Donald Trump makes Mike Pence head of his transition team as Chris Christie jettisoned

Christie may be being punished for fading into the background when the going got tough

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In the first Trump shake-up since the billionaire populist swept to victory on Tuesday, it emerged on Friday that Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, has been sidelined as the head of his transition effort in Washington and replaced by Mike Pence, the Vice President-elect.

Mr Pence may have seemed the more suitable choice because, as former six-term member of the House of Representatives, he has a very wide network of contacts in the conservative complex in Washington DC, which is now in frenzied convulsions as many within it jockey for top jobs, in search of influence and coin.

The transition team has to help Mr Trump settle not just on cabinet members and other key positions in the White House, including a chief of staff, but also on choices for about 1,000 top-level posts in his coming administration.

A potentially ominous signal for Mr Christie’s hopes of securing a top-line job in the incoming administration, the reshuffle came as Donald Trump confronted the sheer complexity of the transition process that must be completed before inauguration on 20 January next year. He is also facing criticism for tapping a large number of local lobbyists in Washington to help recruit talent, sometmes for areas of government of direct interest to the companies and industries they lobby for. 

Earlier on Friday, Mr Trump had sent out a Twitter message saying that he would be spending the day huddled with advisors on the top floor of Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan to begin the immediate task of choosing a White House chief of staff as well as those he intends to tap to head the major departments of government and join his cabinet.



Mr Christie was the first establishment Republican to throw his lot in with Mr Trump back in late February, when he had abandoned his own bid for the Republican nomination. Thereafter he was an on-off figure in the campaign, almost disappearing from public view in the closing weeks. 

By then he had already been picked to head the transition effort. However, there were some inside Team Trump questioning whether Mr Christie had pulled something of a disappearing act when the going seemed to be especially tough for the candidate in the last weeks of the race. 

There are, meanwhile, obstacles to nominating the Governor for any position that would require confirmation by the Senate, including any cabinet title, after two of his former top aides were convicted last week for conspiring to close traffic lanes of a major bridge to Manhattan as punishment for a local mayor who had refused to support Mr Christie for re-election.

By being shuffled out of the top transition spot, Mr Christie may also find himself removed from Mr Trump’s inner circle of advisors at arguably the most crucial moments in the transition when the first major appointments are likely to come.

Any discomfort for Mr Christie at this stage of the process will be met by schadenfreude among many voters in New Jersey. In part because the so-called Bridgegate scandal seemed to reinforce his reputation as a political bully, he has seen his popularity slide to new lows midway through his second term as governor.

For now Mr Christie has the consolation prize of remaining as one of several transition team vice chairs, who also include Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York City who is also making no secret of his desire for a top-level job in the new administration, along with former primary contender Ben Carson and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Both Carson and Flynn were also vocal supporters of Mr Trump in the campaign, including during his darkest periods.

Another vice chair is Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, also frantically peddling himself as a candidate for a cabinet spot, possibly Secretary of State. His furious support for Mr Trump during the race has carried over into a lack of magnanimity in victory, telling Fox News this week that those Republicans who didn’t embrace the New York billionaire were “little, whiny, sniveling, negative cowards”.

Also sidelined on Friday was Richard Bagger, a close associate of Mr Christie, who had been serving as the transition team’s director. The new transition director will be Rick Dearborn, the chief of staff to Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, another prominent Trump backer. 

In an email to reporters, Mr Trump also announced a new executive committee of his transition packed with loyalists and friends, including Jared Kushner, who is the husband of his daugther, Ivanka Trump. She and two of her siblings, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr were also listed.

Also onto committee is Peter Thiel, the Facebook co-founder who spoke for Mr Trump at the Republican convention, appalling some of his peers in Silicon Valley