It was former New Jersey governor Chris Christie who ended up getting smoked. His share of the Republican primary vote had dwindled to the single digits. His fusillades at Donald Trump proved as ineffective as the Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russia. He could only skedaddle… but not before delivering a lengthy departing address bewailing the manifold sins of Donald Trump, expressing his regret at conniving to advance Trump’s political fortunes and pledging, “I will make sure that in no way do I enable Donald Trump to ever be president of the United States again.”
Christie was an enabler in 2016, when, to the surprise of the Republican establishment, he broke ranks to endorse Trump, hoping to secure the vice presidential nod, or at least a cabinet position. Instead, the fancy files that Christie compiled for the presidential transition were thrown into a dumpster by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The game of musical chairs in the White House began. As Sam-Adler Bell points out in the New York Times, it might well be déjà vu all over again in a second Trump term. He writes, “A shadow war is raging among former Trump officials, ensconced at their respective think tanks, each competing to serve as his White House in waiting. The king hasn’t returned from exile, but he is already inspiring acrimony and disarray among his courtiers.” Trump, in other words, wouldn’t hesitate to dump overboard the plans of the Heritage Foundation contained in its Project 2025 were he to decide that they didn’t suit his current whims.
The fear of Christie and others is that in a second term, Trump would indeed draw upon such plans to institute a dictatorship, or at least an authoritarian regime. In December Christie called Trump a “dictator,” a “bully” and an “angry, bitter man.” In the Bulwark, Ronald Radosh and Gabriel Schoenfeld denounce former Trump State Department official Peter Berkowitz for asserting that President Joe Biden, not Trump, poses the true threat to American democracy. Radosh and Schoenfeld argue, by contrast, that the historian Robert Kagan has it right — Americans are sleepwalking into a new dictatorship. “Combine Project 2025,” they write, “with Trump’s expressed willingness to exercise his pardon power on behalf of those of his followers — the violent Proud Boys and Oath Keepers — ready to violate the law at his instruction, and we have a recipe for lawlessness and tyranny.”
Can neocon Nikki stem the tide? She should not be underestimated. With her vigorous assertion of American leadership abroad, Haley is the Republican candidate most congenial to neocons such as Bill Kristol, not to mention much of the Republican establishment. Now that Christie has bowed out, the hope is that Haley can defeat Trump in New Hampshire, then deliver a stinging rebuff in her home state of South Carolina. Just because it’s never happened in the past doesn’t mean that it cannot happen now. Much of Trump’s rise to high office has been predicated on the nimbus of success. Haley, a shrewd political operator who enjoys the financial largesse of the Koch network, may surprise her detractors. The next month will show whether she can smoke out Trump.