TIME

Chris Christie Endorses Donald Trump for President

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday announced he was endorsing one-time rival Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Joined not long after by an endorsement from Maine Gov. Paul LePage, it was the latest sign that Republicans were making their peace with the increasing likelihood that the nomination might be Trump’s to lose.

Speaking to reporters in Fort Worth, Texas, Christie and his fellow brash politician staged a piece of political stagecraft that left rival campaigns shaking their heads in disbelief. Christie was considered one of the most valuable endorsements available, and it was for months considered unimaginable that Christie would link arms with Trump.

But politics often favors the calculated and convenient. After Thursday night’s debate that saw Trump rumble with rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz without much change, it seemed that a pile-on against Trump would do little to alter this campaign’s course.

“The single most important thing for the Republican Party is to nominate the person who gives us the best chance to beat Hillary Clinton,” Christie said of the likely Democratic nominee. “I can guarantee you that the one person that Hillary and Bill Clinton do not want to see on that stage, come next September, is Donald Trump.”

That much is true. Trump has proved a formidable debater, and he has been building a more credible political machine in recent weeks. Christie’s ability to win as a Republican in deeply Democratic New Jersey would only encourage the GOP to imagine a campaign map where they were competing for electoral votes in places like New York and California.

Christie, returning to the campaign trail after ending his own campaign, also took the opportunity to tear into Rubio, who used Thursday night’s debate to unload on Trump over taxes, immigration and his wealth. “Desperate people do desperate things,” Christie said of Rubio, demonstrating his value as a political attacker. Christie said Rubio was suffering through “the last days of a losing campaign.”

It was as though Christie were auditioning, in real time, to be Trump’s VP pick.

Democrats dismissed Trump for months as a sideshow, only to realize they squandered a chance to accurately size up the rival. The former reality television star was considered a distraction from a formidable field, including Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—all vanquished as voters opted to support a former beauty pageant mogul.

Trump’s ability to rewrite the rules of American politics drew praise from Christie—even as he left out the fact that Trump’s style crowded Christie out of the race after New Hampshire.

Trump has now won three consecutive states and is well positioned in the polls ahead of voting on Super Tuesday, the biggest day of delegates in the entire calendar. Establishment-minded Republicans are trying to derail Trump, yet it is increasingly difficult to deny him the outright nomination.

That has left them studying the party’s arcane rulebook, looking for a strategy to keep Trump down. Marco Rubio, the Establishment’s current hope to deny Trump the nomination, has seen an increase in support among the GOP elite class. Many backers of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush flocked to Rubio. Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz is fighting for his political life in Texas, which has 155 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday. A loss on his home turf would be embarrassing.

Christie urged the remaining candidates to give up the task and rally behind Trump. “He is someone who is going to lead the Republican Party to victory in November,” Christie said.

That, above political purity or even a record, is what has the Republicans energized at the moment, and Christie’s endorsement may be a sign of things to come. “This Chris Christie endorsement of Trump is real signal to GOP establishment that they had better begin thinking about Trump as the future,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted.

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