TRENTON, N.J. — Was that really Chris Christie, the brusque, take-a-back-seat-to-nobody governor of New Jersey?
Christie's seemingly shell-shocked gaze as he stood behind Donald Trump on Super Tuesday generated morning-after befuddlement and mockery in his home state and beyond.
Conservatives and liberals alike piled on.
His expression was so grave and his introduction of Trump so subdued that many people joked on the Internet that he looked like a hostage reading a coerced statement. "Gov. Christie, blink twice if you're in trouble!" one person tweeted.
In a move that shocked nearly everyone, especially in Democratic-leaning New Jersey, Christie endorsed his fellow Republican Trump last week and has appeared at the billionaire businessman's side at campaign appearances over the past few days.
But after Tuesday night's appearance, conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg of the anti-Trump National Review imagined Christie was thinking: "My God what have I done?" Others saw the same thing in Christie's thousand-yard stare.
Footage of Christie's stunned look, set to the jaunty theme song from HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," became a sensation online Wednesday. And Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri wrote an extended riff about how Christie was "screaming wordlessly" as Trump spoke and had "the glazed and terrified look of someone who has traded his inheritance for no pottage at all."
Christie's office declined to comment on his appearance.
Aside from Tuesday night, Christie appears to be fully embracing his surrogate duties. He has introduced Trump at a number of enthusiastic rallies and has been the front-runner's attack dog, sinking his teeth into Sen. Marco Rubio and vouching for Trump and his family.
Back home, the reaction has been fierce.
Republican Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency administrator, told The Star-Ledger of Newark last week she would rather vote for Hillary Clinton than Trump.
"I am ashamed that Christie would endorse anyone who has employed the kind of hate mongering and racism that Trump has," she said.
Six Gannett newspapers in New Jersey said he isn't fit to be governor any more. They called him a political opportunist who has neglected his duties in the Garden State, and urged him to resign.
A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll saw Christie's approval ratings fall from 33 per cent before he backed Trump to 27 per cent since. The poll of 694 registered New Jersey voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
"Trump and Christie kind of do belong together, but not running our country," said Barbara Silverstein of Gibbsboro, New Jersey. "It's a big show, and it's pretty pathetic."
In the past few days, the politician with the outsized personality seemed to be shrinking in political stature even if something big — perhaps the No. 2 spot on the ballot with Trump — is his goal.
Trump was heard on a microphone telling Christie to get on a plane and go home this weekend, and Christie was pressed Sunday in an ABC interview about his disagreement with Trump on his proposed ban on Muslims.
Christie refers to the candidate, who is supposedly his longtime friend, as "Mr. Trump," while Trump refers to the governor as "Chris."
Christie defended his endorsement this week on his regular radio call-in show.
"I've known him personally for 14 years and I believe he is the best person to beat Hillary Clinton," the governor said, before clarifying that he, Christie, was the best candidate but that Trump is the best of the remaining contenders.
Christie wouldn't discuss on the call-in show whether he was hoping for a vice-presidential or Cabinet slot.
Asked about his previous criticisms of Trump, Christie said that was a natural part of having to run against him — no different, he said, from George H.W. Bush calling Ronald Reagan's policies "voodoo economics" before becoming his vice-presidential pick.
To Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison, Christie's far-off stare seemed to reflect sadness.
"It really looked like heartbreak and kind of a bitter pill that he was swallowing," she said. "I still think that in his heart of hearts he thinks he was destined to be president of the United States."
This story has been corrected to show that Trump was heard telling Christie to get on a plane and go home before the interview with ABC, not after.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Kathy Matheson contributed to this story.
Michael Catalini, The Associated Press