When Chris Christie took the stage at the Republican convention in Tampa in 2012, he was at the apex of his political career and on a promising path toward his 2016 presidential bid. “We have never been victims of destiny,” Christie said on his primetime speech in August 2012, remarks that served as a primer for his presidential ambitions. “We have always been masters of our own.”
But in the four years since, Christie has mostly been a victim of destiny. He has been brought low by a plot by his aids to cause a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge as political retribution, and by a failed presidential bid that won him just a fraction of the vote in the New Hampshire primary. Christie has now pinned his hopes to a combustible businessman who last week denied him the vice presidential nomination.
So when Christie again delivered a primetime speech on Tuesday to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, he focused instead on his adopted, secondary role: Donald Trump’s most aggressive attack dog.
“We know exactly what four years of Hillary Clinton will bring: all the failures of the Obama years, but with less charm and more lies,” Christie told the convention hall on Tuesday. “It is our obligation to stop Hillary Clinton now and never let her within ten miles of the White House again.”
“We cannot reward incompetence and deceit,” Christie continued. “It is time to get together and make sure Donald Trump is the next president of the United States.”
The governor of New Jersey is in an ambivalent position: He has the ear of the Republican nominee and is a powerful force in his campaign. He is a top choice for a cabinet post in the Trump administration and has a national profile. And yet, he has been publicly humiliated by Trump, who audibly told him in a rally to “get on the plane and go home” and mocked him for eating too many Oreos. His reputation has sunk in New Jersey, where he has an all-time low approval rating of 26%.
His future is now tied to the man who defeated him in the New Hampshire primary and who faces difficult odds in a general election against Hillary Clinton. Christie has taken a supporting role as Trump’s sidekick, and his speech at the convention hall on Tuesday seemed aimed directly at what has become his next prized goal: attorney general in a Trump administration.
“Tonight, as a former federal prosecutor, I welcome the opportunity to hold her accountable for her performance and her character,” Christie said. “We must present those facts to you, a jury of her peers, both in this hall and in living rooms around our nation.”
Christie recounted the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State. He listed what he called foreign policy failures, pointing to the detente with Cuba and faltered relations with Russia. He said Clinton lied to the American people and accused her of grossly underestimating Basher Assad. Christie accused her of endangering classified information and pointed to the verdict of FBI director James Comey, who called Clinton’s use of email “careless.”
And Christie repeatedly stirred the crowd of Republican delegates into a chant: “Lock her up! Lock her up!” When he asked the crowd over and over, whether Clinton was “Guilty or not guilty,” the crowd shouted back, “Guilty!”
Christie’s speech was a markedly different speech from the one Christie delivered to the Republican convention in August 2012, when he barely mentioned then-presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney and paved the way to a future presidential bid.
That year Christie called for a “second American century” that would be “as great” as “the last one.” He told personal stories about his father’s work in the Breyers Ice Cream plant and his Sicilian mother’s influence, and said the United States needed to “stand up once again for American greatness.”
Among the members of the New Jersey Republican delegation to the convention, Christie’s stock remained high on Tuesday night. Delegates gave him credit for his handling of New Jersey’s pension reform and his support of Trump. They praised him for giving New Jersey a national profile with the Republican Party; Christie was the chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
“He’s speaking here and he was in line for the vice presidential nomination, one of the final three,” said Richard Mola, another New Jersey delegate who is also the mayor Elmwood in Bergen County. “He’s a very strong member of the Republican Party.”
Christie’s own supporters from his delegation tacitly recognized their governor’s new role.
“His main chore now is to get Donald Trump elected president of the United States. That’s his job right now,” said Richard Miller, a third delegate from New Jersey. “And that’s what we want our governor to do.”