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Chris Christie called out Sen. Barrasso when he withdrew from the presidential race. Why does it matter?

High-resolution portrait of Sen. John Barrasso
Senator John Barrasso

Ahead of Iowa’s first in the nation GOP caucuses on Monday, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped out of the contest – but not before taking a jab at Wyoming senior Senator John Barrasso and other Republicans who he calls “cowards.” Wyoming Public Radio correspondent Matt Laslo joined Kamila Kudelska from Washington to discuss.

Editor’s note: This story has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Kamila Kudelska: Earlier this week, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso became the highest-ranking member of Senate Republican leadership to endorse former President Donald Trump. That didn’t sit well with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who accused Barrasso, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer and other Republicans of “cowardice and hypocrisy” for backing Trump.

Tape: “And you just look at what's happening just in the last few days. Good people who got into politics, I believe, for the right reasons, people like Senator John Barrasso, people like Congressman Tom Emmer, stand up and endorsed Donald Trump. They know better. I know they know better,” said Chris Christie.

KK: How’s Barrasso reacting to all of this?

Matt Laslo: Well, in typical Barrasso fashion, he's kind of laughing it off - which his colleagues aren’t. I actually interviewed 15 Republican senators about this very strange barb because usually you don't hear Republican officials call out other Republican officials. And so when we asked his colleagues about it, they're kind of offended on his behalf.

But Senator Brasso himself says he didn't listen to the speech, and he's not going to lower himself to Christie’s level.

Tape: “I heard that he had. I didn’t actually hear him. I wish him well,” Barrasso said.

ML: And now, if you remember, Barrasso’s not just Wyoming's senior senator. He took the gentlemanly route there in part because he's the third highest-ranking Republican leader here in the Senate. And so he's got to put on a good face for the party because when he was attacked, he wasn't just attacked as a Wyoming senator, he's attacked as a senior Republican official.

KK: You mentioned you spoke to other Republicans. Did you speak to any of Wyoming’s representatives?

ML: I caught up with Wyoming's Junior Senator Cynthia Lummis. And she stood out there and had Barrasso’s back. When I was informing these Republicans of it [Christie’s speech], many, like Lummis, stood up for Barrasso.

Tape: “I think that's personally offensive. Just because Chris Christie is infected with Trump Derangement Syndrome doesn't mean that someone who endorses Trump for president is somehow off the farm,” said Lummis.

ML: And again, Lummis isn't alone. If anything, in today's newly revamped GOP, Christie is the lonely one.

KK: So why take the shot on the way out?

ML: It's interesting that some Republicans, like Senator Todd Young of Indiana, said they respected Christie for well being Chris Christie. You know, he's a New Jersey guy. He's in your face. He built his career on that as the governor of the Garden State. And that's actually what he brought, or tried to bring, to the Republican primary. And it seems Republican voters rejected that. But Chris Christie did stay on brand.

But other Republicans aren't loving the Jersey boy coming out in Christie, especially on this national stage.

Tape: North Carolina Republican Senator Ted Budd noted, “What's New Jersey got to do with Wyoming?”

That's likely a question many listeners are asking themselves. What's New Jersey got to do with Wyoming? But it highlights Barrasso’s kind of quiet climb up the ranks of GOP leadership. With power comes more attacks, as the Cheney family knows.

KK: And as you mentioned earlier, Barrasso is pretty high up there in GOP leadership. What's his future looking like?

ML: Well, it's interesting. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, he's up there in years. He's now 81. And so Barrasso’s name has been batted about as a potential replacement for Senator McConnell. There's two other senators who are kind of more naturally positioned to take over from McConnell, one in South Dakota, Republican John Thune, the other is Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn. But this is politics and you never know.

And so Barrasso has kind of been quietly building relationships with his fellow Republicans, helping them from his perch as Republican conference chair, really go[ing] out there and fight[ing] in this hyper partisan Washington, in this hyper partisan political environment. And so we'll see as he's quietly laying that groundwork, helping others with fundraising, because he's got a fairly safe seat there in Wyoming. We'll see. He seems like he definitely wants to climb the leadership ladder.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. She has won a regional Murrow award for her reporting on mental health and firearm owners. During her time leading the Wyoming Public Media newsroom, reporters have won multiple PMJA, Murrow and Top of the Rockies Excellence in Journalism Awards. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.

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