It was one of the most striking images of Super Tuesday — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie standing awkwardly behind GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump, remaining uncomfortably silent as the polarizing candidate gave a long victory speech.
Christie, who has taken heat from many of his Republican colleagues since endorsing Trump last week, becoming the businessman's most prominent supporter in the so-called GOP establishment. He introduced Trump on Tuesday night at the opulent Mar-a-Lago Club, then proceeded to deliver what The Washington Post described as a "wordless scream."
His apparently troubled, some would say "glazed" expression, led some social media users to create the hashtag #FreeChristie, which quickly began trending. With that, a new 2016 campaign meme was born:
"It was nearly impossible to pay attention to Trump’s speech, and not just because he repeated the exact same lines over and over again. Rather, the hostage situation to Trump’s left was far too captivating for us to look away from Chris Christie’s increasingly dead eyes for even a second," wrote Gawker's Ashley Feinberg. "It would seem that the Internet agreed."
Republican Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan also joked on Twitter that it looked "like a hostage situation."
Still, despite chuckles at Christie's expense, there appear to be real consequences looming in the aftermath of his decision to back a candidate who is now being widely credited with splintering the Republican party, perhaps irrevocably.
“For the good of the state, it’s time for Christie to do his long-neglected constituents a favor and resign as governor. If he refuses, citizens should initiate a recall effort,” an editorial from the Asbury Park Press read.
The local N.J. press, which has never enjoyed a cozy relationship with Christie, pointed out that the governor has spent more than 250 days in the last year outside the state campaigning for his own failed bid for the presidency. Now that he's on the trail touting Trump, that may be too much for some citizens of his deep blue state to bear.
Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Union-Leader, which sought to boost Christie's prospects last December with an endorsement ahead of their state's crucial GOP primary, has since retracted its support for the embattled governor.
Christie has stubbornly refused to respond to questions about Trump's controversial rhetoric on the stump, including his recent hedging when asked about the support he's received from white supremacists and former KKK grand wizard. “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,” the Union-Leader's publisher wrote in an editorial published earlier on Tuesday.
However, on Tuesday night, after joylessly reading off the names of the primary states Trump had won that evening, the governor declared: "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."
Later, Christie reiterated his support for Trump: "He has shown himself to be tough and strong. He's shown himself to be a fighter. He's shown himself to be a leader who speaks plainly to the American people. He has listened to the American people. And the American people have listened to him. And he is bringing the country together. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not a campaign, it's a movement."