What a bombshell. Trump, the loose cannon who’s supposedly unfit for office, is the preferred choice over Rubio and Cruz of a sitting governor who was himself a rival for the nomination this year. Who could have possibly seen this coming?
Oh, right. I did, two weeks ago. You know why? Because it was really obvious it was going to happen. Quote:
Why would Christie waste his endorsement on a sure loser like Kasich and an almost-certain loser like Jeb? Right, right — they’re all governors and, according to Christie, we need an executive with experience to lead the country rather than a neophyte like Rubio or, presumably, a real-estate developer like Trump. That’s fine in the abstract, but as a matter of pure self-interest what would Christie gain from backing two candidates who not only can’t win but have plenty of other high-profile endorsements they can tout? Christie’s just a face in the crowd of their respective supporters among the GOP political class. For Trump, though, Christie’s endorsement would be a symbolically valuable vote of confidence in his qualifications to be president from someone who’s governed a state. That’s the one thing Trump needs to impress undecided skeptics that he can’t quite manufacture on his own — legitimacy, the idea that it’s not nuts to prefer him to a senator or governor. Christie would instantly be the biggest endorsement Trump has landed and would, if Trump is smart, get plenty of face time on cable as a surrogate on Trump’s behalf. And whatever else you may think of him, Christie can be a very effective surrogate. Imagine him attacking Cruz and Rubio on Trump’s behalf over the next six weeks on the trail in South Carolina and Nevada. Instead of slinking back into obscurity in New Jersey, he’d be handed an even bigger media megaphone than he enjoys now. And since he’s term-limited in New Jersey and probably has no real chance of winning another statewide election for Senate, he has little to lose by annoying the GOP donor class by supporting Trump. (If anything, Christie might earn their gratitude if Trump ends up in a two-man race with the hated Cruz.) If everything breaks well for him, he’d have an inside track to be Trump’s Attorney General and maybe even an outside shot at being VP.
How’d that work out? After two more big wins in South Carolina and Nevada, Trump is even more of a no-brainer for Christie now than he was when I wrote that. Christie’s only obvious path to another major office in politics once his term as New Jersey governor ends is to latch on to the GOP nominee and hope that he wins in November, and Trump’s far more likely to be the nominee now than Rubio or Cruz (or, lord knows, Kasich) is. And don’t think Team Christie isn’t thinking about it:
Now some in New Jersey are already speculating that Christie could endorse Trump in order to curry favor with the GOP frontrunner in the hope of being named attorney general.
Christie has known Trump for 13 years. “We’ve always gotten along. Been friends for 13 years. I went to his wedding, the third one,” Christie told me over the summer.
A close Christie confidant, asked via text message Wednesday about the possibility of the governor endorsing Trump, did not rule it out.
“You never know,” he wrote back.
That’s Jon Ward, writing two days ago. I’ll add something to my take from earlier this month: Trump is a much more natural choice for Christie than Rubio or Cruz is, not just in terms of their shared geography or in what Trump can do for Christie but temperamentally and philosophically. Christie’s never been a stalwart conservative. He has some conservative tendencies, like his later-in-life conversion to opposing abortion (“Planned Parenthood donor endorses Planned Parenthood Supporter” quipped one wiseguy on Twitter about today’s endorsement), but at base he’s a vindictive centrist whose political identity is defined more by authoritarianism than by left/right politics. He’s most forceful when he’s speaking out in defense of government power, whether it’s giving the NSA carte blanche or making sure Coloradans understand that he’s coming after their weed if ever he’s in a position to do so, whatever their state legislature might say about it. Centrist authoritarianism is Trump to a T. They’re a natural match. The only lingering question about Christie is how many of his flirtations with conservative policies were products of genuine interest and how many were pure opportunism. Did Christie really believe that we need to get entitlement spending under control when he made that a showpiece of his early campaign? If so, why is he backing the one candidate of the remaining three contenders who’s vowed not to touch entitlement spending?
Anyway, I like the idea of Chris Christie and his old enemy Sarah Palin being on the same team. Never tell me that nothing good came from Trump running this year; it’s been invaluable in getting formerly respected Republicans to show their true colors. Now begins the phase where anti-Trumpers start sifting through Christie’s criticisms of Trump on the trail over the past few months, like when he said of Trump being president, “I don’t think his temperament is suited for that and I don’t think his experience is.” Or when he said of Trump’s plan to temporarily bar Muslims from the U.S., “This is kind of thing people say when they have no experience & no idea what they’re talking about.” Or when he openly mocked Trump’s plan to build a thousand-foot-high wall on the border or whatever the latest dopey exaggeration is. Even so, this endorsement hurts righties for two reasons. One: I can only assume Christie’s about to hit the trail for Trump and serve as attack-dog-in-chief against Rubio for the next three weeks, especially in Florida where there are lots of former New Yorkers. The endorsement itself means little except as a hiccup in today’s “Rubio crushed Trump at the debate” news cycle. Having Christie out there ripping on Rubio will hurt, though, since he obviously relishes that role and it’s the only thing he did successfully during his own pitiful campaign for president this year. Two: Christie’s endorsement is designed to shake loose some other establishment Republicans who are inclined to endorse Trump but have held back so far. Giuliani presumably will be jumping in soon. Huckabee could happen this weekend. None of these signals mean much in themselves but collectively they suggest to undecideds that the establishment views Trump as sufficiently fit for office that they’re willing to sign on with him.
Speaking of which, here’s an ominous tweet from the godfather of the 1994 Republican revolution:
This Chris Christie endorsement of Trump is real signal to GOP establishment that they had better begin thinking about Trump as the future
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) February 26, 2016
Is Newt, who really is a bona fide conservative, coming around to Trump as well? Is he going to acquiesce in the GOP’s new identity as Trumpism papered over with conservative-sounding bromides? Like I say, let’s see those true colors.