CNN  — 

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Wednesday that he was ending his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, marking the exit of the most outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump in the Republican primary.

But first, Christie made a few unofficial remarks — off camera on a live microphone — skewering his now former GOP rivals.

“She’s gonna get smoked and you and I both know it. She’s not up to this,” Christie could be heard saying in apparent reference to Haley.

He also mentioned that DeSantis had contacted him.

“DeSantis called me, petrified that I would…,” Christie said before the audio cut out. New Hampshire campaign chair Wayne MacDonald confirmed to CNN that he was on the other end of the conversation.

Later Wednesday after the CNN debate, when asked if he was petrified about something, DeSantis said, “No, look, I’ve been to Fallujah and Ramadi. I mean, this is nothing.”

“I did call him just because I felt he was being treated poorly with all these people saying like, you know, you should go,” DeSantis added. “I said you have every right to do this.”

Christie wasn’t kind in his assessment of his opponents.

“Anyone who is unwilling to say (Trump) is unfit to be president of the United States,” Christie said, “is unfit themselves to be president of the United States.”

Christie’s departure comes on the heels of a new batch of disappointing poll numbers, especially in New Hampshire, where he hoped a less conservative electorate would coalesce around his sharp opposition to Trump, whom he described as “devoid of character.”

But, as he told supporters in New Hampshire, the initial plan had not come together.

“It is clear to me tonight that there isn’t a path for me to win the nomination, which is why I’m suspending my campaign tonight for President of the United States,” he said at the Windham town hall, just 13 days before the first-in-the-nation primary. He called it the “right thing for me to do” and promised that he would never “enable Donald Trump to become, to ever be president of the United States again.”

Haley is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of Christie’s exit. She has pulled to within single digits of Trump in the Granite State, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire. The survey found that 65% of Christie supporters – 12% of the total – listed Haley as their second choice. She trailed Trump 39% to 32% among likely primary voters.

Whether Christie himself will do the same and encourage his backers to follow suit is an open question. He has no immediate plans to endorse another candidate, according to a Republican source. He slammed Haley repeatedly during the latter part of his campaign, even before his hot mic moment, and suggested she was running to be Trump’s vice president with an eye on a promotion in 2028.

Despite ending his presidential campaign, his name will remain on the ballot in New Hampshire, where the primary will take place on January 23.

In his remarks Wednesday, Christie took several thinly veiled shots at the other Trump rivals.

“Anyone who is unwilling to say (Trump) is unfit to be president of the United States,” Christie said, “is unfit themselves to be president of the United States.”

Prior to taking the stage at the event, Christie was caught talking about his opponents on a hot mic in audio obtained by The Recount. The audio captured only part of Christie’s comments before being cut off.

“You know, and she’s gonna get smoked and you and I both know it. She’s not up to this,” Christie said in an apparent reference to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Christie also can be heard on the audio saying that DeSantis called him.

“DeSantis called me, petrified that I would,” Christie says before the audio appeared to cut out.

The Christie campaign declined to comment. CNN has reached out to the DeSantis and Haley campaigns for comment.

In his remarks Wednesday, Christie took several thinly veiled shots at the other Trump rivals.Pressed by a voter on Tuesday about the urgency of anti-Trump Republicans to unite around a single opponent, Christie again questioned Haley’s intentions – and expressed anxiety over how endorsing her might reflect on him.

“Let’s say I dropped out of the race right now and I supported Nikki Haley. And then three months from now, four months from now, when you’re ready to go to the convention, she comes out as his vice president. What will I look like? What will all the people who supported her at my behest look like?” he said.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Republican presidential candidate former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announces he is dropping out of the race during a town hall campaign event on Wednesday, January 10, 2024.

After vehemently denying Tuesday that he was considering dropping out, Christie earlier Wednesday appeared to give a hint of what would come hours later.

“I beseech you, I beg you to vote based on character. All the rest of the things can change. Character doesn’t change,” he told voters in Exeter, New Hampshire. “Frankly, doesn’t mean you have to vote for me. You might decide that there’s another person in this race of good character that you prefer.”

Christie launched his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination at a June 2023 town hall in New Hampshire, which he used to deliver a searing indictment of Trump, calling his one-time friend and close political ally a “lonely, self-consumed mirror hog” whose potential election to a second term as president represents an existential threat to American democracy.

“Beware of the leader in this country, who you have handed leadership to, who has never made a mistake, who has never done anything wrong,” Christie said. “Who when something goes wrong it’s always someone else’s fault. And who has never lost.”

His message in smaller, more conservative rooms was less colorful and more utilitarian. Trump, he said over and over again, was a radioactive general election candidate who would be defeated – and take down the rest of the GOP ticket with him.

“We keep losing and losing and losing,” Christie said at a Republican Jewish Coalition conference in 2022, just weeks after the midterm elections proved underwhelming for the GOP. “The reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everybody else.”

