The year was 1997, and 35-year-old Chris Christie found himself down and out of politics in particularly humiliating fashion: Having rankled Republican Party elders with his ambitious moves to rise in state politics, Christie lost the Republican primary and thus his seat on the Morris County, New Jersey, freeholder board, delivering a concession speech his peers reportedly ignored, speaking over him.
But a couple of years later, Christie hitched his wagon to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s presidential candidacy, fundraising hard enough and successfully enough that he was able to leverage his efforts into an appointment as U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey.
Christie used this perch as many ambitious politicians have: to pursue cases that would allow him to settle scores with Democrats and Republicans alike while creating the public perception that he was above politics and dedicated to rooting out corruption. He would do so in the most visible fashion possible by conducting numerous high-profile perp walks.
Christie’s tenure as state attorney would position him to successfully run for one of (if not the) most powerful governorships in the nation, that of New Jersey, after his defeat of Democrat Jon Corzine in the 2010 gubernatorial election. Christie, of course, has held this seat to this day.
Is this the same playbook Christie is attempting to follow in backing another presidential candidate, except this time with far higher ultimate aspirations: The presidency?
Endorsing Trump Is Christie’s Stepping Stone
Consider that Christie is a lame-duck governor who was passed over for vice president on Mitt Romney’s 2012 ticket and whose presidential primary run in 2016 ended quickly. Christie has burned down bridges he might have built with the establishment’s favored son now (and perhaps in eight years), Sen. Marco Rubio. If you were Christie and you wanted to keep your political career alive while maximizing your chances to remain a relevant contender for the presidency, what better move than to hitch yourself to the current presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump?
From Trump’s perspective, Christie will pound away at Rubio while Trump can focus more of his energies elsewhere. If Trump wins the nomination, Christie’s loyalty would be rewarded. Would Christie add anything to a Trump ticket? It is hard to imagine two brash Northeastern liberal Republicans forming a ticket that gets Trump any additional support. Moreover, there are red flags that led Romney to pass on Christie in the first place.
However, another seat in law enforcement, in fact the highest seat in the land, that of attorney general, could make perfect sense. “Bridgegate” and the sources of Romney’s apprehensions notwithstanding—and of course these matters could derail such plans—Christie’s credentials, political acumen, and temperament are perfectly suited for a Trump AG. Christie could replicate his New Jersey efforts at a national level, settling scores with maximum intended political effect as a means of positioning himself to be a potential successor to Trump.
Could Trump’s vice president make a play for the presidency? Of course. Could Rubio or another ascendant Republican still be standing in Christie’s way? Absolutely.
But in politics you have to strike while the iron is hot. This is the best hand Christie could play to remain not only relevant but active in a very public way in politics, further polish his resume, and maximize his chances of remaining a viable presidential candidate.
This endorsement is the bridge—pardon the pun—Christie had to attempt to build to keep his dreams of the presidency alive.