BOW, N.H. — As far as Chris Christie is concerned, Iowa never happened.
In his view, despite the Iowa caucuses results, Marco Rubio still has no greater claim to longevity in the chaotic Republican presidential race than any other establishment candidate.
“This is like the pitcher in the major leagues: They only let him throw five innings because he’s brand new and he’s raw, and you don’t want to ruin his confidence, so give him a good five innings and get him on the bench,” Christie said in an interview here Wednesday. “He’s not ready to be president.”
The New Jersey governor didn’t stop there. John Kasich is ill-
suited for a modern campaign, he said. Jeb Bush’s campaign has a fatal disease yet to be fully diagnosed. And no candidate is more battle-tested and ready to combat Hillary Clinton than Christie.
Since Iowa, Christie has been on a verbal tear, spraying insults at Rubio in particular, in an urgent effort to douse a media narrative that the senator from Florida is fast becoming the consensus candidate for party elites.
But if Christie regards the Iowa caucuses as a nonevent — “Wake me when it’s over,” he quipped — he recognizes that what happens in New Hampshire in Tuesday’s primary could have a dramatic effect on his candidacy.
“I’ve got to beat Jeb and Kasich here, and if I don’t beat Jeb and Kasich here, I have to think long and hard about whether I go forward or not,” Christie said of the former Florida governor and the current Ohio governor.
Christie has staked his entire candidacy on a strong finish in New Hampshire. With the possible exception of Kasich, nobody has invested as much time here. He’s drawn positive reviews for the way he conducts town hall meetings — each under the banner “Telling It Like It Is” — and for a time in December he was described as the candidate on the march.
But recent polls suggest he has not yet broken out of the pack here. The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows him a few points behind Rubio, Kasich, Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), and they all trail businessman Donald Trump by double digits.
None of that seems to bother Christie.
“It’s 50 percent undecided,” he said. “If those 50 percent break in a major way towards somebody, it could be a tsunami.”
Christie is doing everything in his power this week to ensure he becomes that somebody — and, perhaps more important, that Bush, Kasich and Rubio do not.
Christie is looking at Saturday night’s ABC debate as a decisive moment.
“People are voting, so there will be more desperation by everybody,” he said. “I’ll perform on Saturday night, and they won’t. And now everyone’s going to be watching and deciding. That’s different. . . . I will put on a good show.”
Asked how he would draw the line between seeming tough and not overly bombastic, Christie chuckled.
“Always the challenge for me,” the governor said. “We’ll see how I do. It’s a high-wire act, baby. We’ll see how it goes.”
Christie was aggrieved and offended by what he saw as an undeserved media bump for Rubio, who surprised many with a strong third-place finish in Iowa, just one percentage point behind Trump.
“It’s like you’re writing Rubio press releases,” he said. “Seriously. The guy was predicted to come in third, and he came in third. So what was the great shock? I said all along I felt it would be Cruz-Trump-Rubio. It was Cruz-Trump-Rubio. Yawn.”
Christie added: “All of a sudden, he’s now the consensus nominee? Come on. It’s silly. . . . After 180,000 people in Iowa voted?”
Christie, who garnered just 2 percent in Iowa, said the reason he pounced on Rubio the morning after the caucuses was because “I don’t want there to be a perception building out there in the press that somehow Marco Rubio is the anointed one.”
That gets to Christie, who views Rubio as callow and packaged.
“He can’t name one thing he’s done in the United States Senate of consequence — except sponsor the amnesty bill, which the minute he got turned on by members of the conservative movement, he ran, turned tail and ran and hid,” Christie said. “That’s the kind of spine of steel we want for the presidency?”
Noting that many fellow senators have not yet come aboard the Rubio bandwagon, Christie volunteered one reason why.
“He’s not ready, he’s too young, he’s too inexperienced, and he hasn’t done anything,” Christie said. “And that’s a direct quote from a United States senator, in the Republican caucus — has endorsed no one, is neutral.”
Central to the case Rubio makes for himself is his perceived ability to challenge Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, in the general election. But Christie offers a different interpretation.
“Putting a controlled boy in the bubble up on stage — she will serve him his lunch,” he said.
Christie has more respect for Kasich and Bush, although he argues that neither could do as president what he claims he could do, because they governed with Republican-majority legislatures, unlike in New Jersey, where Christie must broker compromise with the Democrats. Those partisan battles have left Christie with a low job approval rating at home and what is viewed by some conservatives as a mixed record.
Evaluating Kasich’s experience, Christie said, “He’s not built for these times.”
“I like John a lot. He’s a good friend,” he said. “I’d be a better president. I’ve been more tested than John. I’ve faced more crises than John. And I’ve never spent a day in Washington, D.C. Every once in a while, you hear John just stumble into that Washington, D.C.-speak, and nobody wants to hear it.”
As for Bush, Christie said: “I feel that it’s not happening. I have diagnosed the symptoms but not the disease, okay? . . . I see the symptoms, I recognize them, but I don’t know what the underlying problem is.” Christie marveled at how much money Bush and his super PAC, Right to Rise, have spent for what so far has been such a minimal return.
Resting on a plush couch aboard his campaign bus, Christie said, “I sit up here watching TV, and it’s overwhelming how many Jeb ads I see. It’s absolutely overwhelming.
“I see one of mine every once in a while — and I know that the super PAC is spending, what, a couple million bucks this week — it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, there’s one.’ ”
In Christie’s view, no one was as affected by Iowa as Trump.
“He lost. He said he would win, and he lost. That’s bad,” Christie said.
Remarking on his long friendship with the New York mogul, Christie said, “He hates the fact that he lost. Donald defines his entire life by winning. . . . I think he felt for the first time in a long time on Monday night what it feels like to lose, and it stinks.”
Christie hopes he does not have the same feeling next week.
“Damn, man, I want to win,” he said. “I’m not doing this just to have a sign to hang on the wall, going like, ‘Oh, you know, one time I ran for president.’ I’m in this because I want to be president.”