Olivier Douliery/Getty Images
Chris Christie speaks in McLean, Virginia, in 2015. The former New Jersey governor has suspended his presidential campaign.
From Chris Christie/Instagram
Christie, right, stands with his brother, Todd, in this old photo he posted to Instagram in 2015. Christie was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1962. His family later moved to Livingston, New Jersey, where he attended high school before enrolling at the University of Delaware.
From Chris Christie/Instagram
"A friend of mine from high school dug up this old pic - look at that sweater (and hair)!" Christie wrote on Instagram.
From Chris Christie/Instagram
Christie met his wife, Mary Pat, at the University of Delaware. Christie posted this picture of them together in 2015, 30 years after it was taken. The two were married in 1986, and they have four children.
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While serving as the US attorney for New Jersey from 2002-2008, Christie prosecuted more than 130 public officials for corruption. Here, he speaks to the media about an FBI sting in August 2003.
Mel Evans/AP
Christie has makeup applied before a gubernatorial debate with Chris Daggett, center, and New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine in October 2009.
Christopher Barth/AP
Christie greets supporters in Parsippany, New Jersey, after he defeated Corzine in November 2009. He won by nearly four percentage points.
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Christie is flanked by his wife and their children as they attend the dedication of Empty Sky, a 9/11 memorial in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 2011.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP
Christie, center, touches the Western Wall in Jerusalem in April 2012. He was on his first official overseas trip as governor.
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Christie takes the stage to deliver the keynote address on the first night of the Republican National Convention in August 2012. During his speech, Christie argued that the American people should focus on ideas rather than rhetoric. He also outlined differences between Republicans and Democrats on governing philosophy while highlighting his bipartisan achievements, such as balancing the state's budget and reforming the pension and health benefit system.
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Christie talks to Mitt Romney aboard Romney's campaign bus in October 2012. He was among those vetted to be Romney's running mate, but Romney ultimately went with US Rep. Paul Ryan.
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Christie updates the public about damage and recovery efforts related to Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
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Christie greets President Barack Obama, who arrived in New Jersey to visit areas hit by Hurricane Sandy. The two toured devastated beach towns together. "I think the people of New Jersey recognize that (Christie) has put his heart and soul into making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back even stronger than before. I want to thank him for his extraordinary leadership and partnership," Obama said.
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Christie walks with Britain's Prince Harry on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, in May 2013. Harry was on a weeklong US tour.
Mel Evans/AP
Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker share a laugh during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Newark charter schools in September 2013.
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Christie, with his wife, Mary Pat, waves to supporters after winning a second term as governor in November 2013. He defeated his Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, by more than 20 percentage points.
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Christie enters the borough hall in Fort Lee, New Jersey, to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich in January 2014. Lane closures had snarled traffic for days at the George Washington Bridge, which connects Manhattan to Fort Lee. It was alleged that Christie's deputy chief of staff signaled for the New York and New Jersey Port Authority to close the lanes to punish Sokolich for not endorsing Christie during the election. Christie said he had no knowledge of any plot to close the lanes. He was never charged in the "Bridgegate" scandal, but two former officials linked to his office, including the deputy chief of staff, were convicted in 2017 of using their power to close the lanes as an act of political revenge. In 2020, the US Supreme Court threw out the fraud convictions.
Matt Rourke/AP
Demonstrators stand with the word "Bridgegate" spelled out on their shirts as Christie holds a town hall-style meeting in Flemington, New Jersey, in March 2014.
Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
At a March 2014 news conference, Christie speaks to the press about the Fort Lee lane closures. Christie said the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had resigned, a day after an internal investigation cleared Christie in the scandal.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
Christie campaigns for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker during a stop at the GOP field office in Hudson, Wisconsin, in September 2014.
Patrick Semansky/AP
Larry Hogan, who at the time was running for governor of Maryland, pretends not to hear Christie as he speaks to reporters in Bethesda, Maryland, in October 2014. Christie, as head of the Republican Governors Association, was in Maryland to help Hogan's campaign.
Frank Franklin II/AP
Christie throws to first base during the "True Blue" celebrity softball game held at New York's Yankee Stadium in 2015. The charity event raised money to support the families of fallen New York police officers.
John Minchillo/AP
Christie, as a presidential candidate, listens to a question during a campaign stop in Concord, New Hampshire, in January 2016.
Matt Rourke/AP
Christie meets with diners during a campaign stop in Greenland, New Hampshire, in January 2016.
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Christie visits with fellow presidential candidate Donald Trump during a commercial break of a Republican debate in February 2016. From the debate's outset, Christie pestered US Sen. Marco Rubio, left. His relentless attack against Rubio, who was surging in the polls, was one of the memorable takeaways of the night.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images
Trump and Christie talk at a campaign rally in Hickory, North Carolina, in March 2016. A few weeks earlier, Christie had suspended his campaign and endorsed Trump for president. "There is no one who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs," he said.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Christie delivers a speech on the second day of the Republican National Convention in July 2016. Christie's speech was heavily critical of the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee. "It is our obligation to stop Hillary Clinton now and never let her within 10 miles of the White House again," he said. "It is time to come together and make sure that Donald Trump is our next president. I am proud to be part of this team. Now let's go win this thing."
Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images
Christie shakes hands with President Trump at the White House in March 2017. Trump announced that Christie would take on an advisory role to help figure out ways the administration can fight the country's opioid epidemic.
Julio Cortez/AP
Boxing legend Mike Tyson presents Christie with a belt in April 2017 for the governor's work in helping former prisoners re-enter society.
Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media/AP
In July 2017, Christie spends time with family and friends at Island Beach State Park, where the governor has a summer residence. They were the only ones there because two days earlier, Christie shut down the state government after the Legislature failed to pass a budget. All state-run tourist attractions were closed to the public.
Seth Wenig/AP
Christie leaves after delivering his final State of the State address in January 2018. His second term was just about up.
Julio Cortez/AP
Christie shakes hands with his successor, Phil Murphy, after Murphy was sworn in as governor in January 2018.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Christie arrives for a news conference at the White House in September 2020. The next month, he was among a group of senior Trump campaign staffers who tested positive for Covid-19 after the president did. Christie said he spent seven days in an intensive care unit, and he wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed with the headline "I Should Have Worn a Mask."
Stew Milne/AP
Christie greets students before a college basketball game in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2022.
Charles Krupa/AP
Christie poses for a selfie after a town hall-style meeting in Henniker, New Hampshire, in April 2023.
Charles Krupa/AP
Christie waves to people in Manchester, New Hampshire, as he announces his presidential run in June 2023.
Bernadette Tuazon/CNN
Christie participates in a CNN town hall event hosted by Anderson Cooper in New York in June 2023.
Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images
Christie visits Kfar Aza, Israel, in November 2023. He was the first Republican presidential candidate to visit the country following the October 7 Hamas attacks.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Christie announces he is dropping out of the presidential race during a town-hall event in Windham, New Hampshire, in January 2024.

