For over 15 minutes, three out of the four Republican candidates engaged in a debate, fielding tough questions from Megyn Kelly and presenting arguments for their electability. However, conspicuously absent from the conversation was former President Donald J. Trump, who is the dominant front-runner in the race.

Former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, a vocal critic of Trump among his Republican rivals, took note of this absence. Addressing Kelly, Christie remarked on the debate’s duration, emphasizing that, aside from her opening speech, the discussion revolved around the three candidates as if Trump were not part of the race.

Referring to Trump as “the fifth guy” and humorously calling him “Voldemort, he who shall not be named,” Christie derided the former president as a coward who lacks the courage to participate in the debate. He criticized the other candidates for squabbling among themselves, ignoring their most formidable opponent, who skipped the debate to attend a private fundraiser.

Labeling Trump as a “dictator,” a “bully,” and an “angry, bitter man,” Christie took aim at his fellow candidates, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ron DeSantis, accusing them of being too timid to criticize the former president, perhaps due to future political aspirations.

Christie argued that the reluctance to offend Trump demonstrated a significant flaw in his colleagues’ approach, likening it to a potential problem when dealing with international leaders like Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He further highlighted Trump’s statements about targeting political adversaries in a second term, aiming to persuade Trump supporters that the former president is unfit to return to the White House.

In adopting this strategy, Christie aimed to sharply criticize Trump, even in his absence, even if it led to disapproval from Trump supporters in the audience.