Editor’s Note: This post was written by McKenzie Franck.
When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie decided to endorse frontrunner Donald Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, it came as a surprise to most people. While Christie is seen as fairly moderate on political issues, Trump has been seen as a radical outsider who does not have experience in politics and has extreme views about immigration, the 9/11 attacks, and border control. Christie, in the past, has even said negative things about Trump’s campaign, claiming he has a loose grip on policy details. While it may seem confusing as to why Christie endorsed Trump, there are many tactical reasons as to why Christie decided to support him over the other Republican candidates.
Backing a winner
One of the reasons Christie decided to endorse Trump in late February 2016 is because Trump was ahead in all of the polls (and delegate counts) to be the GOP nominee at the time. Christie came out with a speech explaining that he supports Trump because he is most probable to win and because he is the best option to take on the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Christie backing the candidate who was most likely to win the GOP nomination made him look more credible. This endorsement could open the door for him to run again because he remains relevant among GOP voters as a result.
If Christie had decided to back a different candidate, it would have been harder to remain politically relevant. This is because all the other GOP candidates were behind Trump in the polls. Christie would have had to worry about them not getting the votes they need, and then dropping out. Trump’s “yuge” lead in the polls reflects that he is saying what people want to hear. If he supported another candidate with more subtle policy stances, Christie would appear to have gone against the apparent wants of GOP voters. Trump supporters are also loyal to him and will stay with him to the end. By supporting Trump, Christie does not have to worry about all these different factors working against him because Trump is winning.
Christie’s Future Career
After the 2017 gubernatorial election, Christie will not have a job in politics. He is term limited, being prohibited from serving three successive terms as New Jersey governor. Even without term limits, he would be unlikely to win another re-election. After Christie’s bridge scandal in 2013, many of his previous supporters turned on him. One of Christie’s initial motivations in endorsing Trump seemed that he was gunning to be Trump’s running mate. This move earned Christie a spot on Trump’s vice president short list. By dropping out and supporting the front-runner, Christie had a greater chance of still being involved in politics. Christie, in the future, may also want to run again for president or another political position. By endorsing the front-runner, he positioned himself to remain relevant within the political world, hoping to serve either as Trump’s running mate or even in a Trump administration (likely as attorney general). Even though Christie received backlash from GOP elites and some of his previous voters for backing Trump, Christie’s best option for a future in the Republican Party was to endorse Trump.
The final reason why Christie decided to endorse Trump is because he could not endorse any other candidate. While Christie’s views are more aligned with the other GOP candidates compared to Trump, Christie would not be able to endorse them. He would not have been able to convincingly endorse Rubio because of the way he attacked him in the New Hampshire debate and on other occasions. Christie had many attacks on Cruz and attacked him at a few of the debates. If Christie had endorsed Rubio or Cruz, it would have reflected poorly on him. Christie could have backed either Kasich or Bush at the time, as they all have close ideologies, however, neither Kasich nor Bush were in the lead. If he endorsed either of them, his hopes for a future in politics would have been greatly diminished. Thus, Trump was the only candidate left for Christie to endorse that would ensure success for him and his party.
The Best Option
While Christie’s endorsement of Trump came as a shock and a huge risk to some people, this decision was ultimately strategic; Christie’s best option was to back Trump. Christie has benefited as Trump has become the presumptive nominee. A Trump victory has given Christie a better opportunity for another political position than if he had endorsed any other candidate. While Trump did not end up picking Christie as his running mate, Christie may still benefit from his risk. Christie has also remained relevant in this primary cycle because of his decision to support Trump, instead of fading from the limelight like other GOP candidates. If Trump wins the presidency, Christie may still have a bright political future ahead of him.