New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered a surprise endorsement to Donald Trump on Friday, saying there is no one better prepared to lead the country or defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should she become the Democratic nominee.
“I am proud to be here to endorse Donald Trump for president of the United States,” the New Jersey Republican told reporters at a press conference in Texas. “The best person to beat Hillary Clinton on that stage last night is undoubtedly Donald Trump.”
Christie is the first of Trump’s former rivals for the Republican nomination to endorse the billionaire presidential candidate who has now won three out of four primary contests and is increasingly viewed as the most likely candidate to become the GOP nominee.
Christie, who has long been family friends with Trump, pledged he would help Trump campaign for the presidency through the general election in November. He introduced Trump at a rally Friday in Fort Worth, Texas and will also appear with Trump in Oklahoma City on Friday evening.
The endorsement came as a surprise to the assembled press and audible gasps could be heard as Christie walked into the room with Trump. Trump said during his Texas rally that he wanted to “keep it a secret for the people of Texas.”
A source close to Christie says that the governor’s decision came down to a few factors, in particular the fact that the governor thinks that Donald Trump will inevitably the party’s nominee. The source also said the disdain which Christie displayed toward Rubio in final debate before the New Hampshire primary was not just politics or debate theater — it is Christie’s actual attitude toward Rubio.
While Christie profusely lauded Trump during the news conference Friday, the New Jersey governor known for his similarly brash style had previously slammed Trump as an “entertainer-in-chief” during the Republican primary race and called Trump’s plan to temporarily ban Muslims from the United States “ridiculous.”
“That part is over,” Christie said of the fighting between the two men during the primary race, adding that his decision to endorse Trump came down to “who is the best person to stop Hillary Clinton from getting inside the White House ever again.”
He added: “There is no one who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs.”
Trump and Christie appeared on stage together the day after a rough debate performance where the real estate mogul faced off against Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Christie and Trump took turns unloading on the freshman Florida senator, who spent the morning insulting the billionaire businessman.
“Desperate people do desperate things,” Christie said, when asked about Rubio’s comments, adding that his remarks were the “flailing punches in the final days of the campaign.”
Christie added that Trump was the one candidate who would be “strong enough to take on the D.C. establishment,” which Christie said Rubio embodies.
Introducing Trump at the Fort Worth rally, Christie said Trump was the “one strong man on that stage” during the GOP debate Thursday night.
Trump chose to go after Rubio for wearing too much makeup during Thursday’s debate.
“I saw him backstage and he was putting it on with a trowel,” Trump said, before repeating his attack that the Florida senator chokes under pressure.
Christie, in the waning days of his own presidential campaign, had specifically targeted Rubio as not qualified for the office.
“Generally speaking I’m not big on endorsements,” Trump said, adding, “This was an endorsement that really meant a lot.”
When asked about the endorsement, Cruz dodged on weighing in.
“This decision is going to be made by the voters on Super Tuesday,” Cruz told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in Nashville.