Their friendship began after an introduction through Donald Trump’s sister. It ended nearly 20 years later, when Trump refused to concede the 2020 election to Joe Biden.
In between, Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, and Trump had a relationship that could be genuinely warm, with chats about politics and current events, and at other times transactional.
Christie gave Trump a boost by endorsing his 2016 candidacy after ending his own bid for the Republican nomination, and then coached him for debates and led his initial presidential transition team. In return, Trump passed him over for the roles of vice president and attorney general.
Trump eventually turned back to Christie for other advice during his term. But by the midway point of the presidency, Christie seemed content to be on the outside.
Their last exchange was in August 2021, according to a person briefed on the matter, when the former president had an aide send Christie a testy message.
Now, they have entered a new chapter: open hostility. Christie announced his second presidential campaign on Tuesday in New Hampshire, aiming to stop Trump from a second term in the White House.
“I think he’s a coward and I think he’s a puppet of Putin,” Christie, speaking recently to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, said of the man he once supported.
Here’s a look back at how their relationship grew, thrived and then wilted.
Casual acquaintances, then presidential rivals
Christie was a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, where Trump still had casinos, when the two men first dined together.
That May 2002 introduction over dinner came through an intermediary, Maryanne Trump Barry, Trump’s older sister, who was a federal judge in the state at the time and described Trump to Christie as “my little brother.” In Christie’s 2019 memoir, “Let Me Finish,” he wrote about his first impressions of Trump, who in two years would begin his run as the star of the reality TV show “The Apprentice.”
“Donald was opinionated,” Christie wrote. “He was bombastic. He was entertaining. He talked about his business with infectious enthusiasm and considerable detail. I came away with the impression that public Donald and the private Donald were pretty much one and the same.”
It was soon clear that Christie could end up as a candidate for governor someday. He won the office in his first attempt, in 2009, two years before Trump considered running for the White House against President Barack Obama.
Both men knew each other in the way that prominent people in the New York media market tend to: casually, with paths that periodically crossed.
In 2015, both Christie and Trump ended up declaring presidential candidacies.
Christie, by then hobbled by the “Bridgegate” political retribution scandal, had nonetheless fashioned a national political brand as a straight-talking candidate.
By contrast, some viewed Trump as a sideshow who would eventually fade, even as he was leading in the polls. At the time, Trump told Christie privately that he didn’t expect his campaign to last beyond October 2015.
Their relationship began to be tested. Two months after Trump’s entrance into the race, Christie told Fox News that the New York businessman didn’t have the “temperament” or experience to be president. Trump taunted Christie for being absent from New Jersey, where he was still governor.
Ultimately, Trump overshadowed his newfound rival — and all other rivals — with an endless stream of inflammatory pronouncements, including a proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country.
Trump saved his most hostile barbs for candidates other than Christie. In turn, the governor trained his most aggressive fire on Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida during a debate in New Hampshire shortly before the state’s primary, mocking him for a “memorized 25-second speech.”
But after staking his candidacy on New Hampshire, Christie finished a dismal sixth and dropped out of the race.
A key ally, up to a point
When Trump won the South Carolina primary, Christie told allies the writing was on the wall — it was clear Trump was on track to become the nominee.
“I am proud to be here to endorse Donald Trump for president of the United States,” Christie said at an endorsement event in Florida in February 2016, as astonished reporters watched him praise Trump’s candidacy. After Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Christie was one of the first prominent Republicans to endorse Trump at a time when the party’s leadership was still trying to stop his ascent.
Soon, Christie was a key adviser to Trump. He was also for a time considered as a potential running mate, but some of Trump’s advisers, including members of his family, argued against it. (Christie had also prosecuted the father of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner years earlier, and Kushner was opposed to the selection of Christie.)
Trump ultimately chose Mike Pence, then the governor of Indiana, who had been introduced to Trump through Christie.
Trump tried to keep Christie on the hook, the former governor wrote in his memoir, insisting in a phone call to Christie that he hadn’t decided on his running mate yet, even as he made plans to fly Pence to New York for a news conference.
Christie led Trump’s preparations for the general-election debates against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. But after the October 2016 release of a recording in which Trump described grabbing women by their genitals, Trump privately griped that Christie had not more vocally backed him.
Christie also served as the head of his transition team, a job from which he was dismissed shortly after Election Day by Kushner; Steve Bannon, the chief strategist for Trump; and Reince Priebus, who would become Trump’s first White House chief of staff.
Behind the scenes, distancing
Trump asked Christie to lead a task force on opioids, an issue Christie had been concerned about as governor. Christie was also said to be a personal favorite of Trump’s wife, Melania.
But Trump decided against giving him the job of attorney general, which went to Sessions. Instead, Christie has said, the president offered him various roles at different points, including labor secretary and secretary of the Homeland Security Department.
Trump also took a suggestion from Christie as to who could replace the fired FBI director, James Comey. It was Christie’s lawyer during the Bridgegate scandal, Christopher Wray, who was appointed and remains atop the agency. Trump soon started complaining that Wray was not doing what he wanted at the agency, and blamed Christie for a nomination that Trump had put forward.
Christie took himself out of consideration to succeed John F. Kelly as Trump’s chief of staff at the end of 2018 after Trump had offered the job to Christie. By then, it had become clear that Trump was cycling through staff members and firing them at a rapid clip.
In February 2020, Trump pardoned a former software chief executive whose clemency Christie had lobbied for.
That year, Christie wrote Trump a lengthy memo instructing him how to handle the coronavirus pandemic. It was ignored.
Trump brought Christie in for debate preparations once again, and some of his aides faulted Christie when Trump’s initial debate against Biden was disastrous. (Trump appeared physically unwell at the debate and may have already been affected by the coronavirus; the news of his COVID diagnosis came days later.)
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When both Trump and Christie were hospitalized with serious bouts of COVID shortly after that debate, Trump called his debate coach at the hospital. “Are you going to say you got it from me?” Trump asked Christie, the former governor later recounted in his second book, “Republican Rescue.” They both recovered, but Christie made clear he thought he should have worn a mask at the prep sessions, angering Trump.
Hours after Election Day ended, when Trump delivered a speech claiming widespread fraud, Christie, by then a contributor for ABC News, said on air that Trump needed to offer proof.
In an interview with The New York Times in November 2022, Christie said he had last spoken with Trump in December 2020, after the president saw him deride Trump’s legal team on television. Christie told him he should concede the election to Biden and host the president-elect in the White House.
“He told me he would never, ever, ever, ever do that,” Christie said. “And that was the last time we spoke.”
In 2021, Trump described Christie as an “opportunist” to a reporter. Four months later, he had an aide send Christie a printout of a tweet by Christie related to the pardon that he had sought for the former software executive. “Chris,” he wrote, according to the person briefed on it, “How quickly people (some) forget - Best Wishes,” with his signature.
Christie responded cordially, wishing Trump well.
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