Chris Christie looks for a new path to victory ahead of 2024: Game-changers in New Hampshire

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie brought harsh words about former President Donald Trump to New Hampshire college campuses Thursday, where students asked him about mass shootings, America's economy and other issues they're worried about ahead of 2024.

Christie started his town halls at Franklin Pierce University and Keene State College with a stark warning for young voters: Trump is not fit to be the Republican nominee in 2024.

“He’s running for president saying I am your retribution…let me guarantee you something since I've known him for 22 years. He won't be anybody's retribution except for himself,” Christie said, referencing a promise the former president has often made on the campaign trail.

Christie on Thursday also reflected on the fourth GOP primary debate earlier this week, bashing candidates such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for refusing to take on the former president directly.

But Christie didn't spend both of the campaign events talking about his Republican rivals. He also said he was at the town halls to answer students’ questions, inviting a tough look at his second presidential bid.

Christie has struggled to make progress among Republican voters, garnering just 2.5% support in a Real Clear Politics average of national surveys. But during his New Hampshire campaign stops, Christie tried to bolster his presence among young GOP voters, who could make a major splash in 2024 in the critical early voting state.

“I don't know whether it's going to be somebody who supports me, doesn't support me, thinks I'm great, thinks I’m a jerk. I don't know. But we'll find out,” he told Keene State College students.

Dec 6, 2023; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Chris Christie answers questions in the Spin Room after the fourth Republican Presidential Primary Debate presented by NewsNation at the Frank Moody Music Building on the campus of the University of Alabama on Dec. 6, 2023.
Dec 6, 2023; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Chris Christie answers questions in the Spin Room after the fourth Republican Presidential Primary Debate presented by NewsNation at the Frank Moody Music Building on the campus of the University of Alabama on Dec. 6, 2023.

Young voters press Christie on gun violence

After a deadly mass shooting in Maine that left 18 people dead in October and a campus shooting Wednesday at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, students asked Christie where he stands on gun control and mental health, and what he would do to protect Americans if he's elected president.

Christie told Franklin Pierce University students that there are not enough psychologists, counselors and nurses providing mental health treatment in the country.

However, one man pressed Christie on his stance at the Keene State College town hall, referencing an FBI study that found, among active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013, most assailants hadn't been diagnosed with a mental illness.

“Does that not indicate that it's guns which are the problem and not necessarily mental illness?” he asked.

Christie replied, “I just think because someone has not been diagnosed with mental illness doesn't mean they don't have it.”

“Do I think that the study by DOJ is valid? It very well may be, but that's not my point,” Christie said, reiterating his call for more mental health professionals. “I think it's the people that pull the triggers that are the issues, the guns without the people pulling the triggers don't create deaths.”

The former New Jersey governor opposes a swath of gun control measures, including an assault weapons ban. However, he told voters Thursday he would support cracking down on Americans who obtain guns illegally.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a town-hall-style event at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College on June 06, 2023 in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a town-hall-style event at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College on June 06, 2023 in Manchester, New Hampshire.

A compromise on student loan debt?

Christie during his campaign stops was also confronted on student debt, a key issue for young voters heading into the primary season.

A student at Keene State College asked Christie that − if he believes there are not enough mental health care professionals− how would he address students who want to enter the field without taking on overwhelming debt?

“I'm personally a psych major. I want to go into therapy. When looking at grad school, I'm having to expect to take the debt of a house, and that's going to stay with me for the rest of life," the student said. "So why would college students want to go into something where they're going to be in debt?”

Christie said while he opposes broad forgiveness of student loans, he would support forgiving debt for those who pursue jobs critical for the country.

“Don't give up. I think you can contribute an enormous amount to helping people, but we have to give you a reason not to live the rest of your life in debt, or wait till you're 40 to buy a house," Christie added.

America's economy was also an issue on young voters’ minds as they questioned Christie. One student asked the former governor what he would do if elected president to help Americans struggling with everyday costs.

The former governor said the key to the problem would be to reduce the federal government's spending, claiming it would make housing more affordable and bring down interest rates.

While Christie has called for cutting the government's spending, he hasn't targeted as many specifics as his opponents. The former governor has said he would support raising the retirement age for Social Security benefits.

But not every question Christie answered Thursday centered around the problems facing young voters.

One student in particular was interested in something unusual: Christie’s pants.

“Your critics say that you wear your pants too high," he told the former governor, jokingly questioning whether "as president, do you think we could see your pants even higher?”

Christie replied, “You know, that's an example of one of the reasons that political candidates are reluctant at times to come to college campuses.”

“Because tonight, wherever he goes, or whatever he does, whatever the local bar is here, or whatever. He'll be telling all of his friends, ‘You won't believe what the hell I said to this Christie guy who's running for president of the United States’ under the guise of a question about the serious problems we have in the country,” he added.

Though New Jersey's former leader called the question “ridiculous,” he joked back that if the student is looking for a fashion model for president, he would come in a “distant third.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chris Christie looks for a new path to victory against Donald Trump