CLEVELAND—It was surely different from 2012.
Back then, Chris Christie was a potential candidate introducing himself on the national stage as his party nominated Mitt Romney.
The Republican convention was the first time many conservatives and Americans around the country learned the facts of what would become the New Jersey governor’s stump speech: that he is the son of an Irish father and a Sicilian mother, that his mother ruled with an iron fist and his dad was, “in the automobile of life,” merely “a passenger.” He was a successful Republican in a blue state, and he got things done. He told it like it was. He was, perhaps, the something different they were looking for.
Memorably, that speech was a giant flop, one that Christie would have to redeem himself from. But back then, there was reason for people to want that redemption. Back then, he had promise. Back then, he had a future.
Now he just has Trump.
Christie took to the stage at the Republican convention on Tuesday night a political dead man.
He is three years removed from Bridgegate, the scandal that shattered his reputation. He is five months removed from the end of his own presidential campaign, the one he’d waited his whole life to run. He is also five months removed from his decision to endorse Trump, despite having spent much of that campaign arguing that he is unfit to be president, often by doing an above average Trump impersonation.
Christie is a joke again now, worse than he was after the famous traffic jam. He plays second fiddle to a former reality TV star—this from the guy who rose to national prominence for his verbal assaults on the cast of Jersey Shore. He doesn’t just appear to be the butt boy for a neofascist, he reportedly is one. In June, The New Yorker reported that the governor was tasked with fetching the nominee his McDonald’s orders.
Dressed in a pinstripe suit and red polka dot tie, he delivered a polemic against Hillary Clinton, running through what he said is her résumé of screw-ups—Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Cuba, China, Iran, her emails—and asking, again and again, if she is “guilty or not guilty.”
He is a lawyer by trade and a one-time prosecutor, having served as the U.S. attorney in New Jersey.
But the best Christie can hope for now is to play some variation of a TV judge, as he did Tuesday night. His law-and-order days are behind him, except on stages like this one, where he misrepresents the law he claims to revere in an attempt to elect a man he claimed, not so long ago, was a joke.
Still, he plays the hardass law-and-order guy well, better than Trump, even, since Christie is more focused.
When he asked, “Guilty or not guilty?” the crowd sang in response, “Guilty!”
Often, he was interrupted by chants of “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!”
Christie criticized Clinton, perplexingly, for her supposed friendliness toward Russia and claimed she was too nice to dictators, despite Trump’s history of saying flattering things about Vladimir Putin, doing business in Saudi Arabia, and singing the praises of the late Saddam Hussein.
He said a Clinton presidency would just be “all the failures of the Obama years but with less charm and more lies.”
“We have an alternative,” Christie said. “We have a man who is unafraid. We have a man who wants to lead us…It is time to come together and make sure that Donald Trump is the next president of the United States!”
He took uneven, unbalanced steps as he walked offstage, waving to his right and smiling.