The former governor made his willingness to directly take on Trump a key feature of his campaign, repeatedly hitting the GOP front-runner over his cascading legal troubles and, in recent weeks, Trump’s increasingly bitter, hateful rhetoric.

“He’s becoming crazier,” Christie said of Trump on CNN’s “State of the Union” last month.

Asked about Trump’s remark that immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country,” the former governor let fly.

“He’s disgusting,” Christie said. “And what he’s doing is dog-whistling to Americans who feel absolutely under stress and strain from the economy and from the conflicts around the world.”

Back in 2016, Christie endorsed Trump after dropping out of the GOP presidential primary and then advised him on his 2020 presidential campaign. But he told CNN’s Jake Tapper last year that Trump’s behavior on election night that year took his support to the breaking point, and soon beyond.

“Turns out I was wrong (about Trump). I couldn’t make him a better candidate and I couldn’t make him a better president,” Christie said. “He disappointed me.”

Christie has also said that Trump “incited” the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol “in an effort to intimidate Mike Pence and the Congress into doing exactly what he said in his own words last week: overturn the election.”

At the first Republican primary debate in Milwaukee last August, Christie called out most of his rivals onstage for raising their hands when asked if they would support Trump as the GOP nominee even if he was convicted of a crime. (Trump currently faces 91 charges across four cases, along with growing civil liabilities.)

“Someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct,” Christie said, after shaking his head in disapproval at the six candidates who raised their hands. “Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States.”

Though Christie was met with boos from the audience, he told New Hampshire voters in his first post-debate appearance, “I will never raise my hand to say it’s OK to have a convicted felon as the president of the United States.”

“So let’s establish that here on primary night in New Hampshire,” he said. “And if you do that, I’m telling you, I will win the nomination, and I will beat Joe Biden.”

Christie made his focus on the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary no secret, making regular stops in the Granite State since early September.

“Let me just tell you, if (Trump) wins here, he’s winning the nomination,” Christie said at a town hall in North Hampton, New Hampshire, on one of those swings.

In 2016, Christie had stood beside Trump and offered his support just weeks after exiting the GOP primary after coming in sixth in the New Hampshire vote.

Christie made clear that his latest presidential bid would be different. On the trail, he did not rule out voting for a third-party candidate in the general election, though he has said he wouldn’t launch an outside bid of his own, calling it a “fool’s errand.”

“If I lose in the primary, I lose,” he told New Hampshire voters in September. “What I learned eight years ago was you go home and you feel lousy for a while, but the sun comes up in the morning and you find other ways to try to contribute to your country.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Kit Maher, Jessica Dean, Rashard Rose, Jamie Gangel and Ethan Cohen contributed to this story.