew even then his time in this race was up. He recalled in Windham how Toni Pappas, a member of his steering committee who was there looking on, had messaged him on Tuesday night pleading with him not to drop out.
“Because I had decided at that moment in my heart … that we were going to, I didn’t reply,” Christie said. “Because I didn’t want to lie.”
Dustin Racioppi and Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.