Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, one of the few potential Republican presidential candidates willing to attack Donald J. Trump directly, laced into the former president on Wednesday over his reported reluctance to participate in presidential debates.
“Obviously, he’s afraid,” taunted Mr. Christie, a Trump defender-turned-critic, in an interview with the conservative media personality Hugh Hewitt. “He’s afraid to get on the stage against people who are serious.”
Mr. Trump, the current Republican poll leader, appears likely to skip at least one of the first two debates of the 2024 Republican presidential nominating contest, indicating that he does not want to elevate lower-polling rivals. A number of them — most notably Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is expected to announce his campaign soon — have been reluctant to confront Mr. Trump frontally, a sign of the sway he continues to hold over much of the Republican base.
“If he really cares about the country — and I have deep questions about that — but if he really cares about the country, then he’s going to get up there, and he shouldn’t be afraid,” Mr. Christie said. He added: “If, in fact, his ideas are so great, if his leadership is so outstanding, then his lead will only increase if he gets on the stage, not decrease.”
Asked for comment, Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, replied, “Who?”
He said that Mr. Christie “has no idea what he is talking about and should stick to being a talking head instead of trying to play pretend candidate.”
In the interview, Mr. Christie — who is currently polling at 1 to 2 percent — also indicated that he would make a decision about his own presidential plans in the next two weeks.
“The presidency is not a scripted exercise, and so that’s why I think debates are important,” Mr. Christie said.
He suggested that Mr. Trump, who continues to lie about the integrity of the 2020 election, was reluctant to debate “because he doesn’t have a lot of serious answers for the problems that are facing the country right now. All he wants to do is go back and reprosecute the 2020 election because his feelings are hurt. He’s a child in that regard.”