Now you’re about to see everything. I have been a Democrat from the time I played hooky at school at age 6 to volunteer for Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 Presidential campaign. I have been a delegate to the last three Democratic National Conventions and served on the National Platform Committee at the 2016 DNC. I currently serve as Deputy Vice Chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
But somehow I’m about to give heartfelt political advice to New Jersey Republicans.
Consider this column is to be a self-styled strand of The Lincoln Project. Surely you know The Lincoln Project. It’s the national PAC of establishment Republicans who, having retained their brains and integrity, are repulsed by Donald Trump and are working for Joe Biden’s victory. If you’re a Democrat as I am, you watch The Lincoln Project’s scorched-earth commercials with amazement mixed with envy.
For the good of the country, The Lincoln Party has put partisanship aside. For the good of New Jersey, I will do the same to present this invaluable tip to the Republican leaders among you. It is this:
Stop acting as if you have lost your minds.
Exhibit A is the Republican leader in New Jersey whom I usually consider to be one of the more rational Republicans remaining in the United States: Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield). I adore Jon. Smart, empathetic and funny, he’ll probably contact me with a warm hello after his reads this critical column.
Remember when Lindsey Graham, before repositioning himself from Trump critic to sycophant to preempt a primary challenge among South Carolina Republicans, said there’s something wrong with you if you don’t like Joe Biden personally? Same with Jon Bramnick. He’s New Jersey Republican version of Uncle Joe.
But something’s gotten into Jon. It’s called COVID-19 – politically and not medically, thank God – and it has made him go haywire. Gone is public servant with the DNA of the old-time moderate New Jersey Republicanism of Ray Bateman, Tom Kean Sr. and Christie Whitman. It’s not that Jon has always been moderate in his voting; it’s more in his temperament.
When I ran Garden State Equality and lobbied him on marriage equality, Jon made clear he was personally for it and found the arguments of marriage equality opponents to be ridiculous. He also said he would not vote our way because he felt he could not – not as a leader of an anti-marriage equality Republican caucus, at least as it was then. At the same time, he gave me helpful insights into colleagues that didn’t need to much straining to read the between the lines.
These days, Jon’s views on COVID-19 echo the Trumpism of America’s basket of deplorable Governors: Ron DeSantis of Florida, Brian Kemp of Georgia and Greg Abbott of Texas. Those three gubernatorial dolts ignored the scientific evidence and pandemic trends right before their very eyes – in fact, before all our eyes – by reopening their states prematurely in the name of economic growth. Now their states are paying the price with thousands of lives collectively lost that didn’t need to be lost.
As those of us with half a brain had anticipated, the red states are shutting down all over again. The temporary uptick in employment will soon give way to an economic tailspin equal to, or worse than, what we saw at the outset of the pandemic – a lose-lose for all.
Nationally, Trump Republicans are scurrying to revise their bravado. Mitch McConnell and Fox’s Sean Hannity have suddenly found the true religion of wearing masks. Their Governors are slowing down or reversing their reopenings outright. They are eating cardinal-red crow.
But not Jon Bramnick.
This week, Jon assailed Governor Murphy for delaying the opening of indoor restaurants, insisted the Governor should have simply discouraged patrons from dining inside.
Jon, on what planet are you living? Under Governor Murphy, New Jersey has ranked among the handful of states with a downward trend in COVID-19 cases as most the country trends dramatically up. Last week, the number of cases across the United States reached 55,000 in a single day – more than all the cases in the first two weeks of the epidemic.
In red states that opened too early, Americans telling the mere suggestion of social distancing to go to hell. Patrons are packing reopened venues like sardines. You’d have to be blind not to see the news coverage. Can you imagine the dangers to New Jersey during this 4th of July weekend?
Of course I believe Americans should have the freedom to be stupid. I don’t believe Americans should have the freedom to be homicidally stupid. Freedom of Assembly is not an E-ZPass to the road of murder.
To make matters worse, Bramnick is introducing legislation to force state legislature to meet in person during COVID-19 instead of by Zoom, as most workplaces now do. That’s a recipe for disaster I take personally. My second mom, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, is 85. She’s at high risk for COVID. But Loretta’s being Loretta, indefatigably devoted to serving the public and as vigorous as ever, she went to Trenton this week. That’s when I turned the tables and became her Jewish mother, scolding her out of love.
Jon, you are in the throes of cognitive political dissonance. For whatever reasons, you don’t see that Trump’s support has sunk to the point of no return and is now eroding even his Make America Great Again base. But there never was much of his base anyway in New Jersey. Meanwhile, prominent New Jersey Republicans, normally more sane than Trump, continue to host, sponsor or attend fundraisers for him. It baffles the mind.
What New Jersey Republicans ought to be doing is what Minnesota Republicans did years ago to appeal to moderates: They changed the official name of the state party to Independent Republican and didn’t give a damn what the national party thought. Today Minnesota Republicans, though having jettisoned the independent part of their name, are at rough parity in power with the state’s legendary Democratic Party, the DFL.
This much we know: Assuming Governor Murphy doesn’t wind up in the Biden cabinet, he will win reelection next year in a landslide, deservedly so. But there’s more at stake for New Jersey Republicans – the state party’s long-term viability. On the national political scene, New Jersey is cobalt blue in Presidential elections and U.S. Senate races, with a 10 to 2 Democratic advantage in our House delegation. Democrats have also mastered control of the state legislature. In gubernatorial elections, however, New Jersey remains stubbornly purple.
But if Republican leaders, including a decent man in Jon Bramnick, keep acting as if they have lost their minds and should be Republicans for Mississippi, New Jersey voters will obliterate their state party into extinction.
And it will be too late to Make the Whigs Great Again.