TRENTON, N.J. - In a 2013 re-election campaign he would market as a model for how Republicans could win nationally, Gov. Chris Christie won support from Latino and black leaders in New Jersey.
He broke with some in his party after the election in signing a law that allows immigrants in the country illegally to pay in-state college tuition. He frequently visited and pushed for change in heavily minority Camden.
Earlier in his tenure, he got attention for nominating a Muslim judge – then denouncing critics on the right as “crazies.”
But on Super Tuesday, Christie was at the side of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who has called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, accused Mexico of sending “rapists” to the United States, and waffled when asked to disavow support from white supremacists.
Some of Christie’s former supporters said they were struggling to reconcile their impression of the governor with the candidate he endorsed last week. And several New Jersey Republicans questioned his commitment to governing.
“I feel Trump is somebody who divides and does not unite people,” said Carlos Medina, chairman of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, who endorsed Christie in 2013. “I’m trying to, in my head, figure out what this means, why would (Christie) endorse an individual whose opinion of the Hispanic community has been so harsh?”
Even before Christie backed Trump, he had adopted a caustic tone on some issues that prompted criticism from black, Latino and Muslim leaders.
During his presidential campaign, Christie decried the Black Lives Matter movement as “calling for the murder of police officers.” He stood by Paul LePage after the Maine governor said drug dealers were entering his state and impregnating “young, white” girls.
As the governor sought to win Republican voters, “I did see him moving to the right on issues,” said Bishop Reginald Jackson, a prominent black minister who endorsed Christie in 2013. “My own perception was, not because he really believed this, but for reasons of political expediency, to be embraced by the right wing of the party.
“I was disappointed. That was not the Chris Christie I knew,” Jackson said. “The endorsement of Donald Trump is not the Chris Christie I knew.”
Hoda Ismail, outreach director of the American Muslim Union, a group in North Jersey, said Christie had ”changed his agenda.“
“We try to build a bridge, not to build a wall,” she said. “The American Muslim community here is very disappointed.”
As he charted his political rise, Christie stood out among Republicans for gaining support from voters the GOP has traditionally struggled to attract.
After winning 9 percent of the black vote in 2009, he took 21 percent in his 2013 re-election. He also won 51 percent of the Latino vote – a statistic he would tout as he argued that Republicans needed to rally around candidates who knew how to win.
But there were fractures in that support. The Latino Leadership Alliance, which endorsed Christie in 2013, opposed the governor two years later when he supported other states’ efforts to block President Barack Obama’s executive action to protect some immigrants from deportation.
The president of the alliance at the time, Martin Perez, a Christie ally, told the Bergen Record that he was ”blindsided.“
Of the governor’s endorsement of Trump, “that is a big disappointment to us,” said Maria Teresa Montilla, the alliance’s current president. “Anyone endorsing Trump is saying, in a way, ‘I agree with him.’ ”
Christie has said he doesn’t agree with the billionaire businessman on every issue. “We don’t get to create the perfect candidate for ourselves,” the governor said in a radio interview Monday night.
He said that ”part of my job in helping Donald Trump as a candidate is for him to hear my points of view.“
Critics contend Christie’s endorsement of Trump isn’t in New Jersey’s best interest. “Particularly as a governor of a state as diverse as New Jersey, to be willing to say that you could support someone who demonizes people by their ethnic background, those kinds of things – it was surprising to me that he felt he could do this in good conscience,” former Republican Gov. Christie Whitman, who has endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 race, told WNYC.
New Jersey Republicans have rarely crossed Christie during his governorship. But in recent days, several – including Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and Sen. Kip Bateman, both of Somerset County, as well as Sen. Jennifer Beck of Monmouth County – have suggested Christie should either resign or stop campaigning with Trump.
“If he is going to go on the campaign trail with Donald Trump, he cannot continue to serve as our governor,” Beck told the Asbury Park Press editorial board Wednesday, calling the governorship “more than a full-time job.”
Not all Republicans are closing ranks against Christie. “I don’t see a reason why he can’t do both,” said Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll of Morris County. “It just strikes me, the state does not require 24/7 hand-holding, generally speaking.”
As for Christie’s endorsement of Trump, Carroll said the move made sense.
“If you’re a betting man, betting on DT is a real good wager,” he wrote in an email. “If he wins, you’re golden. If he loses, whether in the nomination process or in November, what’s the downside?”
The endorsement could complicate relationships in New Jersey. “The relationship with working with blacks across the state was difficult already,” Jackson said. “This certainly won’t help it.”
A Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll released Wednesday found Christie’s job-approval rating fell six points after the endorsement, from 33 percent to 27 percent.
Medina said, “I still think Christie did good things by the Hispanic business community.” He said Christie’s office ”immediately reached out to me“ when he became chairman of the Latino chamber.
“I struggle, because I like him,” Medina said.
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