New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie endorsed Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump daughter-in-law joins Trump campaign digital vendor: report Live coverage: Senate intel holds first public Russia hearing Federal judge extends order blocking Trump's revised travel ban MORE for president on Friday in a surprise announcement, telling voters that no one is better prepared to lead the country.
The stunning news represents the biggest endorsement by far for Trump, the GOP front-runner who has shaken the party establishment to its core with his rise.
Christie's decision comes amid a flurry of endorsements from lawmakers and other public officials for Marco RubioMarco RubioRepublicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's Labor pick Senators introduce new Iran sanctions MORE, who repeatedly ripped into Trump in Thursday night's debate.
Christie tangled memorably with Rubio during his own failed presidential campaign, and the New Jersey governor's distaste of the Florida senator was clear in his remarks.
He called Trump "the clear standout" on stage Thursday night and "the person who will do exactly what needs to be done to make America a leader around the world again.”
Christie lauded Trump as the best candidate to take on Democratic primary front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPodesta demands Daily Caller correct article on financial disclosures Dems on offense in gubernatorial races Wasserman Schultz to Sanders: Dems are already a grassroots party MORE for the White House in the fall.
"I can guarantee you that the one person that Hillary and Bill ClintonBill ClintonChelsea Clinton dismisses rumors she'll run for public office: report Trump seeks to stop lawsuit from ‘Apprentice’ contestant Trump asks why Clintons' ties to Russia aren't under investigation MORE don’t want to see on that stage come September is Donald Trump," he said.
"They know how to run the standard political playbook against junior senators and run them around the block. They do not know the playbook with Donald Trump because he is rewriting the playbook.”
Christie and Trump responded to an onslaught of attacks from Rubio, who earlier Friday bashed Trump as a "con man" and joked that he wet himself on the debate stage.
“The fact is that desperate people do desperate things, and I’ve seen it throughout politics and so can you," Trump said.
"The idea that Marco Rubio can get inside Donald Trump’s head is an interesting position, but one that is really for the D.C. parlor game.”
And in response to Rubio's barbs that Trump was putting on makeup backstage during the debate, Trump turned the tables on him and said the Florida senator was putting on makeup "with a towel."
While Rubio came into Friday riding high after a lauded debate performance, Christie's endorsement steals the narrative away.
Trump has repeatedly been able to blunt rivals' momentum with his own major announcement. At previous points when rivals threatened to eclipse him on the front page, Trump has leveled allegations against Ben Carson, threatened to sue Ted CruzTed CruzTexas Dem targets Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 What are 'religious liberty' bills really about? Fiorina calls for special prosecutor for Russia probe MORE and proposed to ban Muslims from entering the country.
Christie dropped his own presidential run after a poor showing in New Hampshire. His endorsement of Trump, a figure loathed by many Republicans, is likely to remind some of his appearance on the post-Superstorm Sandy New Jersey boardwalk with President Obama just days before the 2012 election.