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In a new book, Chris Christie says the GOP needs to move past Trump

NOEL KING, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump and former Governor Chris Christie have been both allies and rivals. But in a new book, Christie says Trump's lies about the 2020 election helped incite the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And he says the Republican Party needs to look forward.

Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: You don't have to search long to find examples of Chris Christie saying nice things about Donald Trump. This is from 2016.

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CHRIS CHRISTIE: We never ever make a mistake by standing with your friend. And Donald Trump is my friend.

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GONYEA: Earlier that year, the two men battled for the GOP presidential nomination. Each had a reputation as blunt, bombastic - bullies. But they rarely clashed with each other during the campaign. Christie dropped out early and endorsed Trump. He was talked about as a possible running mate. It didn't happen. But he remained a defender and adviser to President Trump. Now Christie says the final months of the Trump administration changed things, beginning with Trump's false claims that the election was stolen.

To promote his new book, Christie has been all over television this week. Monday it was CNN, with correspondent Dana Bash.

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DANA BASH: Was President Trump responsible for the insurrection on the Capitol?

CHRISTIE: I don't think the speech he gave that day caused what happened. I think everything that he was saying from election night forward incited people to that level of anger.

BASH: I mean, that makes it worse. That's worse than one speech.

CHRISTIE: Well, that's my point.

GONYEA: And this from "Axios" on HBO - Christie urging Republicans to focus on tomorrow.

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CHRISTIE: If we waste our time as Republicans talking about an election that we lost, we are going to lose future elections.

GONYEA: Such criticisms from Christie actually started out with a pair of recent speeches. Trump responded to the latest with a press release mocking Christie for leaving office as New Jersey governor with a record-low approval rating. Christie responded in the "Axios" interview.

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CHRISTIE: I'm not going to get into a back-and-forth with Donald Trump. But what I will say is this. When I ran for reelection in 2013, I got 60% of the vote. When he ran for reelection, he lost to Joe Biden.

GONYEA: Political scientist Linda Fowler at Dartmouth says it sure feels like early positioning for 2024, when Trump may indeed run again. She says Christie is signaling that that wouldn't be a deterrent for his own potential candidacy.

LINDA FOWLER: Christie may be trying to say, I'll tell it like it is; I'll be the tough guy. He says he likes Trump's policies. But I won't have all that baggage. And I'm not living in the past. I want the party to live in the future.

GONYEA: She says it's possible that will be a message that works in the next presidential contest. But there's no appetite for it in today's GOP. Christie is also being coy, stating that he has no regrets about voting for Trump in 2016 and in 2020, and in interviews this week says he'd consider voting for him again, even with the election lies and the January 6 insurrection.

TIM MILLER: It's all phony. It's all an attempt to get himself media coverage to potentially reinvigorate his political career. And I'm not buying any of it.

GONYEA: That's Tim Miller, a former Republican strategist who has left the GOP and who is among the most vocal members of the so-called Never Trump movement. He says he welcomes former Trump supporters to join them.

MILLER: But in order to come to that effort, you need to actually be honest and clear-eyed, both about Donald Trump's actions and about what is going to be required in the future to stop him. And Christie fails on both accounts.

GONYEA: Christie's book tour continues on. It remains to be seen how his new criticism affects his relationship with the former president.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUJAJI'S "SOUTHERN LIGHT ROLLERAMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.