New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the former federal prosecutor who was once a rising star in the Republican Party, has taken a serious drubbing during the last half of his second term. His political ambitions are now on permanent hold, ever since his dismal showing as a GOP candidate for president on the national stage. He exited the race Feb. 10 after coming in sixth in the New Hampshire primary.
Even more disastrous for Christie was his endorsement of Donald Trump several weeks later, a shock to the political world. On the the night of the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries, Christie introduced the New York billionaire businessman to a group of journalists assembled in the White and Gold ballroom at Trump’s lavish Mar-a-Lago private club in Palm Beach, Florida.
Christie, who had said Trump was not fit for the Oval Office while he competed against him on the campaign trail, now heaped praise on his one time rival for the GOP presidential nomination, calling him “tough, strong and bold.” But he didn’t seem enthusiastic.
Then he stood behind Trump with what seemed like a stricken gaze, looking to many a pundit like a man who had sold his soul to a buffoon— or had been taken hostage
“Chris Christie spent the entire (Trump) speech screaming wordlessly,” opined Washington Post‘s poetic Alexandra Petri the next day on March 2. She added, “His were the eyes of a man who has gazed into the abyss, and the abyss gazed back, and then he endorsed the abyss.”
Other media chimed in derisively. Saturday Night Live staged a savage parody of the brash blue state governor, picturing him as a servile errand boy for the insult-spewing GOP front-runner, who called him a “fat piece of crap” in the skit.
The political backlash in New Jersey against Christie was even more severe. Within days after Christie gave Trump his surprise endorsement at an Austin, Texas, rally on Feb. 26, half a dozen New Jersey newspapers from the Gannett chain called for his resignation, among them the Asbury Park Press and the Morristown Daily Record.
The papers were outraged by a press conference Christie gave in his home state. He had refused to answer questions about anything except the nomination of a state Supreme Court judge. Asked why, Christie replied, “Because I don’t want to.”
“We’re fed up with Gov. Chris Christie’s arrogance,” the papers wrote. “We’re fed up with his opportunism. We’re fed up with his hypocrisy.” The joint editorial also faulted Cristie as a absentee governor. claiming he had spent a whopping 261 days out of state last year. It criticized him for spending time out of state endorsing and campaigning for Trump.
Another New Jersey paper, The Star-Ledger of Newark, also called on Christie to resign, noting that “His craven endorsement of Donald Trump is only the final blow, the moment when he lost any shred of credibility.”
Tom Moran, a columnist for the Star Ledger, obtained an interview with former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman an hour before Christie (whom she had supported) announced he was endorsing Trump for president. She said she was now thinking of voting for Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton should Trump become the GOP nominee.
“You’ll see a lot of Republicans do that,” Whitman told Moran. “We don’t want to. But I know I won’t vote for Trump.”
As for Christie’s endorsement of Trump,” she said,”I am ashamed that Christie would endorse anyone who has employed the kind of hate mongering and racism that Trump has. I would have thought being from a diverse state would have given him more awareness and compassion.”
Meg Whitman, the Hewlett-Packard chief executive who had served as Christie’s finance chair during his run for the GOP nomination, also attacked Christie for “an astounding display of political opportunism,” after Christie endorsed Trump. In a prepared statement, she described Trump as a “dishonest demagogue who plays to her worst fears.” Her views were in line with those of failed 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has also denounced Trump and urged Republicans to vote for other candidates.
Christie, who had endorsed Romney for president in 2012, held a press conference March 3 to announce that he had no intention of resigning as New Jersey’s governor, explaining he had supported Trump because he believes the real estate tycoon is the best Republican candidate to beat Hillary Clinton in the fall. “I am not a full-time surrogate for Donald Trump,” he was forced to admit. “I do not have a title or position in the Trump campaign. I am an endorser.”
As for his sad face at the Trump victory speech at Mar-a-Lago that went viral, he declared, “I was standing there listening to him. All those arm-chair psychiatrists should give it a break. No, I wasn’t being held hostage.”
Yet the jokes and speculation goes on. Did Christie endorse Trump to get a White House post should Trump win the general election? Was this really his best hope for getting back in the political game after his term ends in 2018? That’s Chris Matthews’ bet, at least.
Christie said he would attend Norte Dame’s Sweet 16 round in Philadelphia tonight. Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey — a friend of Christie’s, whose daughter, Sarah, is a team manager — told SB Nation, “He’ll be there in Philly — if Trump will let him.”
Photo: Donald Trump shakes hands with Chris Christie after Christie endorsed Trump’s candidacy. REUTERS/Mike Stone