Politics & Policy

The Night Chris Christie Killed the Romney Campaign

Christie greets President Obama in Atlantic City, N.J., October 31, 2012. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

They say that elephants have fantastic memories. That may be why some Republicans still remember the night that Chris Christie killed the Romney campaign. And they still hold it against him.

In late October 2012, the race between GOP nominee Mitt Romney and Obama was tightening. An October 27 Business Insider headline read: “Gallup: Romney holds five-point lead, Obama approval rating slides.” Romney seemed to be on a roll.

“Then Hurricane Sandy hits,” one top Romney adviser remembers. After the Jersey shore was devastated on Monday, October 29, “Christie starts his bromance with Obama,” this former aide says. “At one point Pufferfish gets a ride with Obama on Marine One. That apparently made a major impression on him.” Pufferfish was the internal code name that Team Romney used while vetting Christie as a potential running mate.

Sandy knocked Romney off the air for the final week of the campaign. Rather than engage in divisive, partisan behavior, Obama rose above the fray, donned the First Windbreaker, and did his job.

RELATED: Chris Christie’s Rise Is a Triumph of Style over Conservative Principle

It didn’t hurt the Democrat nominee that, at the same time, “Pufferfish was humping Obama’s leg,” as the Romney aide put it. “Pufferish was very upset that he did not make it as Romney’s V.P. pick.” This adviser thinks that Christie was driven, at least in part, by revenge.

A few days later, the Romney campaign asked Christie to attend a rally in Bucks County, Pa., on November 4, the Sunday night before polls opened nationwide the following Tuesday. The gathering was a monster: Some 25,000 screaming Romney fans waited for hours in temperatures in the low 40s and high 30s to see the GOP nominee.

Former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, then-governor Tom Corbett, current U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, all Republicans, warmed up the crowd and praised Romney. The Marshall Tucker Band played Southern rock tunes — a surprising ingredient in Yankee country, but welcome nonetheless.

“They asked Christie to come to the rally,” the aide recalls. “Christie’s people said he wouldn’t leave the state. So, Romney’s people offered to send a helicopter. Christie could get from Trenton to the rally in 15 minutes.” Actually, it takes about that long by car. A chopper ride shouldn’t have taken more than five or six minutes.

“Christie said that he did not want to threaten federal disaster money,” which his new pal, Obama, controlled. “He said he did not want to attack Obama. But he didn’t have to do that. All he had to do was introduce ‘My good friend, Mitt Romney.’ All he did was repeat himself: ‘I won’t leave the state.’”

Romney finally made it to Shady Brook Farm in Morrisville, where his fans were shivering but thrilled to see their man in the flesh.

“We need one final push,” Romney said. “The door to a brighter future is there. It’s open. It’s waiting for us. I need your vote. I need your work. I want you to walk with me. Let’s walk together.”

But that night, when it really mattered, Christie chose not to walk with Romney. 

#share#Christie already had displayed similar selfishness at the GOP National Convention that September. In his prime-time address, Christie spoke plenty about himself but barely managed to mention Romney. And it’s not a long leap from “My, Me, Mine” to revenge. As Romney’s former aide says: “Some people think this whole thing was payback, Jersey style, for Pufferfish not getting picked as Romney’s V.P.”

This scenario still irks Greggory DeVore, a California physician and Republican donor.

“I raised over $1 million. I contributed personally over $100,000 to the campaign,” DeVore says. He was impressed early on with Christie’s endorsement of Romney during the New Hampshire primary. DeVore also liked what he saw at an event at the Republican National Convention. “Again, very impressive,” DeVore says. “We thought he was a stand-up politician.”

“Some people think this whole thing was payback, Jersey style, for Pufferfish not getting picked as Romney’s V.P.”

But DeVore says he was disturbed that October by “the spectacle” of Christie engaging in “his kumbaya with President Obama when he came to the storm area.” TV cameras captured Christie not just greeting Obama as the governor of a disaster zone. Instead, he seemed to fawn over Obama. Welcoming the man who holds the federal emergency-relief purse strings would have been one thing. Looking consumed by a schoolboy crush was another.

“A lot of people think that this was payback for not being picked as the vice-presidential candidate,” DeVore says. He met recently with a large group of Golden State Republicans. There were supporters of every GOP contender, except Christie. Referring to Christie post-Sandy behavior around Obama, DeVore says, “People still certainly remember that.”

#related#Ever magnanimous, Romney evidently has turned the other cheek. He has invited Christie to speak at his annual policy gatherings in Deer Valley, Utah, and even hosted him as a house guest.

But other Romney supporters have longer memories and cannot forget the night that the governor of New Jersey turned his back on Romney and just may have cost him the White House. The Romney campaign had many other problems that contributed to its defeat. But this lack of support from Christie, which would have generated significant, last-minute, positive press — sure didn’t help.

Americans and the world today suffer the consequences, at least in part, because Chris Christie could have taken a five-minute helicopter ride to stop Obama. And he didn’t.

Deroy Murdock — Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online.

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