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Christie endorses Trump after contentious debate

February 26, 2016 at 8:03 PM EDT
The chaotic Republican primary race took another turn Friday when Gov. Chris Christie endorsed frontrunner Donald Trump. The move boosted Trump’s momentum just hours after Thursday evening’s debate, in which rivals Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio aggressively questioned his conservative credentials and past financial contributions to immigration reformers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Republican presidential race took another unexpected plot twist today, with Donald Trump collecting a major endorsement from a former rival. It came just a few days before the all-important Super Tuesday contests.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), New Jersey: I am proud to be here to endorse Donald Trump for president of the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In a single stroke, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie put Donald Trump back on the offensive after his rivals scored points in last night’s debate.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: We don’t need another Washington politician in the White House, do we?


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Do we need a first-term United States senator in the White House?


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: We need a first-class president, and we’re going to have it in Donald Trump.


JUDY WOODRUFF: The Republican front-runner then took his turn, blasting both of the senators still in the race, first Marco Rubio.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: Let’s talk about our lightweight senator from Florida who’s losing big in the polls.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And then Ted Cruz of Texas.

DONALD TRUMP: You know, I have had a lot of difficulties with Ted, because he does lies. You know, I have dealt with much tougher. A guy like Rubio is a baby, but a guy like Ted is tougher.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rubio had spent much of his morning rally in Dallas arguing that billionaire Trump is deceiving working-class voters.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), Republican Presidential Candidate: You all have friends who are thinking about voting for Donald Trump. Friends do not let friends vote for con artists.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO: He’s going to Americans that are struggling, Americans that are hurting, and he’s implying, “I’m fighting for you because I’m a tough guy.” A tough guy? This guy inherited $200 million. He’s never faced any struggle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in Nashville, Tennessee, Cruz questioned Trump’s conservative credentials.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Republican Presidential Candidate: Donald Trump said: I can be a totally different person after I’m elected. I can be — this is Donald speaking — the most politically correct person on earth.

Let me tell you something, Sean. The day after I’m elected president, I’m the exact same person that I am today.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Those were extensions of the charges and countercharges that lit up last night’s Houston debate, with Rubio and Cruz trying to slow Trump’s momentum, first on immigration.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: You’re the only person on this stage that has ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally. You hired some workers from Poland

DONALD TRUMP: No, no, I’m the only one on the stage that’s hired people. You haven’t hired anybody.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO: In fact, some of the people…


DONALD TRUMP: And by the way, I have hired — and by the way, I have hired tens of thousands of people over at my job. You’ve hired nobody.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yes, you’ve hired a thousand from another country…

DONALD TRUMP: You’ve had nothing but problems with your credit cards, et cetera. So don’t tell me about that.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Let me just say — let me finish the statement. This is important.

DONALD TRUMP: You haven’t hired one person, you liar.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: He hired workers from Poland. And he had to pay a million dollars or so in a judgment from…

DONALD TRUMP: That’s wrong. That’s wrong. Totally wrong.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cruz also jumped in, criticizing Trump for donating to senators known as the Gang of Eight, who led an immigration reform effort.

SEN. TED CRUZ: Donald funded the Gang of Eight. If you look at the eight members of the Gang of Eight, Donald gave over $50,000 to three Democrats and two Republicans. And when you’re funding open border politicians, you shouldn’t be surprised when they fight for open borders.

DONALD TRUMP: I have had an amazing relationship with politicians — with politicians both Democrat, Republican, because I was a businessman.

You don’t have one Republican senator, not one. You don’t have the endorsement of one Republican senator, and you work with these people. You should be ashamed of yourself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the end, Trump waved away both rivals, calling Rubio a choke artist and Cruz a liar.

But despite the strident words from all sides, the front-runner insisted he can expand and unify the party.

DONALD TRUMP: I will do very well with Hispanics. But I’m telling you also, I’m bringing people, Democrats over, and I’m bringing independents over, and we’re building a much bigger, much stronger Republican Party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He gets another chance to prove that Super Tuesday night, with more than 600 delegates up for grabs.

But, first, Democrats in South Carolina will have their say in a primary tomorrow. We will take a close look at a vital voting bloc there after the news summary.