Donald Trump on Monday made perhaps the most important hire of his presidential campaign to date, choosing Chris Christie to lead his transition team if he wins the White House in November.
The announcement might seem early for a man who has been the GOP’s presumptive nominee for less than a week. But it answers the call of good-government advocates who—as I wrote last month—are urging all campaigns to begin thinking about and planning for a presidential transition months in advance. “Governor Christie is an extremely knowledgeable and loyal person with the tools and resources to put together an unparalleled Transition Team, one that will be prepared to take over the White House when we win in November,” Trump said in a statement. His campaign added that the New Jersey governor would be “overseeing an extensive team of professionals preparing to take over the White House, and all that entails.”
The choice of Christie is not a surprise given that he has been one of Trump’s most enthusiastic and high-profile surrogates since endorsing after he ended his own presidential campaign earlier this year. Yet his selection also raises a couple of key questions: Will Christie continue to be an active member of Trump’s campaign as he begins to plan his transition? And could Trump still also pick him as his vice presidential nominee?
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If Christie is truly heading Trump’s day-to-day transition effort, the answer to both questions has to be no, said Max Stier, who is chairman of the Partnership for Public Service and has been advising the campaigns on transition planning. “If Christie is going to really run the transition process, he can’t effectively be active in the campaign or be himself a candidate because it’s a full-time job,” Stier said. In 2012, Mitt Romney tapped former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to run his transition, and Leavitt kept his distance from the campaign while building out what he called a 600-person “government in miniature.” It’s not clear if Trump plans a similar operation. If Christie’s role atop the transition team was more ceremonial, it might be possible for him to split time with the campaign, to stay in contention to be Trump’s running mate—or even to do the job he was elected to perform, governing the state of New Jersey.
The announcement came just a few days after The New York Times reported that Trump had asked his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to head up the transition efforts. Kushner was not mentioned in the press release announcing Christie’s new job. If Monday was an early indication, Christie seems to be operating pretty independently from the campaign: A Trump spokeswoman directed questions about his role to Christie’s gubernatorial office, which promptly referred those queries back to Trump’s campaign.
Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, has not publicly announced a transition chief. And the fact that Trump made his own announcement so quickly is at least a momentary relief to those who wondered how seriously he would take the process. “First and foremost, it is really important that Trump has publicly named a transition chairman,” Stier said. “Trump is demonstrating his understanding that he needs to prepare for the possibility that he will be governing at the same time as he is trying to win the campaign.”