Which 2024 Candidates Won 2021?

The Cravenly Opportunistic Trump Hangers On Who Never Liked Trump in the First Place

Chris Christie, Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo

During the 2016 presidential primary, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said of his opponent Trump, “Always beware of the candidate for public office who has the quick and easy answer to a complicated problem.” South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Trump is “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.” And Rep. Mike Pompeo, stumping for Marco Rubio during the Kansas caucus, tried to equate Trump with the Republican caricature of Barack Obama: “We’ve spent 7.5 years with an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution. We don’t need four more years of that.”

All three soon stifled their criticisms and went to work for Trump — Christie for a brief period running the transition team before getting fired, Haley as Trump’s U.N. ambassador and Pompeo as Trump’s CIA director and secretary of State. Now all three clearly want to run for president in 2024, but don’t know how to run against their old boss.

Pompeo, according to the New York TimesMaggie Haberman, told Trump in private that he would run regardless of what the former president decided. Soon after she reported that tidbit, a Pompeo ally told Haberman the former secretary was just making a joke. Yet Pompeo clearly spent 2021 preparing for a run, starting a new political action committee and traveling to key states. Asked what his message would be if he did run, all Pompeo had was leftover talking points from Rick Santorum’s failed bids: “a return to the idea that family is at the center of America.” With no provocative rationale for running against Trump, Pompeo remains barely known.

During Trump’s presidency, even though he didn’t have a formal White House job, Christie managed to remain close enough to Trump that he likely caught Covid from the president. Now Christie’s tone has abruptly shifted, and he’s one of the louder Republican critics of Trump, even lashing out in a new book, Republican Rescue. But squaring his past and present views proved awkward. “The book’s schizophrenia is so undisguised it seems tactical,” wrote conservative columnist George Will, “Christie is saying: No one worked harder than I did to put my friend of 20 years in office and keep him there, and he is a liar, and a relic.” That may be why almost nobody is buying what Christie is selling, literally: his new book sold only 2,289 copies in his first week.

But when it comes to political schizophrenia, no one is as committed as Nikki Haley.

In January, Haley was willing to tell the Republican National Committee winter meeting that Trump’s “actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.” Later that month she unloaded to POLITICO Magazine, “I’m deeply disturbed by what’s happened to him,” and, “We need to acknowledge he let us down. He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him.” Then just three months later, after it was clear a lot of Republicans were still listening to him after Jan. 6 insurrection, Haley changed tack, declaring, “I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it.” Then in October, she sounded more ambiguous, “In the beginning of 2023, should I decide that there’s a place for me, should I decide that there’s a reason to move, I would pick up the phone and meet with the president … We would work on it together.” No longer very disturbed by Trump, Haley added, “We need him in the Republican Party. I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump.”

Did Christie, Haley and Pompeo make good use of 2021? No. They haven’t figured out how to cleanly break with Trump without exposing their craven opportunism.

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