Donald Trump and Chris Christie didn’t steal Marco Rubio’s lunch money on Friday, but they sure stomped all over his news cycle.
Barely 12 hours after the Florida senator had what was probably the best night of his campaign by relentlessly attacking frontrunner Trump in the 10th Republican presidential debate, Trump rolled out a very public reminder of the worst night of Rubio’s candidacy with the surprise announcement that he has won New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s endorsement.
Christie, who left the presidential race after failing to perform well in New Hampshire, was the man who made Rubio look like a wind-up doll by pointing out his almost comical repetition of the same talking points in an earlier debate – a performance so bad that Rubio publicly apologized to his supporters.
Taking the stage beside Trump in a surprise appearance in Fort Worth, Tex., Christie cited their years-long friendship and said: “The best person to beat Hillary Clinton on that stage last night is undoubtedly Donald Trump.”
The endorsement, per se, may not mean too much when it comes to primary votes. But it is a major blow to the perception Rubio has been cultivating that he is the Republican Party establishment’s candidate. Before he became entangled in the Bridgegate scandal 2014, Christie had been the consensus favorite in the so-called “establishment lane.”
And while a caustic debater who challenged other moderate candidates fiercely on the debate stage, there is no denying that Christie is closely tied-in to the Republican establishment. He is a former head of the Republican Governors Association, leading it to record-high fundraising even as he earned a reputation as a tireless campaigner for fellow Republicans.
It’s unclear whether the decision to announce Christie’s endorsement today was planned in advance or was a panicked reaction to headlines calling into question Trump’s invincibility following last night’s debate. Whichever it was, the effect was to steal Rubio’s thunder in a news cycle that would otherwise have been dominated by his debate performance.
The announcement of Christie’s endorsement came even as cable news networks were featuring footage of Rubio mocking Trump in a stump speech, going so far as to suggest that Trump had wet his pants (Yes, a leading presidential candidate not named Trump actually said that) during last night’s debate.
The announcement will almost certainly block much of the momentum that the Rubio campaign claimed it had generated from the debate. And with only four days remaining until the crucial Super Tuesday primaries, it makes it that much harder for Rubio or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to achieve some sort of breakthrough in time to dent Trump’s lead in the majority of the 11 states that will award delegates that night.