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Donald Trump wins backing of Chris Christie in Republican candidate battle

Published 26/02/2016

Donald Trump pauses as Republican rivals Marco Rubio, centre, and Ted Cruz share a handshake during the debate at The University of Houston (AP)
Donald Trump pauses as Republican rivals Marco Rubio, centre, and Ted Cruz share a handshake during the debate at The University of Houston (AP)
Republican front-runner Donald Trump in action during the debate (AP)

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has won the backing of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a former presidential candidate, in a jolt to one of the wildest primary contests in recent memory.

Mr Christie is one of the first establishment Republicans to endorse Mr Trump in a nominating race where many in the party have been distressed by the billionaire New York businessman's campaign tactics and policy proposals.

"I'm happy to be on the Trump team and look forward to working with him," Mr Christie said at a Trump news conference in Texas.

Mr Trump shared his reaction when Mr Christie notified his campaign: "I said, 'Wow, this is really important.'"

The endorsement is yet more momentum as Mr Trump moves into the critical Super Tuesday primary elections next week.

It also turns the story away from the series of brutal rhetorical attacks from Mr Trump's top opponents in the party's tenth debate on Thursday night.

The bombastic billionaire's candidacy has defied all the rules that normally apply in the contest for the highest office in the United States. Mr Trump repeatedly has made politically incorrect statements, used salty language and denigrated Hispanics and Muslims.

Nevertheless, he holds a big lead in national polling heading into the Tuesday primaries and a caucus in 11 states with a treasure of 595 delegates that could make his nomination all but certain.

So far, after four primary and caucus contests, Mr Trump has 82 delegates, Texas senator Ted Cruz has 17 and Florida senator Marco Rubio has 16. A candidate must have 1,237 state delegates to win the Republican nomination at the party's convention this summer.

Mr Trump's unexpected candidacy and front-runner status reflect Americans' anger over government deadlock, a slow recovery from the Great Recession and a fear of terrorism.

Mr Rubio has been trying to position himself as the party establishment's candidate, but the Christie endorsement suddenly made that more of a challenge.

"We don't need any more of these Washington DC acts," Mr Christie said of Mr Rubio at Friday's announcement.

From the start of Thursday night's debate, a Mr Rubio went hard after Mr Trump, attacking his position on immigration, his privileged background, his speaking style and more.

Mr Cruz piled in, questioning the New York businessman's conservative credentials. The debate reflected the increasing urgency of their effort to take Mr Trump down before he becomes unstoppable.

It was a rare night where Mr Trump found himself on the defensive. The other two candidates, Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and John Kasich, the Ohio governor, were largely left to watch the fireworks.

Mr Rubio was the principal aggressor of the night. Taking on Mr Trump's declaration that he would build a wall on the Mexican border, Mr Rubio declared: "If he builds a wall the way he built Trump Tower, he'll be using illegal immigration to do it."

Mr Trump insisted that even though officials in Mexico have said they will not pay for his planned wall, "Mexico will pay for the wall." And he said that because Mexico's current and former presidents had criticised him on the issue, "the wall just got 10 feet taller".

Mr Trump, known for his frequent use of coarse and profane language on the campaign trail, also scolded former Mexican president Vicente Fox for using a profanity in talking about Mr Trump's plan for the wall.

"He should be ashamed of himself and he should apologise," declared Mr Trump.

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