Allies Turn on Christie After Trump Endorsement

Matt Katz, who wrote a recent biography of Chris Christie, says the N.J. governor's endorsement of Trump could make things tougher for him in New Jersey.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, wave as they arrive at a rally at Millington Regional Airport in Millington, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, wave as they arrive at a rally at Millington Regional Airport in Millington, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016.

Chris Christie said he was not taking any questions from the media about Donald Trump. Still, a reporter raised his hand and asked permission for just one question other than the selected topic of Christie’s press conference today, which was about Christie’s nomination to fill a long-standing vacancy on the state Supreme Court.

“No off-topic questions!” Christie bellowed from the podium. “I won’t permit you to. I told you that there will only be on-topic questions allowed today. Permission denied.” Christie later said he wasn’t taking questions about Trump “because I don’t want to.”

And why would he want to? Ever since he endorsed Donald Trump on Friday, things haven’t been going so well for the New Jersey governor.

He is taking shots from all sides. Jennifer Rubin, a columnist for the Washington Post who was previously a huge Christie backer, wrote that he was “now ruined.” Supporters like Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and a surrogate for Christie on the campaign trail, denounced his decision: “The governor is mistaken if he believes he can now count on my support, and I call on Christie’s donors and supporters to reject the governor and Donald Trump outright.”

“There’s widespread disappointment and anger from people close to him to longtime allies to New Jersey Republicans who are worried about how this might affect down-ballot races to county GOP chairs who are now being pressured to follow their governor and endorse Trump,” said Matt Katz, who has covered Christie since 2011 and wrote a well-received biography of Christie, American Governor, this year. “It’s causing a lot of deep anxiety.”

Katz, who spoke with Philadelphia magazine before Christie’s press conference today, said on one hand the endorsement seemed to make sense: Trump and Christie have been friends for 14 years. Christie met Trump through Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, now a federal judge in Philadelphia. At their first meeting, according to Katz, the future governor met Trump at the Trump Tower in New York; Trump ordered for Christie. Trump sat front-row (with his wife, Melania, and Cory Booker) at Christie’s inaugural mass in 2010.

Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, would go to dinners with Trump and Melania. “Chris used to make fun of Trump on the stump … for talking the whole time during those meals,” Katz said. “At the last meal they had, Mary Pat said she was exhausted afterwards.” Despite their friendship, Christie was critical of Trump while campaigning. Katz said Christie blasted Trump’s idea of a wall between Mexico and the United States, criticized Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, and disagreed with him on virtually every major public policy issue.

This led ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to repeatedly question him on Sunday about past statements Christie made blasting Trump. The interview did not go well; asked about his previous statement saying Trump’s Muslim ban idea made him unfit to be president, Christie now refused to say he disagreed with Trump.

It’s odd for Trump, too. “I think the strangest part of their newfound bromance is that Trump has gone farther than any other Republican candidate — and every New Jersey Democrat — in saying Christie committed a crime,” Katz said. “Trump said Christie knew about the lane closures [at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee]. Which, if true, means he could have committed a federal crime.”

So what does Christie get out of this? Well, for one, Trump is the frontrunner and appears to be headed toward the Republican presidential nomination. If Trump wins the presidency, he’s the first high-profile endorsement. Some have suggested Christie is gunning for a vice presidential slot or chief of staff, but Katz has said it’s most likely Christie would want to be United States attorney general. Or, he could be laying the groundwork for a future run. “If Trump loses,” Katz said, “Christie could possibly get Trump 2016 supporters and parlay them into Christie 2020 supporters.”

It’s quite the long game for Christie, who has seen his favorability numbers plummet as he’s spent long stretches out of the state campaigning for the presidency (and, before that, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association). Katz says Christie may find it harder to build a legacy in his final two years in office thanks to the Trump endorsement.

“You would think he wants to accomplish some stuff before he leaves,” Katz, who now covers Christie for WNYC, said. “But there’s a little break in the rank among Republican legislators. And if he doesn’t have them on his side, he’s got a real rough row to hoe in the next 23 months.”

Then again, Trump polls well among N.J. Republicans. Maybe everyone will fall in line if Trump wins the nomination. That’s a big if, however.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.