Christie Adapts to New Role in Trump Campaign
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie finds himself leading a double life at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
There's the usual role for a governor leading his state's delegation to the nomination conclave. Yet for Christie, the week also marks his inauguration as head of Donald Trump's would-be transition team, with added service as a surrogate for the Republican candidate.
Christie, less than a week after being passed over by Trump as his vice presidential pick, was on television news shows Tuesday morning to push back against reports that Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama in her speech the night before. He's set to address tens of millions later today with a prime time convention address.
"It's like this is multi-dimensional for him," said New Jersey State Senator Kevin O'Toole, a Republican who is among Christie's closest allies in Trenton. "He's being shuttled from one delegation to another, he's been on every talk show imaginable and he's holding transition meetings -- all the while giving advice and counsel to the Trump Campaign."
In 2012, Christie gave the keynote address at the convention where Mitt Romney was officially nominated. This year he dropped his own presidential bid after a sixth-place finish in New Hampshire and then became the first prominent Republican to back Trump,
In defending Melania Trump, the 53-year-old Republican governor said "93 percent of the speech is completely different" when asked to compare her speech to the one Michelle Obama gave to the Democratic convention speech eight years ago. “A lot of what I heard last night sitting on the floor sounded very much like her and the way she speaks about Donald all the time,” Christie said on “Today.”
O'Toole said the popular narrative of Christie as being scorned by Trump and arriving in Cleveland is inaccurate and unfair.
Patrick Murray, a pollster from Monmouth University who's tracked both Christie and the presidential race, said the New Jersey governor is giving the impression he's integral to Trump's campaign.
"He's one of the high profile surrogates for Trump and that in and of itself says something,'' Murray said. ``He's at the table, at the least, and he's been at the table for the past few months.''
But Murray, who'd been attacked by Christie earlier in the campaign after his New Hampshire polling showed the governor trailing in a Republican field that was wide-open at the time, said Christie's role within the closed-door meetings remains unclear.
Since arriving in Cleveland, Christie has addressed a welcome reception for his delegation poolside at the Doubletree Hotel they've occupied in suburban Beachwood , Ohio, and talked to the Michigan delegation, where he said it's time for the party to rally around Trump. He also said Trump was an early donor to two foundations run by his wife Mary Pat Christie, though his office in New Jersey later claimed he had misspoken when mentioning Trump donations.
"I've got broad shoulders so I don't care," Christie said Tuesday during an interview with CNN's Jamie Gangel, when asked about the vice presidential process and his runner-up status. "It's not like my lifelong dream was to be vice president."
Tuesday may end up being the biggest day of the week for him.
It was a morning that saw him make appearances on NBC News's "Today Show" and Fox News. He's set to conclude it later with a prime time address from the convention stage in a night focused on economic issues and job creation that will feature addresses by Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
In between, Christie will attend closed meetings of the Republican National Committee's finance panel and the America Israel Public Affairs Committee.
"Only one person gets the vice presidency. So I was honored to be considered -- and I'm chairman of the transition," Christie told reporters late Sunday after the reception. "So my standing at the convention is pretty good -- there are probably thousands of other people who would like to have my standing, so I'm just fine."
New Jersey Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, a Republican from Westfield who leads his party in the state's lower chamber, said his state's prominent placement on the convention floor is proof that Christie hasn't been marginalized at the gathering.
"New Jersey has the front row -- that's not an accident at these conventions," Bramnick said in an interview. "And he's still in charge of the transition team. That might be more powerful than vice president. Every job in Washington goes through there."