CNN  — 

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Wednesday that he was ending his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, marking the exit of the most outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump in the Republican primary.

But first, Christie made a few unofficial remarks — off camera on a live microphone — skewering his now former GOP rivals.

“She’s gonna get smoked and you and I both know it. She’s not up to this,” Christie could be heard saying in apparent reference to Haley.

He also mentioned that DeSantis had contacted him.

“DeSantis called me, petrified that I would…,” Christie said before the audio cut out. New Hampshire campaign chair Wayne MacDonald confirmed to CNN that he was on the other end of the conversation.

Later Wednesday after the CNN debate, when asked if he was petrified about something, DeSantis said, “No, look, I’ve been to Fallujah and Ramadi. I mean, this is nothing.”

“I did call him just because I felt he was being treated poorly with all these people saying like, you know, you should go,” DeSantis added. “I said you have every right to do this.”

Christie wasn’t kind in his assessment of his opponents.

“Anyone who is unwilling to say (Trump) is unfit to be president of the United States,” Christie said, “is unfit themselves to be president of the United States.”

Christie’s departure comes on the heels of a new batch of disappointing poll numbers, especially in New Hampshire, where he hoped a less conservative electorate would coalesce around his sharp opposition to Trump, whom he described as “devoid of character.”

But, as he told supporters in New Hampshire, the initial plan had not come together.

“It is clear to me tonight that there isn’t a path for me to win the nomination, which is why I’m suspending my campaign tonight for President of the United States,” he said at the Windham town hall, just 13 days before the first-in-the-nation primary. He called it the “right thing for me to do” and promised that he would never “enable Donald Trump to become, to ever be president of the United States again.”

Haley is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of Christie’s exit. She has pulled to within single digits of Trump in the Granite State, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire. The survey found that 65% of Christie supporters – 12% of the total – listed Haley as their second choice. She trailed Trump 39% to 32% among likely primary voters.

Whether Christie himself will do the same and encourage his backers to follow suit is an open question. He has no immediate plans to endorse another candidate, according to a Republican source. He slammed Haley repeatedly during the latter part of his campaign, even before his hot mic moment, and suggested she was running to be Trump’s vice president with an eye on a promotion in 2028.

Despite ending his presidential campaign, his name will remain on the ballot in New Hampshire, where the primary will take place on January 23.

In his remarks Wednesday, Christie took several thinly veiled shots at the other Trump rivals.

“Anyone who is unwilling to say (Trump) is unfit to be president of the United States,” Christie said, “is unfit themselves to be president of the United States.”

Prior to taking the stage at the event, Christie was caught talking about his opponents on a hot mic in audio obtained by The Recount. The audio captured only part of Christie’s comments before being cut off.

“You know, and she’s gonna get smoked and you and I both know it. She’s not up to this,” Christie said in an apparent reference to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Christie also can be heard on the audio saying that DeSantis called him.

“DeSantis called me, petrified that I would,” Christie says before the audio appeared to cut out.

The Christie campaign declined to comment. CNN has reached out to the DeSantis and Haley campaigns for comment.

In his remarks Wednesday, Christie took several thinly veiled shots at the other Trump rivals.Pressed by a voter on Tuesday about the urgency of anti-Trump Republicans to unite around a single opponent, Christie again questioned Haley’s intentions – and expressed anxiety over how endorsing her might reflect on him.

“Let’s say I dropped out of the race right now and I supported Nikki Haley. And then three months from now, four months from now, when you’re ready to go to the convention, she comes out as his vice president. What will I look like? What will all the people who supported her at my behest look like?” he said.

Republican presidential candidate former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announces he is dropping out of the race during a town hall campaign event on Wednesday, January 10, 2024.

After vehemently denying Tuesday that he was considering dropping out, Christie earlier Wednesday appeared to give a hint of what would come hours later.

“I beseech you, I beg you to vote based on character. All the rest of the things can change. Character doesn’t change,” he told voters in Exeter, New Hampshire. “Frankly, doesn’t mean you have to vote for me. You might decide that there’s another person in this race of good character that you prefer.”

Christie launched his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination at a June 2023 town hall in New Hampshire, which he used to deliver a searing indictment of Trump, calling his one-time friend and close political ally a “lonely, self-consumed mirror hog” whose potential election to a second term as president represents an existential threat to American democracy.

“Beware of the leader in this country, who you have handed leadership to, who has never made a mistake, who has never done anything wrong,” Christie said. “Who when something goes wrong it’s always someone else’s fault. And who has never lost.”

His message in smaller, more conservative rooms was less colorful and more utilitarian. Trump, he said over and over again, was a radioactive general election candidate who would be defeated – and take down the rest of the GOP ticket with him.

“We keep losing and losing and losing,” Christie said at a Republican Jewish Coalition conference in 2022, just weeks after the midterm elections proved underwhelming for the GOP. “The reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everybody else.”

The former governor made his willingness to directly take on Trump a key feature of his campaign, repeatedly hitting the GOP front-runner over his cascading legal troubles and, in recent weeks, Trump’s increasingly bitter, hateful rhetoric.

“He’s becoming crazier,” Christie said of Trump on CNN’s “State of the Union” last month.

Asked about Trump’s remark that immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country,” the former governor let fly.

“He’s disgusting,” Christie said. “And what he’s doing is dog-whistling to Americans who feel absolutely under stress and strain from the economy and from the conflicts around the world.”

Back in 2016, Christie endorsed Trump after dropping out of the GOP presidential primary and then advised him on his 2020 presidential campaign. But he told CNN’s Jake Tapper last year that Trump’s behavior on election night that year took his support to the breaking point, and soon beyond.

“Turns out I was wrong (about Trump). I couldn’t make him a better candidate and I couldn’t make him a better president,” Christie said. “He disappointed me.”

Christie has also said that Trump “incited” the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol “in an effort to intimidate Mike Pence and the Congress into doing exactly what he said in his own words last week: overturn the election.”

At the first Republican primary debate in Milwaukee last August, Christie called out most of his rivals onstage for raising their hands when asked if they would support Trump as the GOP nominee even if he was convicted of a crime. (Trump currently faces 91 charges across four cases, along with growing civil liabilities.)

“Someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct,” Christie said, after shaking his head in disapproval at the six candidates who raised their hands. “Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States.”

Though Christie was met with boos from the audience, he told New Hampshire voters in his first post-debate appearance, “I will never raise my hand to say it’s OK to have a convicted felon as the president of the United States.”

“So let’s establish that here on primary night in New Hampshire,” he said. “And if you do that, I’m telling you, I will win the nomination, and I will beat Joe Biden.”

Christie made his focus on the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary no secret, making regular stops in the Granite State since early September.

“Let me just tell you, if (Trump) wins here, he’s winning the nomination,” Christie said at a town hall in North Hampton, New Hampshire, on one of those swings.

In 2016, Christie had stood beside Trump and offered his support just weeks after exiting the GOP primary after coming in sixth in the New Hampshire vote.

Christie made clear that his latest presidential bid would be different. On the trail, he did not rule out voting for a third-party candidate in the general election, though he has said he wouldn’t launch an outside bid of his own, calling it a “fool’s errand.”

“If I lose in the primary, I lose,” he told New Hampshire voters in September. “What I learned eight years ago was you go home and you feel lousy for a while, but the sun comes up in the morning and you find other ways to try to contribute to your country.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Kit Maher, Jessica Dean, Rashard Rose, Jamie Gangel and Ethan Cohen contributed to this story.