When he was still in the race, just a few weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blasted Donald Trump as a terrible risk for the Republican Party—a straight line to President Hillary Clinton in 2017. Now, he has a different tune. “He’s rewriting the playbook of American politics because he is providing strong leadership that is not dependent upon the status quo,” said Christie in his Friday afternoon endorsement. “And so the best person to beat Hillary Clinton in November on that stage last night is undoubtedly Donald Trump.”
It is not clear what Christie gains from endorsing Trump. The real estate mogul and reality star is still an uncertain bet for the general election. He could win, but he could just as likely lose in a landslide, not only precluding Christie from work in a future Republican administration, but ending his career in Republican politics, as the party turns on Trump’s most high profile backers. Likewise, if Trump doesn’t win the nomination, there’s no chance Christie has any pull or place in a Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or John Kasich administration.
But the horse race aside, Christie’s endorsement is breathtakingly cynical. For months, he attacked Trump for his ignorance and his bigotry, mocking his plan to ban Muslims from the United States. “We do not need to endorse that type of activity, nor should we,” said Christie during a December appearance on conservative talk radio host Michael Medved’s show. “You do not need to be banning Muslims from the country. That’s, in my view, that’s a ridiculous position and one that won’t even be productive.” It was part of Christie’s appeal as a moderate, reasonable Republican. Someone you could trust to appeal to all Americans and ignore the temptation of a hyper-nationalist demagogue.
Either Christie didn’t mean it, or his integrity is worth less than a modest chance at career advancement.
As for Trump, he doesn’t just gain a valuable surrogate—one eager to take the fight to Rubio, again—he gains legitimacy.
The great question of a Donald Trump nomination is whether the Republican Party would get behind his campaign, or would it disown Trump as antithetical to the party’s values? And for as much as Republicans have enabled Trump in his rise, it’s also true that the mogul represents an existential threat to traditional control of the Republican Party. Backing him means taking that risk in the hope that he leads them to the White House.
An endorsement from Christie, former chairman of the Republican Governors Association and avatar of the party’s Northeastern faction, is a sign that, for some in the GOP establishment, Trump is an acceptable risk. Already, reports Robert Costa of the Washington Post, Christie is telling New Jersey insiders that Trump is the “presumptive nominee and that he expects other governors, and GOP leaders to reveal endorsements soon.”
If nothing else, this endorsement gives Trump the news cycle ahead of Super Tuesday. Instead of attacks and ridicule from Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, voters will hear how Trump is the choice of Chris Christie, how he’s marching toward the nomination, and how now is the time to get on board.