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Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie on the campaign trail last month. (Photo by Sophie Park via Getty Images)

Should Chris Christie Drop Out?

Newsroom Fight Club! Plus: A bombing in Iran. Epstein’s list. And much more.

Welcome to Free Press Fight Club 

It’s no secret that we don’t all agree on everything here at The Free Press. We’re a mix of right, left, and who knows what. Some of us are pro-life, some of us are pro-choice. Some are neocons itching for war, others think that even international travel is suspect. Some drink coffee from Dunkin Donuts, others will only sip cold brew from Blue Bottle. 

Most of the time those debates happen in our newsroom and on Slack. But we figured you might want us to have these conversations out in the open, or at least want to know why Isaac Grafstein is wrong about foreign policy. (J/K, we love you, Isaac!) Herewith: Free Press Fight Club.

Today’s question: With Donald Trump holding a comfortable lead in the polls, and with the Iowa caucus just eleven days away, is it time for Chris Christie, the most avowed anti-Trump candidate in the race and currently polling at three percent nationally, to heed the advice of New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and drop out and throw his support behind Nikki Haley? 

Squaring off over this issue are two Free Press heavyweights. Making the case for Christie to drop out: senior editor Peter Savodnik. Arguing the other side: TGIF columnist Nellie Bowles

I’m looking for a good, clean fight here, folks. . . 

Ding ding! 

Peter: Of course the New Hampshire governor is right: Chris Christie has to drop out. He never had a shot at the Republican nomination—it’s hard to win the party of Donald Trump when you spend your time denouncing Donald Trump 24/7. The one person who does have a shot at beating him, albeit a very remote one, needs every last vote she can muster.

That would be Nikki Haley, who, the slavery flub notwithstanding—and it was bad!—could still pull a quadruple axel: eke out a win in New Hampshire January 23, pilot that into a win in her home state of South Carolina February 24, and then pilot that into a cascade of victories in Colorado, California, Maine, Texas—all the way to the convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in July. 

Squint just right and maybe you can see it?

Okay, yes, that’s going to be exceedingly difficult. Trump is now at 44 percent in the latest New Hampshire poll, compared to Haley at 25 percent. And if she somehow leapfrogged ahead of Trump, his supporters would, no doubt, blame the deep state or the deep-pocketed Never-Trumpers who are behind Haley.

But it’s important to recall that Trump, like so many office-seekers, is really the myth of Trump, and myths can be punctured, or, at least, tarnished, sapped of their power.

For Haley to do that would require a few really big upsets, starting with New Hampshire. And that’s going to require every last vote—including the six Republicans who still think Chris Christie should be president of the United States.

Nellie: Chris Christie should not drop out. Is he going to win? No. Is there any chance? No. If I had to pick a candidate here, would it be Nikki Haley? Yes. And yet I do not want Chris Christie to drop out yet because I cannot stomach what it means: that Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy outlast him.

Ron DeSantis showed himself to be an impressively reasonable person against Covid bureaucracy and showed himself to be a very devoted general in the Florida-Disney Wars of 2022, which isn’t the fight I would have picked yet I admired his commitment to defeating Big Mouse. But his campaign has been a disaster, from his staffers making fascist-art campaign videos to the mechanical smile he seems to have been instructed to turn on for a set number of seconds. 

As for Vivek Ramaswamy? He’s fun to watch. Vivek as bombastic podcast host I’d vote for any day. I love his answer this week to a Washington Post reporter trying to imply he is pro-white supremacy. But Vivek as our actual president? He seems like a young guy who still needs to work out the kinks. There are too many flip-flops to count. 

Chris Christie is better than these men. He is smarter and he’s also wiser. He has actual political beliefs, and he comes across as a jovial politician who enjoys meeting people, the latter of which is basically all I want in my politicians. For the honor and pride of America, Chris Christie has to outlast Vivek and Ron. He must stay until they both give inevitably strange concession speeches and announce the launch of their new media products. Then, and only then, Chris Christie can drop out.

Readers: Team Peter or Team Nellie? Let us know in the comments.

Bombs and Bloodshed in Iran

Bomb blasts killed over 100 people at a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the death of former Iranian Revolutionary Guard leader Qasem Soleimani in Iran yesterday. Iranian officials condemned a “terrorist act” and promised retribution. The explosion, which also left 211 wounded according to Iranian state media, is the deadliest such incident in Iran since the revolution. It is also yet another destabilizing atrocity in a region only getting less stable. 

But before we get to the wider context, the first question is: Who did this? At the time of writing, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. 

Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Free Press the attack was most likely a “Sunni extremist group,” like Islamic State. Dubowitz called conjecture that Israel might be behind the attack “total nonsense,” noting that it “has none of the hallmarks of an Israeli attack.” 

The incident, Dubowitz says, “underscores the extent of the domestic turmoil that has enveloped Iran over the past six or seven years. . . . It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the dissent inside of Iran may be more than the regime can handle.” 

