Chris Christie may have made a singular political miscalculation. His enthusiastic endorsement of former rival Donald Trump has led New Jersey newspapers to call for his resignation and led former boosters, donors and even his campaign’s national finance director to react with confusion, even downright dismay. But when he took the stage at Trump’s home, Mara Lago, to introduce the Republican front-runner, the video went viral at warp speed.
“Tonight is the beginning of Donald Trump bringing the Republican Party together for a big victory this November. Tonight is the beginning of Donald Trump bringing the people of our nation together to help America win again. And tonight, in all those states who supported Mr. Trump today, all the ones who voted across this country, our message is to begin to get ready for the fight that is coming this fall. The fight this fall is to make sure that a united Republican Party, a united American people make sure that Hillary Rodham Clinton never gets back in the White House. Since June 16 when Mr. Trump declared his candidacy, he has shown himself to be tough and strong and bold. He’s shown himself to be a fighter, a leader who speaks plainly to the American people. He has listened to the American people, the American people are listening to him and he is bringing the country together. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not a campaign. It’s a movement,” Christie said. “America wants to come together. America wants to be strong and successful again, but they know that to do that, they need to have a strong, bold, tough, decisive leader back in the Oval Office. And they have that man after tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you the next president of the United States, Donald Trump.”
NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron, Correspondent David Cruz, Democratic strategist Bill Pascrell III and Republican strategist Dale Florio joined Anchor Mary Alice Williams to discuss the latest in the 2016 presidential race.
Williams: Thank you for being with us, all of you gentlemen. I’m going to start with you, Mr. Pascrell. The universal question — what was he thinking.
Pascrell: Listen, when we got off the Chamber Train on Friday and our phones were blowing up that Christie was endorsing Trump, I thought it was a little odd but we seem to have gotten through the weekend in relatively good form. This is not a dumb governor. He’s one of the most masterful politicians in modern New Jersey political history. But I just don’t understand the wisdom of last night. We were sitting there watching TV and he almost looked like a hostage behind Trump, like he didn’t want to be there, nodding his head. It was a surreal experience and I don’t really understand the calculus.
Williams: What do you think, Mr. Florio?
Florio: The question was never if, it was a question of when. I think those of us who follow the governor, it was a little earlier than we thought, but when you think about it, this governor’s always been several steps ahead in his political career. I think Trump is going to win. And I think the governor sees that. He said as much. So it doesn’t surprise me that he wants to be the first mover in this and he’ll get whatever accolades the day after the election if and when Trump wins.
Williams: Michael, what do you think that the tweets are going to be? What you didn’t see was Gov. Christie sort of standing behind Mr. Trump and staring into space. The Twitter-sphere referred to him as a hostage. In fact, there was a hashtag, #FreeChrisChristie. How is that going to affect him?
Aron: Well, I think that was much more notable than that very standard introduction. The Twitter-sphere lit up over Christie and the second fiddle position. We’re not accustomed to seeing him like that. He looked like Kim Guadagno back there — silent and deferring to the boss. Somebody made a video out of that today, posted it on Vine. It got five and a half million hits by 2 o’clock today.
Cruz: When you think of the arc of this man’s political career, the hard charging U.S. attorney, the governor who was the master of after the disaster and that guy, and the guy who was wowing people at these New Hampshire town halls and then to see him yesterday just standing there, I just, I kind of felt sorry for him. He seemed to me very, very diminished and I don’t know how he comes back to New Jersey and governs again. But that may be in his mind, he may have made that calculation already and said New Jersey’s in the rearview mirror. I’m a national figure now.
Williams: Mr. Florio, can he govern again?
Florio: Of course. And he’s going to finish his term and he’s going to get some things accomplished if he can get it done with the Democratic Legislature. But as pundits, I think we make too much into this. I think he’s shown political versatility by being able to get behind a winner. And I think he, along with all other Republicans, should take to heart he believes that Trump can beat Hillary Clinton and that’s why this governor is doing what he’s doing.
Pascrell: Mary Alice, I worked in the Florio administration in the front office when the governor sunk to 29 percent in the polls. Michael and Dale were around. David, you were too young. But 27 percent in the polls. You need that public support to get things done. The Legislature, certainly the Democrats, aren’t where they were four, six years ago supporting some of his initiatives. I don’t know how he is going to be able to get things done when he’s going to be … campaigning for Trump. And some people in his own party have questioned the wisdom of that, whether he can govern under those circumstances.
Aron: Some Republicans are starting to peel away from him and the Gannett newspapers ran an incredibly harsh editorial yesterday suggesting he should resign. The Star-Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper, tomorrow morning will carry an editorial calling on him to resign, not so much over Donald Trump as his neglect of the state.
Williams: And that’s the key thing. I presume that the reason that he endorsed Donald Trump was that he had coattails long enough to at least pull New Jersey Republicans into Donald Trump’s camp going into the campaign. Can he do that?
Florio: Friday evening, 6 o’clock, a group of us did a phone call with the governor and he wanted to explain to some of his fundraisers why he did that. He didn’t ask anybody to support Donald Trump, he didn’t ask anybody to write a check for Donald Trump. He was merely explaining why he was supporting Donald Trump at this time. So for Michael to say some have peeled away, sure there are going to be people that peel away. But he’s going to take a leadership position on Donald Trump and we’ll see what happens.
Cruz: I also think that he’s definitely made the choice now. I mean, he has left New Jersey in the rearview mirror in terms of what occupies his days because he can’t be Donald Trump’s number one surrogate/maybe vice president and still get in the tall grass in New Jersey on Atlantic City and other issues.
Pascrell: You certainly see the wisdom of there weren’t many establishment governors, senators, Congress people who have endorsed Donald Trump, so I get the wisdom of Christie wanted to be out there first. I do not think he really did the calculus on this because I think it’s going to be very hard for Christie to deliver New Jersey for him and I think that this kind of blowing up of this issue and Christie’s poll numbers back home are going to continue to be a real burden to the governor and his ability to help Donald Trump.