New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shocks the political world again. Four years ago he hugged President Barack Obama during a bitter campaign against Republican Mitt Romney. Friday he hugged Donald Trump in an embrace that rocked the political establishment to its core.
The reactions to Christie’s endorsement, a former presidential candidate who attempted to appeal to moderates in New Hampshire, provide another intriguing look into how Trump’s candidacy – and his success – is fracturing the GOP.
On the one hand, some are acknowledging what they think is the inevitable. Former House Speaker and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich tweeted that Christie’s move is “a real sign to the GOP establishment that they had better begin thinking about Trump as the future.”
Gingrich isn’t alone in grabbing Trump’s coattails. This week Trump received his first Congressional endorsements when two members backed him. And hours after Christie stood with Trump, Maine Gov. Paul LePage endorsed Trump on the Howie Carr’s radio program.
Conservative media firebrand, Ann Coulter, has been quick to defend anything Trump does or says. She has mostly been a harsh critic (an understatement) of Christie but he is apparently back in her good graces after his Trump endorsement.
And even though Christie had repeatedly said that Trump is not fit to be president, this is politics. Christie weighed his options. Endorsements are beneficial for both sides of the equation - the endorsed and the endorser.
But these few establishment endorsements are emblematic of something larger going on in the GOP. The Party is facing a defining moment and its future is unclear. While this is a fight for the nomination, it’s also a fight for the Republican Party.
“If he wins you will see the real splintering of the party,” Katie Packer Gage, the founder of Our Principles PAC, a super PAC dedicated to defeating Trump. Her group released a national television ad attacking Trump for making “big money” off of undocumented immigrants. It’s airing on CNN and FOX starting Friday.
The cracks within the party have already emerged. The conservative National Review is openly hostile to the real estate mogul. It ripped Christie apart after his endorsement, calling him opportunistic and unprincipled.
The editor of the New Hampshire Union-Leader, which endorsed Christie in that primary, said Christie told him he would never back Trump.
But it’s politics. People change their minds, right?!
For the Republican Party, it’s at a crossroad. Many feel Trump is hijacking the party.
They are concerned about the few policies Trump has talked about. He’s opposed to many of the free trade principles the party has traditionally held dear, he’s said he supports a government mandate for health care, and his tax plan would add trillions to the deficit according to many estimates.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R- South Carolina, who dropped his presidential bid in December, is one of the party’s most outspoken opponents of Trump and the impacts he’s having on the GOP.
“I am like on the team that bought a ticket on the Titanic after we saw the movie. This is what happens if you nominate Trump,” he told reporters Thursday.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been criticizing Trump. Most recently he’s calling on him to release his tax returns.
In addition, people just don’t like him. He’s made politics personal. He insults and mocks idiosyncrasies, character and physicality. He bullies people online and from his bully pulpit. He exacerbates people’s fears about terrorism and immigrants by depicting entire segments of the population as dangerous criminals. He’s alienating people the Republican Party was trying to build ties.
“I find him to be a despicable human being,” said Packer Gage.
This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.