Donald Trump taps Chris Christie to lead transition team

Click to play video: 'Donald Trump battles to unite GOP behind him'
Donald Trump battles to unite GOP behind him
WATCH: Donald Trump is still struggling to unite the Republican Party after becoming the presumptive presidential candidate. Jackson Proskow reports on efforts to connect the billionaire with the party he now leads – May 9, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to endorse Donald Trump back in February brought him plenty of derision at the time. But it’s bringing rewards now that it’s clear he bet on the winner.

With Trump having effectively clinched the Republican presidential nomination following a bruising primary fight, Christie now sees vindication of what had been a divisive choice in his home state and his inner circle. Trump on Monday tapped Christie to lead the transition team that will usher in the new administration if he wins the presidency in the fall. It’s a plum post that could lead to more.

“How did I go from being an idiot 68 days ago to prescient 68 days later?” Christie asked mischievously last week.

Christie has been a key adviser to Trump behind the scenes as well as a presence on the stage. As chairman of the transition team, he will lead a wide-ranging effort to prepare for a potential transfer of power, giving him influence in the selection of White House and administration staff and in the development of a president-elect’s first steps.

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Trump’s rise comes when Christie’s favorability in New Jersey is at an all-time low and the end of his second and final term as governor is approaching in 2018 — all after his own GOP presidential candidacy failed.

Like almost everyone who becomes the subject of running-mate speculation, Christie says he doesn’t want to be vice president. But he adds, “never say never.” Trump has said Christie would be a great attorney general, given his background as a prosecutor. For now, Christie is tasked with overseeing a team of people to “take over the White House,” as Trump put it in a statement.

Trump praised Christie as an “extremely knowledgeable and loyal person with the tools and resources to put together an unparalleled transition team.”

Christie swung behind Trump weeks before the businessman’s success in the GOP race was a foregone conclusion; indeed, when many thought another rival would ultimately prevail. In politics, that timing counts for something.

“When someone with the stature of the governor of New Jersey offers an endorsement, that is an investment,” said Peter Woolley, a Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor. “The risk was greater for Christie when he made that endorsement and so I’m sure he expects the reward to be greater as a consequence.”

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Christie has said he plans to go into the private sector to make money in his next act.

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But he is also casting himself as a unifier in a divided party and has offered to talk to House Speaker Paul Ryan, who declined to back Trump last week, about his concerns over Trump.

“Donald’s got work to do to bring people together,” Christie said. “If (Trump) picks up the phone and calls and asks me to do something that I can do to help his cause and be elected president, I’ll do it.”

Christie, who helped raise more than $100 million as chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2014, could also help Trump get access to the party’s biggest donors, some of whom share Ryan’s hesitancy about the presumptive nominee.

Christie’s pitch to reluctant donors and other Republicans isn’t hard to imagine, said Dale Florio, a long-time Republican lobbyist in New Jersey, Christie ally and Trump supporter. “You have a better chance of making the changes you want to see if a Republican wins the White House,” Florio said. “It’s pretty simple.”

Christie said last week Trump hasn’t made any requests for help yet on that front.

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Meanwhile, Trump will headline a fundraiser this month to help Christie repay own presidential campaign debt, followed by a $25,000 per person fundraiser for the state’s Republican Party.

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Christie’s support for Trump led to backlash from Democrats, including a series of billboards attacking him. They are from Bridges Over Politics for New Jersey, an advocacy group run by a one-time aide to a former Democratic congressman.

One of the ads shows Trump with Christie behind him. The text asks Christie to “stand up to racism and bigotry.”

Trump has drawn criticism for pledging to build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants from entering the country illegally and for hesitating before denouncing Ku Klux Klan figure David Duke, who said not voting for Trump was “treason to your heritage.”

Christie has said he doesn’t agree with Trump on everything but Trump gives the party the best chance to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

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