Let’s face it: Chris Christie’s smartest play now is to endorse Trump

Ed already covered the news of Christie’s exit but let me add three points. Specifically, three things I don’t understand about the conventional wisdom now on Christie.

1. “Christie’s takedown of Rubio at the debate was a murder-suicide.” Lots of this going around today, including from some noteworthy observers:

How was Christie’s “25-second speech” attack on Rubio a “suicide”? He was one of three candidates last night who outperformed his polling. Of the last six surveys taken in New Hampshire before the vote, only one had him higher than six percent. It’s fair to say that Christie’s attack was an exercise in futility, since exposing Rubio as overly scripted logically wouldn’t (and didn’t) drive many undecideds his way, and it’s certainly fair to say that Rubio ended up effectively dead after the debate. But Christie had been polling in the mid-single digits for weeks before the debate; he was already on life support and thought, as a longshot attempt to regain some momentum, that if he blew up the golden boy maybe his retail skills would impress some undecideds. As it turned out, if he had gained a single extra point last night from Kasich, Bush, and Rubio, he’d be on his way to South Carolina today as a surprise fourth-place finisher. If you’re grasping for an analogy, think of him not as a suicide bomber at the debate but as a zombie who ambushed Marco and ended up eating his brains. He was already dead when the attack came, and as it turned out, Rubio is no Rick Grimes.

2. “Christie’s a D-bag for having destroyed poor Marco.” Lots of schadenfreude this morning on social media among Rubio fans over Christie having been forced out of the race after his big “victory” last Saturday night. That’s understandable on a gut level — of course you hate the man who laid the groundwork for your guy’s destruction — but it’s also unfair. All Christie did at the debate was sell Rubio the rope he used to hang himself. If Marco had simply stopped repeating the line about Obama knowing what he’s doing, which was his choice, not Christie’s, he’s probably the second-place finisher in New Hampshire last night and on his way to South Carolina for war with Trump and Cruz. If you want to blame someone for the robo-Rubio meltdown, blame fatigue:

One longtime Rubio supporter who backs Bush faulted Rubio’s campaign for the slip-up. He said they drove Rubio too hard and too long and he didn’t have enough sleep. In the days before New Hampshire primary, Rubio struggled to find his footing coming off as subdued and tired during some of his final campaign stops. Rubio also repeated himself, again, this time about family values in his last campaign rally in Nashua, N.H., before the primary.

“It was the pace. He couldn’t keep up,” the source said. “And then they doubled-down on it – tripled and quadrupled down on it afterward. That was surreal.”

But, the source added: “Jeb’s back, baby!”

If you believe the Times, Christie even warned Rubio before the debate to be on guard:

“I understand I am going to have a hard time tonight,” Mr. Rubio playfully told Mr. Christie.

“Yes, you are,” Mr. Christie replied, according to three people to whom he recounted the conversation. Todd Harris, a senior Rubio adviser, called the conversation “completely fabricated.”

A friend I trust told me that he was told by a Jeb staffer yesterday that Bush’s own internal polling showed Rubio on track to win — not just finish second, but actually win — New Hampshire until Saturday night. That’s hard to believe given how well Trump did, but a strong second isn’t hard to believe at all and it would have set Rubio up nicely for South Carolina. He blew it. It’s a human reaction to blame the man who engineered it rather than the candidate himself, especially given the messianic undertones of some Rubio fans’ admiration for Marco (a “once in a generation” talent!), but it’s Rubio’s fault, as even he acknowledged in his concession last night. And please don’t forget either that Christie’s attack wasn’t unprovoked; Team Marco had been lobbing grenades at him too for weeks before the debate. That’s also part of the “hate Christie” impulse here — that Rubio is Bambi, a somehow nobler, purer creature than other politicians in the field, and did nothing to warrant the Godzilla treatment from Christie.

3. “Christie’s probably going to endorse Bush or Kasich now.” A couple of Twitter pals suggested that to me this morning after news trickled out that Trump and Christie had had a long chat last night. Question: 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. Makes more sense than riding the Bush rocket all the way down to the ground, no?

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