So that leaves the regime responsible for so much of the violence in the region right now—from attacks by the Houthis and Hamas to the groups striking U.S. forces in Iran and Syria—feeling less secure and more threatened. 

Not exactly a reassuring thought. 

To make matters worse, Wednesday also saw the Hezbollah chief respond to the killing of a Hamas leader in Beirut a day earlier. Hassan Nasrallah vowed “a response and punishment” after the suspected Israeli drone strike and said there will be “no ceilings” and “no rules” for his Iran-backed terrorist group if Israel attacks Lebanon. IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi addressed the prospect of war against Hezbollah last night when he told security officials that the military was in a “very strong state of readiness in the north.” 

Bill Ackman: How to Fix Harvard

No graduate has been more outspoken about what ails the university than the billionaire investor. In case you missed yesterday’s piece, read it here.

Also putting pen to page in the wake of the drama at Harvard: Claudine Gay herself. 

Not content with her responsibility-shirking resignation letter, Claudine Gay published an op-ed in The New York Times yesterday that shows no sign of fast-onset self-awareness from the former Harvard president. Gay described her skirmish as “merely a single skirmish in a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society.” I dunno, Claudine, I just think the president of Harvard should be someone with a credible academic record.  

New year, new laws

The start of a new year means new laws come into effect across the United States.

In California, a measure to tackle the scourge of gender stereotypes means that retailers must now sell kids’ toys in “gender-neutral” aisles. Take that, Barbie!

In Texas, a law now in effect means that publicly funded colleges are no longer allowed to have diversity, equity, and inclusion offices. But has Texas really ended DEI? A statement from the University of Texas at San Antonio suggests there might be more to the story. Acknowledging the implications of Senate Bill 17, university President Taylor Eighmy announced that they would be shuttering their Office of Inclusive Excellence. But he also noted the establishment of a new administrative body, the Office of Campus and Community Belonging, and that “the individuals who previously served in the Office of Inclusive Excellence will now have new roles with updated responsibilities to support the Office of Campus and Community Belonging’s purpose, goals and services.”

Any other suggestions for what Texas universities should call DEI departments now that DEI is banned? Let us know in the comments.

Also on our radar. . . 

→Another angle on NYT v. ChatGPT: The New York Times has presented its lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement as a David and Goliath battle. The Times alleges that ChatGPT was trained on millions of copyrighted articles from the Times, without the Times’ permission, and paints the case as a noble fight for the future of “independent journalism” and “democracy.” But we found this piece by Mike Masnick of Techdirt an interesting counterpoint.  

He argues that the lawsuit is a “negotiating ploy,” designed to get the Times the same payout OpenAI gave to the media giant Axel Springer a few weeks ago. 

Masnick also makes a broader point: “the crux of this lawsuit. . . [is the] false belief that reading something (whether by human or machine) somehow implicates copyright.” Generative AI is merely trained on reading material (including The New York Times), not unlike the way children are trained on reading materials in classrooms. . . or the way journalists, including those at the Times, are trained on the work of other journalists. That is to say, if the Times gets its way, it could open itself up to being sued for the same reason it is suing OpenAI.

→ Epstein embarrassment: After weeks of speculation about who’s in and who’s out, the full list of celebrity names has finally been made public. No, dummy. Not the Coachella lineup, but the Epstein files. Documents relating to a lawsuit filed by one of Epstein’s victims have been made public, meaning Christmas has come very early for anyone who’d rather not be ruled by an elite who cozies up to a serial pedophile conspiracy theorists.

To be honest, we were waiting with bated breath for the unveiling of the whole ghastly conspiracy: flight logs, client lists, the works. Instead, we got a lot of stuff we already knew and an off-hand remark about Clinton “liking them young.”

But we wanted this story properly reported, so we turned to comedian and dogged investigator Tim Dillon to get to the truth for us.

Tim has been poring over the documents all night. His verdict:

“I really thought this list would exonerate Prince Andrew, who just seems innocent to me. I thought the whole thing was a like fun 90s movie, a socially awkward pale Prince who can’t sweat ends up on a tropical island with a human trafficker and has to save all the women! But that’s apparently not what happened.”

→ An awards show we’d actually watch: It is a truth universally acknowledged that the only good thing to happen at an awards ceremony in recent history is Ricky Gervais hosting the 2020 Golden Globes. (Surely you’ve seen his opening monologue before, but if not, stop reading this and watch it.) Gervais’s new special Armageddon holds the top spot on the Netflix charts right now. Gervais posted a photo on X of himself at one and Dave Chappelle’s new special at number two, and suggested that he and Chappelle host the Oscars together. A funny thought. And also. . . a great idea. Please, Hollywood powers that be, show some self-awareness! Make fun of yourselves and put a smile on our faces! 

Oliver Wiseman is an editor and writer for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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