GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — Chris Christie wants a New Hampshire do-over.
That was the overriding message on Monday night during a visit that Mr. Christie, a 2016 presidential candidate, made to the state, a testing-the-2024-waters trip in which he sharply criticized Donald J. Trump and waxed nostalgic for his own short-lived primary campaign seven years ago.
Mr. Christie, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who is mostly an afterthought so far in polling of a potential 2024 field, evoked many moments of 2016 at the town-hall-style event. Both he and audience members revisited his last-place finish in the New Hampshire primary that year, his leaving the race and endorsing Mr. Trump, and his eager support for the former president right through the 2020 election.
Mr. Christie said that support abruptly ended on election night in 2020 when Mr. Trump signaled his intent to subvert the democratic results. Ever since, he said, Republicans have been dragged into “a sinkhole of anger and retribution” by the former president.
“You know what Donald Trump said a couple of weeks ago?” Mr. Christie said. “‘I am your retribution.’ Guess what, everybody? No thanks.”
Asked by an audience member for his favorite New Hampshire memory from 2016, Mr. Christie recalled a debate when he attacked Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for robotic responses; at the time, many observers said he had dealt a perilous blow to Mr. Rubio. Mr. Christie invited the audience to imagine him in the same role now against Mr. Trump in a hypothetical debate.
“You better have somebody on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco,” he said.
Yet for all that Mr. Christie sounded ready to enter the fray, there are unanswered questions. Unlike some other potential candidates, he has no campaign team in waiting. He has spoken to heavyweight donors at Republican retreats in Texas and Georgia, but he is not raising money because there is no campaign to give to.
Most crucial is the question of whether there is a lane in the Republican primary contest for such an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump — who has the avid support of about one in three primary voters. No other potential Trump rival in his party has wielded such a sharp knife as Mr. Christie.
He blamed Mr. Trump’s extreme divisiveness and vindictive style, along with his embrace of election falsehoods, for Republican losses in three straight cycles: the House majority in 2018, the White House in 2020 and key Senate and governors’ races in 2022. “Particularly suburban women abandoned” Mr. Trump “because they had enough,” Mr. Christie said. It is naïve, he added, to “think they’re coming back for more in 2024.”
Ray Washburne, who was Mr. Christie’s 2016 finance chairman, said the former governor “wants for sure” to run again. The challenge, he added, is clear: “What lane does he take? Being total anti-Trump loses a base of 35 percent.”
A longtime adviser to Mr. Christie, Maria Comella, who accompanied him to New Hampshire, said the notion of lanes in a primary — in which candidates appeal to one portion of an electorate defined by demographics and ideology — was antiquated.
“The idea that at some point there has to be a pathway or a lane, and it was this very calculated structure and everyone fit into one and if you didn’t there wasn’t a viable path — I think it’s as if we’re back 20 years in a campaign cycle,” she said.
Mr. Christie has said he will decide on his plans by mid-May.
Besides Mr. Trump, he lashed Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida, for downplaying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and for saying the United States should not get into a “proxy war” with China.
“Someone please place a wake-up call to Tallahassee,” Mr. Christie said.
Citing Chinese-made fentanyl that is “killing 100,000 Americans a year,” and China’s close ties with Russia, Mr. Christie said the Florida governor was “naïve” to say that he wanted to avoid a proxy war with China. “We’re in one, and now the question is, Who’s going to win?” he said.
The event on Monday took place at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, a venerable campaign destination whose walls are hung with pictures of Ronald Reagan on a snowmobile and campaign posters for Jimmy Carter and dozens of others.
The audience was at best a minority slice of the Republican voting base. There were people who expressed nostalgia for John Kasich, the former center-right Ohio governor who came in second to Mr. Trump in the state in 2016 and then quickly faded. There were also independents and Democrats, including some who knew Mr. Christie best as the house conservative on ABC News political shows. They seemed interested to hear a Republican criticize one of their own. There were also fallen-away Trump loyalists.
Ruth Dabrowski, who said she voted for Mr. Trump in both of his presidential bids, was one. She said she would abandon the party if he was the 2024 nominee. “Jan. 6 did it for me,” she said. “I washed my hands and said that was it.”
Ms. Dabrowski, a retiree from Goffstown, said she wasn’t sure whether Mr. Christie could win much support in a Republican primary. “If he does as well as he did tonight — maybe,” she said.
The first question to Mr. Christie came from Saul Shriber, who asked why he hadn’t attacked Mr. Trump in that 2016 debate instead of Mr. Rubio. Mr. Christie answered that it had been a strategic mistake by all of the Republican candidates that year, none of whom thought Mr. Trump could win, until he did.
Mr. Shriber, a retired teacher from Chester, N.H., said he could support Mr. Christie in the primary as a foil to Mr. Trump.
“If he’s a man of truth like he’s saying, then I can forgive and forget” 2016, he said. “But he’d better not disappoint me again.”
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