New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to endorse former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is a major moment in the 2012 presidential race.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is endorsing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(For the uninitiated, our endorsement hierarchy is an attempt to catalogue the various and sundry types of support by just how important they are. Scroll to the bottom of this post for a full list of the levels within the hierarchy — and examples. And, yes, it is a direct copy of Bill Simmons’ “Levels of Losing”. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that.)

This is an easy one: Christie endorsing Romney is a “symbolic endorsement”, the most important and powerful measure of support in the Fix endorsement hierarchy.

Christie’s endorsement will undoubtedly bring a number of New Jersey and New York money men (and women) on board with Romney. And, it amounts to a very nice media hit in the lead-up to tonight’s Washington Post-Bloomberg News presidential debate in New Hampshire.

But the true impact of the Christie endorsement of Romney goes well beyond just money and media. It amounts to the ultimate validator of the argument the former Massachusetts governor has been making for months: that the GOP race is not about picking the candidate who agrees with you on every issue but rather the candidate best positioned to win the nomination.

Christie, the first Republican to win the Garden State governorship since Christie Todd Whitman in the early 1990s, has been a major advocate of the need for the party to look at the entire country and pick the man or woman who can not only carry places like Mississippi and Nebraska but also put as many swing states as possible in play.

“I don’t think there should be purity tests on people,” Christie said in June on “Meet the Press”. “I think we have to make commonsense judgments on things.”

That he is willing to go public and say that person is Romney — particularly so soon after he decided not to run in his own right — will be taken as a signal to the party establishment that a rallying effect is underway for Romney. And don’t forget that Romney won the support for former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty last month, giving him two major campaign surrogates if and when he needs them

Romney will — if he hasn’t already — use Christie’s endorsement as an enticement to other governors and senators (not to mention major donors) who have been on the fence about getting behind the former Massachusetts governor so far in the race. (You can imagine the phone calls: “Look, Christie is with me. We need to unify and focus on Obama as soon as possible.”)

Add to that the fact that polling nationally and in New Hampshire suggests Romney is solidifying his frontrunner status and the Christie endorsement couldn’t come at a better time. If Romney performs well in tonight’s debate, the storyline for the rest of the week — at least — will be how the wagons are circling behind the former Massachusetts governor.

And that’s a very good storyline for Romney.

The Fix Endorsement Hierarchy (ranked in order of influence)

* The Symbolic Endorsement: Ted Kennedy backing Barack Obama during the 2008 primaries.

* The In-State Statewide Endorsement: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist throwing his support to John McCain just before the Sunshine State presidential primary in 2008.

* The National Endorsement: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty for Romney.

* The Celebrity Endorsement: Chuck Norris for Mike Huckabee in 2008.

* The Newspaper Endorsement: The Washington Post endorsing state Sen. Creigh Deeds in the 2009 Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary.

* Out-of-State Statewide Endorsement: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint endorsing former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate primary.

* The What Goes Around Comes Around Endorsement: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsing former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Florida Senate primary.

* The Obligatory Endorsement: Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran endorsing McCain’s presidential bid in 2008.

* The “Me for Me” Endorsement: Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) endorsing Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak’s (D) Senate campaign.

* The Non-Endorsement Endorsement: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) passing on an endorsement of Sen. David Vitter’s (R) 2010 re-election bid.

* The Pariah Endorsement: Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D) endorsing anyone.