Not even three weeks ago on February 7, Chris Christie, then a candidate for the Republican nomination, stood in the center of a middle school cafeteria in Hampton, New Hampshire and told a few hundred people that Donald Trump is a joke.
He said his campaign was nothing but “make believe,” just like The Apprentice, and that his policy proposals, to the extent that he has any, are stupid.
“Bravado, by itself, is not a plan,” he said, “I like him, he’s a good person, he’s just not the right person to be President of the United States and not the person that we’d want representing our country.”
And then he mocked that bravado in a long, involved monologue in which he impersonated Trump’s voice.
But on Friday afternoon, Christie—standing at Trump’s side onstage in Fort Worth, Texas—had a change of heart.
And a change of brain.
And a change of soul.
“There is no one who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs both at home and around the world than Donald Trump,” Christie said, “he is—looking at the five people on that stage last night—the clear standout and the person who will do exactly what needs to be done to make America a leader around the world again.”
Christie didn’t provide an explanation for his decision in his remarks, other than to say Trump is a “loyal” friend. The rationale is that this is an attempt to mitigate the damage of a Trump candidacy or, not altogether unrealistically, a Trump presidency. If Trump is going to be the de facto leader of the Republican party, the thinking goes, it’s best to get on his good side and attempt to influence his policies as much as possible.
New Jersey Republicans floated other theories, on Facebook—namely that Christie, the former United States Attorney from New Jersey, might be positioning himself to be President Trump’s Attorney General. Presumably in a Trump administration, the federal investigations into his office wouldn’t be disqualifying.
Or that Christie loathes Marco Rubio, who he pilloried in his last debate, so much that he would endorse Satan himself to ensure he never wins the nomination.
Both Christie and Trump noted, on Friday, that they have a history, and it’s true.
Trump memorably built casinos in Atlantic City in the 1990s (and indeed some still bear his name, much to his chagrin) while Christie was getting his start in local politics.
And somewhat awkwardly Christie, in his role as U.S. Attorney, locked up Charles Kushner—the father of Trump’s son-in-law—for two years for making illegal campaign contributions, evading taxes and tampering with a witness.
In the past, they seemed more like real friends than just acquaintances.
In 2014, I interviewed Trump for a story about the closing of the Taj Mahal. Atlantic City had crumbled since the casino opened in 1990, and Christie had, for the previous four years, tried and spectacularly failed to keep it from dying altogether. But Trump refused to criticize him on the record. All he would say, publicly, was, “the governor’s trying very hard. It’s a tough situation, but he’s trying very hard.”
Even as late as November, the two men were keeping the gloves on.
After Trump repeatedly and incorrectly insisted that he had witnessed Muslims cheering in the streets of Jersey City on 9/11, Christie declined to attack him. He tiptoed around Trump’s lie, saying meekly, “I don’t recall that.”
But as the primary dragged on and Trump grew more popular, Christie began to attack him.
When Trump declined to appear at the Fox News debate in Iowa in January, after bickering pettily with the network over its supposedly “unfair” coverage, Christie said, “the American people should wonder, you know, if you’re not willing to show up when everything isn’t going your way…”
On February 7th, the New Hampshire primary just a few days away, Christie’s knocks at Trump were growing in tandem with his desperation.
“The core of my criticism of Mr. Trump is this, and it was said last night at the debate: How? How? The core of my criticism is how?” he said.
“First he says he’s gonna build a wall across the entire border to the United States and Mexico. Let’s stop first at the moment of, Why? Why?” he said. The audience laughed, but he wasn’t done.
“It’s not gonna work by the way,” he said, “I’ve never seen a wall that a determined human being couldn’t get over, under or around. Right? Never.”
Christie assumed Trump’s persona, right down to the voice—“beautiful, marvelous wall. An incredible wall. The wall is gonna be unbelievable. The wall is gonna have a door, the door is gonna open and close and good people come in, the bad people go out. It’s gonna be an amazing wall. It’s gonna be a beautiful wall and the Mexicans are gonna pay for the wall because Trump says, they’ll pay for the wall.”
He went back to being Chris Christie: “How? How is he gonna make the Mexicans lay for the wall? How? They are a sovereign nation!”
Later in the speech, Christie impersonated him again. “When I become president, the entire country is gonna get so wealthy, so amazingly wealthy and rich that we’re not gonna have to worry about Social Security,” he said in Trump’s voice.
“That’s what he said!” he said, disbelief in his voice. “Now, I’m not opposed to that because I’m part of the entire country, and I’m not amazingly wealthy or rich right now and i don’t think you are either, so if we’re not, that’d be great for us,” but, he said, “How? We’re all gonna get so rich that we’re not gonna have to worry about Social Security—how do you answer that? I’m opposed to that? Like, what do you say, right? I mean I’ve known him for 13 years.”
He then added, “I like Donald, he’s a very good guy, he’s a very smart guy. He has not the first idea of how to run a government. Not the first idea.”
Telling It Like It Is was the slogan for Christie’s campaign. It was meant to neatly sum up his ethos. He spent his political career talking tough and talking straight in a way that most other politicians are too afraid to. In this respect, he was the Donald Trump of his time (his time being around 2012, when conservatives most wanted him to run for president).
In reality, Christie is not a truth teller. He’s not even a Republican.
He’s an opportunist.
“Donald Trump is someone who keeps his word and that means America will keep its word again,” Christie said Friday. “He’s providing strong leadership that’s not dependent upon the status quo.”
Christie joins the ranks of other Trump endorsers like white supremacist David Duke, failed reality television star Sarah Palin, Celebrity Apprentice contestant Gary Busey, conspiracy monger Alex Jones, friend of North Korea and ex-boyfriend of Madonna Dennis Rodman, Dog the Bounty Hunter’s wife Beth Chapman, and Real Housewife of New Jersey Teresa Giudice.