Politics makes strange bedfellows. This is a fact few people could quibble with, and it was proven once again this past Friday when Chris Christie decided to throw caution to the wind and endorse Donald Trump for the presidency. Christie’s endorsement cannot be seen as anything other than a huge victory for the New York billionaire, as Christie is his first gubernatorial sign-off to his campaign (Paul LePage of Maine followed suit quickly) and the endorsement race is really the only aspect of the presidential campaign that Trump has been lagging behind Marco Rubio. The reaction from both the media and the establishment Republicans has been a combination of betrayal and shock. Indeed, this is a major turning point in the election, as Christie, the former US Attorney, RGA Chair and sitting governor of New Jersey is pretty much the definition of a mainstream member of the GOP getting behind Christie’s campaign. The question is, of course, what does this mean and was this the right decision for Trump and Christie?
As I stated above, this couldn’t have been a better situation for Trump. As the weeks have progressed, one of the biggest obstacles that has emerged to his candidacy is that his party’s leaders, the likes of Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, don’t want him to be the nominee. In fact, if you polled the Republicans in Congress on a secret ballot, you’d be hard-pressed to find ten members of the Republican conference who would stand for Trump. As a result, by getting Christie (and to a lesser extent, LePage) onto his team, particularly after a rather harsh campaign between the two, Trump now can claim that he is a candidate who can bring the party together. Additionally, after Thursday night where Marco Rubio outperformed Trump (though I actually paid attention to this debate and I feel like the media’s acting a little desperate in its attempt to re-route the Rubio candidacy in a last-ditch effort to stop Trump), this totally dominated the conversation. Trump got all of the media on Friday headed into the weekend thanks to Christie, and while Rubio certainly was out in the race, it wasn’t his name that was trending all day Friday on Twitter.
For Christie, the answers are also pretty obvious, even if they might appear cynical and self-serving (because, quite frankly, they are). The New Jersey governor is wildly unpopular in his home state, is term-limited anyway, and has little-to-no chance of extending his relevancy with a stint in the Senate. As a result, considering his lackluster campaign for the White House in 2016, his only option to continue on the national stage is in the presidential cabinet of a prospective White House contender. Looking at the field, and assuming that Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Ben Carson are all non-starters in terms of the Oval Office, he has either Marco Rubio, a man who is probably leaning toward a Kasich or a Nikki Haley and who hates Christie’s guts for derailing his momentum in New Hampshire, or Donald Trump, a man with a lot of support but few political powerbroker friends who could be seen as a theoretical running mate or attorney general. Christie saw this opening, realized that he’s going to look much better to Trump than Sarah Palin or Jack Welch come June, and ran with it. It could be faulty logic (this is a Hail Mary pass that Christie, if Trump fumbles and Rubio wins (still a possibility), will never recover from), but it’s a political risk with too much reward not to go for it, and Christie is a big enough name that no endorsement afterward (even someone like Mitt Romney or Ted Cruz) is going to matter in the same way.
The loser in this situation, therefore, is the GOP establishment and Marco Rubio. The reality is that one of the main arguments against Trump being inevitable was that the GOP establishment wasn’t going to stand for him as the nominee. With Christie, who is too engrained as a leader on the right to be questioned as such, now on-board I suspect other more wary, albeit less marquee-ready, names are going to feel that Trump is a possibility. People like Jeff Sessions or Mike Huckabee could back the billionaire, though both have to be kicking themselves for not getting out in front of Christie as they will now have less cache as a theoretical running mate for Trump. It’s been said a few times on this blog, but Trump is now in a very strong position to win the nomination, and part of Marco Rubio’s strategy is to win not just Tuesday and March 15th, but the media race between then and now. Having Trump start to attract once-reluctant politicians to his side while pundits question whether he’s inevitable is the sort of thing that has happened to Hillary Clinton and made her so powerful. The GOP establishment has a ticking clock right now, and Chris Christie just took 48 hours off of it.