Does Chris Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump matter?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 26, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: The single most important thing for the Republican Party is to nominate the person who gives us the best chance to beat Hillary Clinton. I can guarantee you that the one person Hillary and Bill Clinton do not want to see on the stage come September is Donald Trump. They know how to run the standard political playbook against junior senators and run them around the block. They do not know the playbook of Donald Trump.

Obviously I respect the decision he made. I'm not going to get every endorsement. He is a talented communicator, and they probably called him in to help Donald after a very rough evening last night and a rough day today on the trail as he is not being exposed as a conman.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: All the talk was about the debate and fallout from the debate until that endorsement. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsing Donald Trump, a big deal for Donald Trump today. Obviously candidates evolve in how they think about other candidates as we will see here.


CHRISTIE: Donald's a great guy and a good person, but I just don't think he is suited to be president of the United States.


CHRISTIE: I don't think his temperament is suited and I don't think his experience is.

There is no one who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs both at home and around the world than Donald Trump.


BAIER: It happens. It's politics. Let's bring in our panel, Charles Hurt, political columnist for the Washington Times, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Charlie, as far as turning the discussion, this did it today.

CHARLES HURT, WASHINGTON TIMES: Yes. And, you know, we all get tired of saying endorsements don't matter, and they never do matter, but this endorsement does matter because it is the shock and awe endorsement.

I think long term what is so devastating about this for the other candidates is that Chris Christie was very much sort of presented as the truth speaker and sort of the straight shooter, probably wanting to fill that lane that Donald Trump filled so completely. And for him to get behind him, obviously you could say that it's trying to get back at Marco Rubio for what Rubio did to Christie in that last debate, but I do think it is a significant endorsement.

BAIER: I would argue that Christie did it to Rubio in the last debate and hurt him in New Hampshire. But, you know, for Chris Christie to do this and not to endorse Governor Kasich, the last standing governor, people I heard today saying Christie was never an ideologue. He was a political realist and he realizes that this train is leaving the station.

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: Yes. There's a lot of talk about him just being an opportunist. You remember that he gave the keynote address at the Republican convention in 2012 for Mitt Romney, barely mentioned the guy. The campaign for Romney was in abject horror over what that speech was. He had all along really been out for himself, according to Republican Party stalwarts, so the never really trusted him.

And they also never thought he would go that far because they thought that he would always have a problem with the base because of the Obama stuff, because he had been selfish with Romney, et cetera.

But the thing that's interesting is that he actually has said all this stuff. There are more quotes than the one he gave Greta. He said a vote for Trump was a vote for Hillary. He said a lot of stuff to put himself in a corner. He also told Joe McQuaid, the editor in chief of "The Union Leader" in New Hampshire who is a visceral critic of Donald Trump and endorsed Chris Christie, that he would never endorse him. Joe McQuaid said today that he heard that from Christie the day after Christie dropped out of the New Hampshire primary. So he is going to be called an opportunist, but maybe he is going to get a good opportunity.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think this is less important for its effect on Christie than it is on Trump. This is an extremely important endorsement for two reasons. Number one, it legitimizes Trump in a way that I think is going to be extremely crucial here. Trump has not been endorsed by anybody.

BAIER: A couple of congressmen, Duncan Hunter.

KRAUTHAMMER: Who no one heard of outside the family. So Christie emerges, a guy who took the endorsement of "The Union Leader" in New Hampshire, a lot of argument there, and he endorses. It is as A.B. said, he gave the keynote speech at the last convention. So this is a guy who represents the establishment.

In a sense what he does is he gives license to other senators, Congress people, and governors to go ahead and endorse. And I think they will start with a trickle, but he will be the first one and the one accused of opportunist.

The second one, the more short term effect, the genius of Trump in story and media management. This was going to be a day today and a weekend of people going over and over loops of the debate last night where Trump got wobbled, where he got pummeled with Rubio in the ring and Cruz leaning over the ropes from the outside hitting Trump in the back of the head. That was a dramatic debate yesterday. The story was stomped on today. It has taken over, it will wear off, but it will have an effect of ending, at least over this weekend, that storyline that would have otherwise dominated. It would have been Trump loses. It's going to be now he wins Christie.

BAIER: Obviously he has a different view of that and he points to these online polls that say he won. But Ted Cruz is trying to make his own swipes at Donald Trump as he tries to protect his home state of Texas.


SEN. TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you want to go with Donald Trump and have the general election in November be two rich New York liberals? The debate last night highlighted that Donald Trump is the only person running who had a million-dollar court judgment against him for participating in conspiracy, and that's what the federal court found, was a conspiracy to hire illegal aliens.


BAIER: It is striking, Charlie, that it has taken 10 debates for these guys to step up to the plate like they are now, both of them swinging.

HURT: Yes, and the scene during the debate last night where you had Cruz on one side, Rubio on the other, looked like the scene from "King Kong"
where they had the chains coming down and they're both pulling him down, and you have Kasich lobbing insults from the outside, and then Ben Carson begging, somebody insult me.

But Ted Cruz is in a tough situation right now. He is defending his own state super Tuesday, and he's a prosecutor. And people obviously elect prosecutors to be jerks and to put bad people in jail. They don't elect prosecutors to be their president. And I think we saw that last night. He is flinty, and he is not -- it is not fun to watch him. What you saw with Rubio, and this is why I think Rubio had his best night yet, is he was enjoying it, and he was bouncing around the canvas, having fun, landing punches and really enjoying it.

BAIER: Last night before we head to the casino, I will say Rubio must have said the conman line about 50 times.

STODDARD: Message discipline.

BAIER: I mean, 50 times in various interviews, and maybe seven in mine.

STODDARD: He learned from Donald Trump to repeat the message over and over again until people buy it.

KRAUTHAMMER: When you search for seven months for an insult that's going to work and you find it, you repeat it.

BAIER: With that, we will head to a place we go to Friday's, it is called Candidate Casino. There has been an evolution here. Just like Chris Christie, there's been an evolution in the bets. It's $100 in chips. You get to pick who is going to be the nominee. Charlie?

HURT: I GOT $70 for Trump, $30 for Rubio, which is a jump up for Rubio because after last night's performance, as good as it was, may be too late, but it was a good performance.

BAIER: OK, Brandon Butler says $60 Trump, $30 Rubio, $10 Cruz. Mick 15132
$80 Trump, $15 Rubio, $5 Cruz. That kind of matches roughly where people are. A.B.?

STODDARD: You guys are wussies, man.


STODDARD: I put $80 on Trump and $15 on Rubio. And other could include Kasich, it could include Cruz, it could include Mitt Romney, whatever this brokered contested convention idea means, it could mean a surprise. I think chance of it is really slim, but I wouldn't put a name on the other yet.

BAIER: OK, Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: I have Trump over $50, $55, Rubio $30, Cruz at $10. My biggest evolution is now wine, whiskey, and song, because the times are now serious and I need stronger drink.

BAIER: It used to be wine, women, and song. Now women --


KRAUTHAMMER: Go for the real stuff.

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