ABC News

Chris Christie just took his brand back from Donald Trump. (The brand is “jerk you root for.”)

In the ABC debate, Christie’s case against Marco Rubio’s candidacy had two parts: first, that Rubio’s job, senator, means he doesn’t have to do much but speak, and second, that even for a senator, Rubio fell short, because the minute poll numbers didn’t support his immigration bill, he abandoned it. (“The question was, Did he fight for his legislation? It’s abundantly clear that he didn’t,” Christie said.) But Christie’s most memorable flourish was interrupting Rubio to make fun of his canned lines—”There it is, the memorized 25-second speech!”

Rubio wasn’t the only person Christie was mean to. Christie said Ohio Gov. John Kasich had done a good job, but “John’s been so busy doing other stuff he’s using old statistics.” When told that 68 percent of the American people support raising taxes on the rich, Christie told them, “You’re wrong.” His performance was well-received by conservatives on Twitter.

Could this performance fuel a comeback? While Christie’s bridge scandal certainly hurt him, so did the candidacy of Donald Trump, who stole Christie’s style and amplified it. When Christie ran for New Jersey governor in 2009, videos of him rudely dressing down hostile questioners went viral on the conservative internet. Glenn Beck adored him. He was a mean New Jersey person who would be real with Democrats and make tough decisions to get things done. And then Trump got into the race, and was from an even ruder place, New York, and talked even tougher, and made even bigger promises about getting things done. Who needs a quippy but scandal-ridden Jersey guy when you’ve got a reality star untainted by politics? Christie’s national poll numbers have been stuck in the single digits for six months

Now that Trump has shown some vulnerability by losing in Iowa, perhaps there’s an opportunity for Christie to take back the crown, to rule again as King Jerk of the GOP. Christie has one thing on Trump—he’s not just the jerk voters can root for, he’s the jerk the establishment can root for.