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Trump strikes back against rivals with huge Christie endorsement

·National Correspondent
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FORT WORTH, Texas — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie formally backed Donald Trump’s bid for the GOP presidential nomination, giving his former rival a potentially significant boost in his bid to win over establishment Republicans ahead of next week’s crucial Super Tuesday primaries.

Joining the real estate mogul at a news conference, Christie praised Trump as a loyal friend and experienced businessman who is the GOP’s best chance of beating Democrat Hillary Clinton in November.

“There is no one better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership it needs,” Christie said, praising Trump as a “clear standout” and “strong, tough leader who will restore America’s greatness.”

The endorsement came after a fiery GOP debate Thursday in which Trump came under withering attack from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, seeking to cast himself as the clear alternative to the GOP frontrunner. On Friday, Rubio continued attacking Trump, calling him a “con artist” who is “wholly unprepared” for the presidency.

But speaking to a packed room of reporters at a local convention center, Trump and Christie piled on Rubio — Trump mocking him for what he described as his heavy makeup and his propensity to sweat and Christie calling him “desperate.” For Christie, who dropped out of the race after a disappointing sixth-place finish in New Hampshire, the pile-on at times seemed personal, as he could barely conceal his disdain for Rubio both here and during his failed presidential campaign.

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At a press conference in Fort Worth, Christie announced his endorsement of Trump’s presidential bid, Feb. 26, 2016. (Photo: Mike Stone/Reuters)

In Iowa and New Hampshire, Christie slammed Rubio again and again for his inexperience. In a moment that nearly tanked the Florida senator’s campaign, Christie went after Rubio in the last debate before the New Hampshire vote, describing him as a robot reliant on talking points.

As Trump recounted the moment in Friday’s press conference, Christie stood over his shoulder, beaming.

“I thought he was going to die!” Trump recalled, as Christie sought to suppress a giggle. “He was sweating so badly. I have never seen anything like it!”

He then trashed Rubio as a “nervous Nellie” with the “wrong temperament” to be in the White House. “Once a choker, always a choker,” Trump said, as Christie nodded in agreement.

In offering his endorsement, Christie praised Trump again and again as a leader and a “loyal friend” — a relationship that was clear even while they were rivals, when he often avoided directly attacking the former reality star. Christie’s lack of appetite for using his considerable attack dog skills to go after Trump when he was still a presidential candidate confused many in the GOP. Why didn’t he use his razor-sharp wit and New Jersey-bred pugnacity to take Trump down in a debate?

After quitting the race earlier this month, Christie retreated back to New Jersey, where, he told reporters, he and his wife, Mary Pat, considered their options. Did they want to intervene in the primary? Or did they want to stay on the sidelines? While Christie waved off questions on whether any of his other rivals had asked for his support, Jeb Bush and John Kasich reportedly came calling. But two days ago, on the same day Christie held a secret meeting with Trump to suss out a potential endorsement, a Christie adviser hinted that his boss might consider backing Trump — something that most other Republicans could not conceive of.

Over the summer, Christie told Yahoo News about his longstanding relationship with Trump. “We’ve always gotten along. Been friends for 13 years. I went to his wedding, the third one. We’re friends,” Christie said. “But you know, I just don’t think [president] is the right job for him.”

In another interview the day before he dropped out of the race, Christie told Yahoo News that he would take on Trump “at a time and place of my choosing.” Asked what he would say if Trump ever called him a derogatory name, Christie said, “I would say, ‘Donald, knock it off. You’re not messing with a kid.”

“He sees Rubio as a kid,” Christie added. “And he doesn’t see me as a kid. We’ve known each other too long.”

On Friday, Trump lavished praise on Christie, perhaps his most significant endorsement in the race so far. “He’s been my friend for many years. He’s been a spectacular governor,” the GOP frontrunner declared.

Christie, who had been considered the blunt, loose cannon of the 2016 campaign before Trump jumped into the race, no doubt boosts the real estate mogul’s appeal to working-class voters sick of the Washington status quo.

But perhaps most important, Christie could give Trump some much-needed credibility among establishment Republicans who have been wary of his candidacy. A former head of the Republican Governors Association, Christie could potentially swing members of the party who previously would never have considered backing Trump, a political novice whose insurgent candidacy has overtaken the Republican presidential race.

Again and again, Christie emphasized Trump’s ability to beat Clinton, calling the real estate mogul her biggest nightmare in November.

“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,” Christie said. “They know how to run the standard playbook against junior senators and run them around the block. They do not know the playbook against Donald Trump because he is rewriting the playbook. He is rewriting the playbook of American politics.”

Jon Ward contributed reporting to this story.

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