Chris Christie was delivering his last speech as the 55th governor of New Jersey, recounting for a mostly adoring crowd why he first ran for the office in 2009.

"We ran to win," he said, then momentarily veered off script from his prepared remarks and told the audience seated for his State of the State address: "I always run to win."

Christie, who leaves office Tuesday, has his detractors, and these days there are many – but no one would dispute that. At times, maybe he wanted to win — to be relevant, to enjoy the perks of power and celebrity — too much.

This desire to win explained his pragmatic side: forging an enduring alliance with conservative-leaning South Jersey Democrats — led by power broker George E. Norcross III, whom Christie praised in his speech last week — to force public workers to pay more for their pensions and health care.

His charisma and big tent approach — which stood in contrast to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who called for "self-deportation" of unauthorized immigrants — won him praise from the likes of Henry Kissinger and Nancy Reagan. After winning a landslide reelection in 2013 as a Republican in a blue state, he was well-positioned to seize the mantle of his party's governing wing ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

"We are not a debating society," Christie told a GOP confab in Boston in 2013. "We are a political operation that needs to win."

Arguably, it was winning — at all costs — that in part brought about his downfall. Aides who executed the scandal known as Bridgegate caused massive gridlock at the George Washington Bridge because they wanted to punish a small-town mayor for his refusal to endorse the governor's 2013 reelection campaign.

The message, even if Christie didn't send it himself, was you were either with him or you were against him.

And it explains his affinity for and early endorsement of then-candidate Donald Trump. Whereas Christie, as a presidential candidate, offered detailed plans to reform such programs as Social Security and Medicare, Trump promised not to touch the entitlement programs and ran on the improbable pledge to build a border wall to be paid for by Mexico.

Then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Christie on the campaign trail together during the 2016 election.
AP File Photo
Then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Christie on the campaign trail together during the 2016 election.

But endorsing Trump meant Christie was still in the game. And he became the connective tissue between the Reagan-Bush Republicans — it was George W. Bush who nominated Christie to be U.S. attorney for New Jersey, reinvigorated his political career — and the newfangled Trump GOP.

In between there was Christie, a mainstream Republican politician who used phrases like "pro-growth" but who also brought a swaggering, in-your-face approach, best captured in town-hall meetings where he scolded the leaders of public sector unions and their acolytes.

His communications shop packaged the clips on YouTube, which helped polish his brand. Even conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, typically wary of Northeastern Republican governors who spend too much time working with liberals, were in awe.

Christie once declared he was "tired of dealing with the crazies" in his party who opposed his nomination of a Muslim judge because they feared he would impose Islamic Sharia law. Then he endorsed a presidential candidate who was best known in politics for questioning Barack Obama's citizenship and who wanted to ban Muslims from the country.

You could say the crazies won. And to a certain extent, by lending his credibility to Trump, Christie joined them.

But it was never that simple with Christie. Bill Palatucci, Christie's longtime adviser, noted that in addition to nominating Sohail Mohammed, the Muslim judge, the governor appointed the state's first Sikh prosecutor (who's expected to be the next attorney general), and signed legislation that established in-state tuition for unauthorized immigrants living in the state.

So how does Christie reconcile those actions with his endorsement of Trump?

"It was obvious at that point that Trump was going to be the nominee. To sit on your hands and not do anything is just not an option," Palatucci said. "From my perspective, it's better to be in the room having input than just sitting on the sidelines and saying: Aw gee, isn't that terrible what somebody else did."

But the endorsement cost Christie credibility and reinforced a perception that he wasn't driven by any core political beliefs; he just wanted power, his critics charged, or at least proximity to it.

"I'll miss being in the middle of everything," he told the Star-Ledger in an exit interview, "because when you're in the middle of everything you have the chance to effect change, you have the chance to get things done."

The irony is that even as he kept chasing new opportunities — he wanted to be president, then wanted a high-level job in Trump's White House — Christie turned out to be the first governor to complete two terms since Thomas H. Kean Sr. nearly 30 years ago.

Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is to be sworn in on Tuesday.

Christie, 55, will leave office as the most unpopular governor in New Jersey history, according to polls. He says he doesn't care; he ran for office to be respected, not loved, and to be a governor of "consequence."

He pointed to accomplishments such as eliminating cash bail for most cases, elevating the profile of Rutgers and Rowan universities, working to turn around Camden, and starting a "conversation" about pension reform.

Christie contributed more money to the pension system than his predecessors, but even his panel of experts has warned that growing costs have put the state "at risk of losing the budget flexibility necessary to respond to emerging challenges and crises."

Christie has said he won't comment on state affairs going forward, but it's hard to imagine him vanishing from the spotlight. He says he hasn't lined up a new gig just yet, and is heeding advice from Jeb Bush and Karl Rove to take his time in considering job offers.

"I am a different type of public figure than you've ever seen in the state of New Jersey," Christie told reporters in July, amid his last big political fight as governor during a state government shutdown. " …I've been a voice on big public issues every year for 16 years. That's a lot of time."

"I think it's time to give someone else a chance to do that. I've had my time in the sun."

He'll miss the job, he said, adding: "I'll be fine. I'm a fairly well-adjusted guy."