Christie attacks Trump at debate. And he pays the price

Happening this Thursday: Nikki Haley becomes target at fourth GOP presidential debate… Ron DeSantis pulls his punches versus Donald Trump… Vivek Ramaswamy promotes Jan. 6 conspiracy theory… And DeSantis and Ramaswamy campaign in Iowa, while Chris Christie stumps in New Hampshire.

But FIRST… Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropped a “truth” bomb at the beginning of last night’s GOP presidential debate — after fellow candidates Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy criticized one another.  

“We’ve had these three, acting as if the race is between the four of us… And for us to go 17 minutes without discussing the guy who has all those gaudy numbers you talked about is ridiculous,” Christie said, referring to Donald Trump and his lead in the GOP polls. 

“I’m in this race because the truth needs to be spoken: He is unfit. This is a guy who just said this past week that he wants to use the Department of Justice to go after his enemies when he gets in there. And the fact of the matter is, he is unfit to be president. And there is no bigger issue in this race … than Donald Trump and those numbers prove it,” he added. 

Yet, Christie has also paid a political price among Republican voters for his direct attacks on Trump. 

In the latest national Monmouth University poll released Wednesday, his favorable rating among GOP voters stands at 12% favorable, 65% unfavorable (-53 net rating). 

That compares with Trump’s rating at +58, DeSantis’ at +43 and Haley’s at +12. 

And those numbers help explain why DeSantis and Haley — to a lesser extent — largely held their fire at the former president at the debate. 

Then again, how do you defeat a presidential front-runner like Trump whom rank-and-file Republican voters don’t want to see directly attacked?  

In his closing statement, Christie asked viewers to perform this mental exercise: “I want you all to kind of picture in your minds Election Day: You’ll all be heading to the polls to vote. And that’s something that Donald Trump will not be able to do, because he will be convicted of felonies before then. And his right to vote will be taken away.”

What Christie described isn’t out of the realm of possibility given all of the indictments and trials Trump is facing. 

But the audience booed.  

Headline of the day

The number of the day is … 16

That’s how many years Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has served in the House, including his rocky nine-month tenure as speaker of the chamber earlier this year. McCarthy announced Wednesday that he would be leaving Congress at the end of the year.

He announced his departure in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, writing, “I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways. I know my work is only getting started.”

McCarthy’s exit creates “fresh headaches for the GOP,” NBC’s Scott Wong and Sahil Kapur write, because it will narrow their majority in the House to just two seats, following former New York GOP Rep. George Santos’ expulsion earlier this month.

But McCarthy’s seat is solidly Republican, and California state law says that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom must set a date for a special election within two weeks. The special election must occur between 126 to 140 days after the governor’s proclamation.

Eyes on 2024: Haley faces stepped-up attacks in 4th debate

While the GOP presidential contenders were hesitant to attack the front-runner during Wednesday’s debate, they did focus on the candidate who has been rising to second place in recent polls: Haley. 

Haley faced a slew of attacks from DeSantis and Ramaswamy, although Christie did come to Haley’s defense after Ramaswamy attacked her intelligence. 

Haley’s campaign, meanwhile, appeared to relish in the attention. NBC’s Matt Dixon reported that her campaign sent out an email during the debate that read, “You know Nikki Haley is winning because her opponents are falling over themselves trying to attack her. Spoiler alert: It’s not sticking. Nikki is still winning and jealousy is not a good look on the fellas.”

Ramaswamy and DeSantis both focused some of their attacks on Haley’s support from Wall Street donors, and she accused them of being “jealous” that she has won their support. 

CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports that some of Haley’s new donors “closely watched” the debate Wednesday night, but they will also be watching how she fares in the early states. One person who attended a Haley fundraiser Monday told Schwartz, “If she looks competitive in South Carolina, they will keep funding her for Super Tuesday and beyond.”

In other campaign news … 

Biden on Trump: President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he is not the only Democrat who can defeat Trump, quipping that there are “probably 50” other Democrats who could do so. But Biden added, “I will defeat him.”

Debatable: The Biden campaign is not committing to participating in general election debates, with deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks saying in a Wednesday press conference that the campaign would “look at the schedule,” per The Associated Press. 

Endorsement season (or not): Trump picked up two Senate endorsements Wednesday, with Alabama GOP Sen. Katie Britt and North Dakota GOP Sen. John Hoeven backing the former president. Meanwhile, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said he does not plan to endorse in the GOP primary “anytime soon,” per NBC’s Nnamdi Egwuonwu.

Trump ramps up: Trump is expected to ramp up his visits to Iowa ahead of next month’s caucuses, with the campaign also planning to bring “dozens” of surrogates to the state, per Fox News.  

Ramaswamy on the trail: Ramaswamy has stressed that he is going to “shock the world” and win the Iowa caucuses, but lately on the campaign trail he has also been mentioning the possibility that he could lose the nomination, per NBC’s Katherine Koretski.

A second Trump presidency: Trump will “come after” those in the media and the government who “helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections,” said Trump ally Kash Patel.

Convicted: New York’s Philip Sean Grillo, a Republican running to succeed ousted Rep. George Santos in the state’s 3rd District, was convicted this week on charges relating to his conduct during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Fake electors: A Nevada grand jury indicted six fake electors Wednesday who signed documentation purporting that Trump won the state in 2020, while 10 fake electors from Wisconsin settled a civil lawsuit against them by affirming that Biden was the rightful winner.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

The Senate on Wednesday failed to advance an aid package for Israel and Ukraine, with 51 senators — every Republican and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — voting against beginning debate on the measure. 

The Justice Department on Tuesday charged four Russian nationals with war crimes related to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

House Republicans are threatening to hold Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t appear for a Dec. 13 closed-door deposition.

The Biden administration has delayed a ban menthol cigarettes until 2024, angering public health officials