New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to endorse his 2016 rival Donald Trump last month was by some measures a turning point in the Republican presidential primary, representing the beginning of more pronounced support for the front-runner from the GOP establishment.
But Christie’s actions also provoked backlash from former supporters who have argued that the former candidate diminished his brand by teaming up with Trump. His endorsement has been derided as “sad” and “opportunistic” by his fellow conservatives. A Washington Post editorial even went so far as to declare that his reputation was “ruined.” And the chorus of Christie critics has only grown louder amid controversy over Trump’s less-than-full-throated disavowal of his white supremacist supporters.
In a blistering editorial published Tuesday, The New Hampshire Union-Leader, which gave a boost to Christie’s flailing campaign when they endorsed him last December, declared they were wrong to back the governor. “Watching Christie kiss the Donald’s ring this weekend — and make excuses for the man Christie himself had said was unfit for the presidency — demonstrated how wrong we were. Rather than standing up to the bully, Christie bent his knee. In doing so, he rejected the very principles of his campaign that attracted our support,” wrote the paper’s publisher Joseph W. McQuaid. “Voters here apparently knew better than we. Most rejected Christie but divided their votes among several others, leaving Trump to claim victory. And now, despite specifically telling us that he would never endorse him, Christie is backing Trump.”
McQuaid has made no secret of his personal disdain for Trump. Last winter, he penned an op-ed savaging the real estate mogul while comparing him to the egomaniacal “Back to the Future” villain Biff Tannen. In his piece, McQuaid called Trump a “crude blowhard” and suggested that his candidacy was an “insult to the intelligence of Republican voters.” Previously, the paper had condemned Trump over his controversial comments about Sen. John McCain’s war record in Vietnam.
Never one to let a slight pass, Trump has called McQuaid a “lowlife” and mocked his newspaper for “failing.”
“This man is absolutely terrible. And he’s even told me the paper’s doing absolutely terribly,” Trump said during an interview with WMUR News 9 at the time the paper endorsed Christie. And curiously, considering his chummy relationship with Christie now, Trump seemed comfortable suggesting that McQuaid functioned under the governor’s influence.
“This is the way Chris is. I know Chris very well, known him a long time. And he’s the one that got McQuaid to do this. There’s no question in my mind,” Trump said before excoriating Christie’s record in New Jersey. “The state’s a disaster. Among the highest taxes — I think actually the highest taxes — in the United States,” Trump said. “It’s the worst in the United States. It’s No. 50 out of 50 — it’s last in terms of economic development, jobs, et cetera, et cetera. The state is a disaster.”
Meanwhile, Christie is now being held accountable for Trump’s actions on the stump. On Monday, he refused to answer questions from local reporters in New Jersey about Trump’s awkward handling of a question regarding former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s support for his candidacy. “No, I won’t permit you to. I told you that there’s only going to be on-topic questions today, so permission denied,” Christie told one reporter. He continue to stonewall what he called “off-topic” questions and has yet to address Trump’s latest racially-charged scandal publicly.
Christie’s Trump endorsement has also flummoxed some of his colleagues. “Chris is a dear friend, but none of us understand why he did this,” Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley told “This Week host George Stephanopoulos on ABC this past Sunday. Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who has said that should Trump become her party’s nominee, she would either vote for Clinton or a write-in candidate, told The Newark Star-Ledger on Friday: “I am ashamed that Christie would endorse anyone who has employed the kind of hatemongering and racism that Trump has.”
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts was a little more sanguine, telling The Boston Globe: “Chris Christie is very much his own man.”
“I’m not disappointed,” he added. “But I’m surprised.”
For his part, Christie has insisted that he did not make any deal with the GOP front-runner for a future role in his administration, and that “part of my job in helping Donald Trump as a candidate is for him to hear my points of view.”
“There’s no question,” Christie said in an interview Monday night on New Jersey 101.5 radio. “I am the highest level endorser that Donald Trump has had. I am the person with the most experience in government that is in his circle, and so as a result, that gives me some credibility to make recommendations and suggestions over time where appropriate and for him to consider.”
“Donald and I have a good personal relationship for the last 14 years,” he added.