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A spurned Christie commands the spotlight

July 20,2016 10:24

(CNN) Chris Christie riled up the crowd Tuesday night during a blistering attack against Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention. It wasn't quite the role he was hoping to play this week. The New Jersey governor, who was unsuccessful in ...

It wasn't quite the role he was hoping to play this week.The New Jersey governor, who was unsuccessful in his own 2016 White House bid, was on Donald Trump's shortlist to become his running mate, just within grasp of making it onto the presidential ticket after all.Any awkwardness, however, was difficult to detect when Christie took the stage. The former federal prosecutor directed his fire at Clinton, making a lengthy, rabble-rousing case against her candidacy. "Is she guilty or not guilty?" Christie asked each time as he ticked off a laundry list of charges against the former secretary of state. The audience routinely answered with "Guilty!" and broke out into chants of "Lock her up!" The night capped a long journey for Christie, the big-talking Northeast Republican whose White House dream was dashed by the billionaire real estate mogul, who talks even bigger.But he says he's "over it.""When it was clear that Donald wanted me to compete for this job and to be considered, I wanted to win, of course you do. But it's not like my lifetime dream is to be vice president of the United States," Christie said in an interview with CNN's Jamie Gangel. "So I'm disappointed, no doubt I was disappointed, but I'm over it."Asked how he's feeling about being at the convention -- just days after being passed over -- Christie told CNN's Dana Bash he still feels good about the job he already had on the campaign: serving as chairman of the transition team."I feel really comfortable and confident with my role and always did, even before the vice presidential consideration," he said. "I'm going to approach this is the way I always approach it. My job is to help them get elected. More importantly at this point, to me, is making sure this administration is ready for him to make decisions beginning on November 9."Top surrogateChristie was the first sitting governor to endorse Trump, and the biggest name among the GOP establishment to lend support at the time. While the endorsement came as a shock, those who had seen 14-years long personal relationship between the two were not surprised."We never ever make a mistake by standing with our friends, and Donald Trump is my friend," Christie said at a May event. Christie came out on top in a veepstakes contest that narrowed in the final days to include him, Pence and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Christie learned late last week that Trump tapped Pence for the job, and he spoke with the presumptive nominee on Friday."We had a conversation that is typical of our relationship for the last 14 years," Christie told Bash. "Which means it was free wheeling and rollicking and private."Christie has played a significant role in the campaign. Trump chose the governor to lead the transition team months ago, and he's been a key political adviser for the billionaire businessman.. Aides say they talk regularly on the phone and Christie has acted as a liaison between fellow Republican governors and Trump, both on the trail and at Trump Tower in New York.Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law who's taken on a larger role in the campaign, was not so enthusiastic about Christie potentially joining the ticket. Though Kushner and Christie work together on the transition team, sources describe to CNN their relationship as awkward but polite, thanks to Christie putting Kushner's father in prison a decade ago.The elder Kushner, Charles, was arrested in 2004 and charged with federal crimes, including tax evasion, witness tampering and campaign finance violations. He struck a plea deal and served two years in prison.Christie failed to succeed in his own quest to be president, but he proved to be a formidable adversary, most notably when he ripped into Marco Rubio at a debate and destroyed the Florida senator's momentum before the New Hampshire primary.The moment showcased Christie's political dexterity and ability to outwit his opponents, leaving little doubt that he could easily embrace the role of loyal surrogate and willing attack dog.He has repeatedly defended Trump over the candidate's controversial comments in the past few months, pivoting instead to focus on Trump's likely opponent, Hillary Clinton.Who is Christie?Christie himself was once seen as the party's all-but-certain presidential front-runner. A former U.S. attorney under the George W. Bush administration, Christie became known for his brash style, taking on teachers unions in New Jersey and critics who dared to confront him in public -- from town halls to boardwalks.Despite being heavily courted to run, Christie passed on a bid to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012 and instead served as a top surrogate for nominee Mitt Romney. (Christie did raise some eyebrows that year with his speech at the Republican convention in Tampa, which was widely seen as being more about Christie than Romney.) Christie was vetted to be Romney's running mate, with Romney's aides later leaking private information regarding concerns over Christie's health and weight as well as a Justice Department investigation over his exceeding government travel expense rates while serving as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey.Christie also rubbed many Republicans the wrong way when he warmly welcomed Obama to his state in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, just a week before the 2012 presidential election.Although Christie denied there was ever a "hug," he often defended his treatment of the President, arguing he put his constituents' needs before politics.By 2013, Christie was soaring to re-election in New Jersey and fielding nonstop questions about a 2016 presidential run.But in early 2014, his momentum was blunted by a scandal in his administration involving the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. While Christie wasn't found responsible of any wrongdoing, the controversy over "Bridgegate" was enough to deeply scar his reputation.Still, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association that year, Christie was able to escape the scandal's stink pervading locally and hit the road to campaign and raise money for other gubernatorial candidates. The spot set him up nicely to build a vast network for a potential White House bid, and he celebrated victory when Republicans netted two new states that November, giving them 31 governors and leaving Democrats with 18. He regained enough footing to launch a presidential bid in mid-2015, focusing almost entirely on New Hampshire, where he held dozens of town halls and tried to frame himself as the more experienced "tell-it-like-it-is" alternative to Trump. But Trump eviscerated his rivals in the all-important New Hampshire primary, winning 35% of the vote, while the next closest competitor -- John Kasich -- won 16%. Christie placed sixth at 7%, his message of experience never caught fire with the angry, anti-establishment electorate that fueled Trump's victory.Former rivalsEven before the two paired up for Trump's campaign, there were hints of a potential alliance.Christie largely refrained from going hard after Trump in the New Hampshire primary."If there comes a time where I feel as if I need to contrast myself with Mr. Trump I will not hesitate to do so," Christie said, when asked why he hadn't fired back at Trump in late January.Instead, Christie trained his fire on opponents like Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.In the final New Hampshire debate, Christie lit into Rubio, dressing him down as a boyish, robotic candidate who's ill-prepared for prime-time. The stunningly brutal attack was lauded by Trump, who grabbed Christie's arm during a commercial break and told him it was "tremendous."Sure enough, the take-down was effective in raising enough doubts about Rubio to stop his momentum that week, but it also sealed Christie's fate, and neither finished well in the February primary. Christie dropped out later that month.Trump was not completely immune from Christie's attacks in the primary. The New Jersey governor lambasted Trump as an "entertainer-in-chief," criticized his Muslim ban policy proposal as "ridiculous," and said Trump "has no business" running for president.Trump, in turn, repeatedly bashed the New Hampshire Union Leader for endorsing Christie, even devoting 20 minutes of a Nashua rally talking about it.Despite this, the two appeared happily reunited when Christie made a surprise appearance at a Fort Worth, Texas, news conference later that month to endorse his longtime friend."That part is over," Christie said, adding that his decision to endorse Trump came down to "who is the best person to stop Hillary Clinton from getting inside the White House ever again."CNN's Phil Mattingly, MJ Lee and Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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A spurned Christie commands the spotlight
A spurned Christie commands the spotlight