For nearly a decade, Chris Christie was a force of nature in New Jersey politics, a polarizing figure who went from feisty governor and Hurricane Hero to failed presidential candidate and national meme for lolling on the beach after shutting down the state. His early endorsement of Donald Trump and what came after that only added to his love/hate relationship with voters in New Jersey and beyond. Christie grabbed the national spotlight again when he broke with Trump following the ex-president’s refusal to accept his defeat in 2020. When he decided to launch another shot at the White House, this time taking direct aim at Trump, we created What Makes Christie Run?, a newsletter devoted to this upstart candidacy. The newsletter was written by NJ Advance Media reporter Matt Arco, who for a decade chronicled Christie’s governorship, his failed 2016 presidential run and his shaky tenure as a Trump adviser. The goal of the newsletter was to provide readers with one-stop shopping for all things Christie, including political analysis, accounts from New Hampshire that other outlets did not have, as well as insight from his inner circle and the ex-governor himself.
We gathered our team of designers to create a user-friendly template for each newsletter and began promoting it. Since Chris Christie’s “I was once with Trump and now I’m the only one with the guts to tell the truth about him” narrative was a hit with the national media over the summer, we had to find a way to break through with something unique. With some Republicans and more than a few Democrats cheering his anti-Trump rhetoric, we created a newsletter that included Matt’s own analysis and that of top political minds and average voters, as well as campaign snippets we called “Trail Mix,” links to other media, social media posts and something nobody could match: Our look into what was happening that day during his 2016 campaign. Matt overcame the Christie camp’s initial reluctance to participate (and sometimes Christie’s anger at what he had written) with sheer will and the simple feat of showing up to campaign events in remote corners of New Hampshire. He logged thousands of miles across the Granite State, often the only reporter there except the requisite TV network embeds. He went to four GOP debates, where Christie couldn’t avoid him in airports and on planes. All told, the twice-weekly newsletter (more than three dozen in total, most in 2023 but a few bleeding into early January) was the only one in the nation devoted to the Christie candidacy and gave readers the inside view they could get nowhere else.
As we all know, Christie’s uphill quest to take down Donald Trump fell far short. He bet it all on the New Hampshire primary and dropped out weeks before voters went to the polls. Along the way, Matt provided the inside look at what happened — and how Christie’s summer dreams slowly dissipated in his struggle to get his word across to reluctant Republicans. The newsletter, produced in a feisty, conversational format, was the only one of its kind and drew 20,000 subscribers. When it was all over, Matt produced the ultimate “how it went wrong” story for NJ.com. We figured Christie’s quest was a longshot – and therefore that the newsletter would have a limited run. We accomplished all our goals, including getting praise from readers and national political reporters, including one who said Matt provided a “great blend of analysis, scenes that put me with the frustrated candidate and crucial turning points on the way down … you have the superpower of context and you used it.”