Gov. Chris Christie’s announcement Friday that he was endorsing Donald Trump startled the political world. But every political marriage involves a bit of calculation, and in this case, each man has much to gain from the alliance.
What Christie Gains
▪ Relevance: There is nothing more painful or humbling for a presidential candidate than returning to an old, humdrum job. The phone doesn’t ring. The lights are not so bright.
Now Christie is right back where he wants to be – in the headlines, shaking up a political story, newly enlisted to campaign across the country and soon-to-be overwhelmed with news media requests. Look for him to become a regular again on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and to forget, for now, about New Jersey’s credit rating downgrades.
▪ Revenge: It is difficult to overstate how angry Christie remains about the party’s embrace of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whom the governor regards as an unqualified lightweight.
In Christie’s mind, Rubio stole his donors, enchanted the Republican elite and destroyed his chances of becoming the nominee with a series of hard-edge attacks from Rubio’s campaign and the super PAC supporting him.
▪ A Future: If Trump does become president, he would be hugely indebted to the first major sitting elected official to endorse him.
At a news conference on Friday, Christie played coy, saying he wished to enter the private sector after his term as governor of New Jersey ends in 2018. But, as noted above, he cannot seem to resist the political limelight.
What Trump Gains
▪ Validation: Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona and former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, who have also endorsed Trump, have their followings. But they don’t have a lot of crossover appeal.
Christie is a serious surrogate: a two-term governor of a major, politically diverse state who understands the news media with the same savvy and shrewdness as Trump.
▪ Hit Man: Few characters in American public life relish the blood sport and brutal hand-to-hand combat of politics as much as Christie. He is an experienced and inexhaustible one-man attack machine.
On Friday afternoon, he offered a taste of what’s to come when he savaged Rubio as a “D.C. act” and a lawmaker “who barely showed up for work.” It will be like having two Trumps beating the Florida senator up at once.
▪ Topic Change: Just when it appeared that Rubio had finally thrown Trump off balance in a debate and a chorus of Republicans were demanding that the real-estate developer release his tax returns, Trump did what he does best: He saturated the news media with an entirely different story line.
It is an irresistible tale of an alliance between two larger-than-life, New York-area personalities. And, of course, the news media could not get enough of it Friday. What tax returns?