Prior to yesterday, George Gilmore, the Ocean County Republican Chair was arguably the most significant and influential Republican leader in New Jersey. He ruled with an iron hand the Republican Party in Ocean County, the most solidly Republican county in New Jersey.
A Gilmore endorsement was a necessity for any Republican in New Jersey seeking statewide office. Yet outside Ocean County and the small circle of New Jersey political insiders, few New Jerseyans knew the name George Gilmore.
All this has changed with the news yesterday regarding the federal indictment of George Gilmore on charges of major tax fraud. This now becomes the major New Jersey political scandal.
This will not be limited to an Ocean County story: the New Jersey political media will make sure of that. George Gilmore will now become a name with a major negative connotation known throughout the state.
Gilmore is entitled to the legal presumption of innocence. In the political court of public opinion, however, no such presumption exists. However unfair it may be, a political figure like George Gilmore will be presumed to be guilty until vindicated by a finding of “not guilty” by a jury.
The major immediate victim, other than Gilmore himself, is the Republican Party of New Jersey. New Jersey Democratic political media strategists doubtless are already this morning scripting messages and commercials featuring Donald Trump and George Gilmore, himself an enthusiastic Trump supporter, as the faces of the Republican Party of New Jersey. For good measure, they can throw in the face of Chris Christie, he of Bridgegate and Beachchair-gate fame and a leader in the competition for New Jersey’s most unpopular political figure. The ultimate result is the destruction of the New Jersey Republican brand and a loss of even more Republican Assembly seats in this November’s elections.
The national Blue Tsunami which due to Trump toxicity gave the Democrats a national landslide in the recent midterm Congressional elections damaged the Republican Parties in California and New Jersey more than in any other states. The Republican vote for Congressional candidates in New Jersey was, for the most part, limited to Trump base voters, resulting in Chris Smith being the only Republican remaining in New Jersey’s delegation in the House of Representatives.
The ongoing and forthcoming Trump revelations will result in defections from Trump and the Republicans even among his base supporters. These working class voters will start to defect from Trump in view of 1) his plan to fund the Mexican border wall by misappropriating monies from disaster relief funds in Puerto Rico and California; and 2) his apparent intention to unconstitutionally bypass Congress by declaration of a national emergency at the Mexican border, setting a precedent for future liberal Democrat presidents to likewise bypass Congress to fund and implement measures on progressive Democrat priorities like climate change. And next on the agenda is the testimony of Michael Cohen, which is expected to include severely damaging allegations regarding the Trump Organization.
There is one major New Jersey Democratic winner in the Gilmore-Trump GOP meltdown: Governor Phil Murphy. His political incompetence remains legendary, as displayed by his front office’s flagrant misfeasance on the issues of the sexual assault against Katie Brennan, his incoherent tax and budgetary policies, and his poor relations with the legislative leaders of his own Democratic Party.
All these matters, however, appear to have done Murphy little damage with the New Jersey electorate. The coverage of the Trump scandals and the Gilmore indictment will eclipse the political significance of the Murphy fumbles. Unless Phil Murphy is found to have attempted to cover up the sexual assault against Katie Brennan, he is likely to politically survive and secure a reelection victory.
The other Democratic winner in the Gilmore indictment scandal is Andy Kim, newly elected member of the US House of Representatives from New Jersey’s Third District, consisting of Ocean and Burlington Counties. Unless George Gilmore is acquitted, his prosecution is certain to do major damage to the Republican Party of Ocean County, vastly improving Kim’s reelection chances.
There are two outstanding Republicans in New Jersey who would make excellent governors and candidates for same in 2021, State Senator Tom Kean, Jr. and former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. Kean is also considering a Congressional run against Tom Malinowski. The damage to the New Jersey Republican brand resulting from the ongoing saga of Gilmore/Trump, however, creates an obstacle to the candidacy of either Kean or Ciattarelli.
Let me make an analogy between the Republican Party of New Jersey and the stock market. If the NJGOP was a stock, it would be presently subject to massive short sales.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.