By Maddie Hanna and Thomas Fitzgerald
Three months after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie threw his endorsement to Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman lent a hand to the governor Thursday at a New Jersey fund-raiser for Christie's defunct presidential campaign.
After being introduced by Christie at the Lawrenceville National Guard Armory, Trump announced to a crowd dotted with red "Make America Great Again" hats that "Chris paid off his entire campaign debt tonight."
Christie's campaign had $154,305 cash on hand and $400,670 in debt at the end of March, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Then a moment later, Trump busted Christie's chops: "And Chris, you can't even give them a table and a seat? That's terrible."
The main attraction wasn't Christie, but his former Republican rival, who took the stage after a five-minute introduction from Christie to chants of "Trump, Trump, Trump."
Unlike his conspicuous presence behind Trump at previous campaign events, the governor was offstage, standing against a curtain as Trump rolled through promises to build a border wall with Mexico, negotiate "great trade deals," and repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Railing against China, Trump said he "was told yesterday by a very important person that China is very concerned about Donald Trump being elected."
Trump also attacked Democrat Hillary Clinton.
"For her to be able to run, it's a disgrace," Trump said, citing the email scandal and the chaos in the wake of the Obama administration's Libya policy.
He accused her of being unwilling to use the term radical Islamic terrorism, and defended his labeling of the EgyptAir disaster as an act of terrorism.
"If you don't think that plane was blown out of the sky, you're 100 percent wrong," he said.
Throughout his 30-minute remarks, Trump made several mentions of New Jersey, remarking that he had "so many employees" in the state.
"There's nothing like New Jersey," Trump told the crowd at another point. "Ahh, wiseguys ... so many wiseguys."
Before he spoke, the crowd heard from Christie, who praised the presumptive GOP nominee. "He has brought greatness to every enterprise he has ever led," said Christie, who was joined by wife Mary Pat and three of their four children. "I am confident he will make America great again."
Christie, who quit the presidential race in February after a poor finish in the New Hampshire GOP primary, described his decision to back Trump _ "You never, ever make a mistake by standing with your friend" _ and recalled his announcement of that endorsement, when he and Trump "walked into a room in Fort Worth, Texas, and shocked the world."
Since then, Christie has appeared with Trump at campaign events and primary-night speeches. Last week, Trump named Christie chairman of his transition team _ a role the governor said would involve developing a plan for Trump's first 200 days in office should he win the White House.
On Thursday, Trump raised money not only for Christie's presidential campaign but also for the New Jersey GOP. The party, which incurred legal fees in the wake of the George Washington Bridge scandal, reported $155,000 cash on hand and $525,000 in debt in an April filing with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Tickets to the fund-raiser for Christie's campaign were $200 each or $25 for students. The room had capacity for 1,000 people. The fund-raiser for the GOP _ with $25,000 tickets _ was held in a separate area of the armory, said Christie adviser Bill Palatucci. He declined to say how much money was raised.
The fund-raiser "cultivates the goodwill that (Trump) has been building with Chris Christie," said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
While much of Trump's speech hit familiar themes, he opened with talking points Christie had once promoted on the presidential campaign trail, crediting the governor with shrinking the state workforce and passing a bipartisan law expanding business tax-credit programs. ("There's no such thing as bipartisan anymore; it's a beautiful thing, actually," Trump said.)
Christie wasn't a selling point for Cindy Kyreakakis, 48, of Marlboro.
"I don't think he's a bad governor," Kyreakakis said.
But "the reason I paid $200 is to see Donald Trump," she said. "Not Chris Christie."
Kyreakakis said she had "loved" Trump "for years," describing how she saw him with ex-wife Marla Maples in the 1990s at an exclusive New York restaurant, commandeering a table for four with only two people.
"What I love about him is his bravado," she said.
Outside the event, protesters panned Christie and Trump, chanting, "No hate in the Garden State."
One sign branded Trump a "Nazi." Overhead a plane flew with the message "Make New Jersey Great Again: #DumpChristieTrump" _ the work of the liberal group New Jersey Citizen Action.
Kelly Taylor, a teacher from Lawrenceville who came to the protest with her 17-year-old daughter, said Christie's endorsement of Trump was "embarrassing."
(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer