And So it Begins, And So it Begins, And so it Begins…


Phil Murphy wouldn’t be the first guy looking to use the political bully pulpit of the northeast’s supposedly slimy armpit as a springboard to Iowa. But if his swearing-in ceremony last month felt more like a Democratic National Convention set-piece, replete with all the self-fawning features of imminent White House occupancy, Murphy adamantly insists he has no interest in running for the presidency.

He finds himself in a delicate spot, of course. First-term President Joe Biden – a fellow Democrat – already occupies the White House, so Murphy can’t project all the overpowering hunger for higher office that is the natural province of politicians. Even if he harbors the internal agonies of one who craves a world stage, Murphy has to plod along as a party spear carrier, with little on his public mind other than the hopes and dreams of New Jerseyans. That said, few observers believe Biden, 80 in November of this year, will run for reelection, amid signs of Vice President Kamala Harris struggling to subdue political efforts to undo her in time for the 2024 nomination.

So Murphy has the task of playing inveterate tireless cheerleader to Biden-Harris, while gently, quietly positioning himself as their heir apparent when they inevitably crack up. In contemporary America, political success hinges on the cultivation of narrative and optics, usually in the service of folks. As long as the pandemic remains a threat, folks have the governor looking out for them. Check. The victory speech after he won reelection – an indefatigable endzone dance in front of a subdued and confused television audience who didn’t even know yet if Murphy had won – and the inauguration, supplied all the optics of a presidential spectacle. Check. Then this week, senior Murphy advisor Dan Bryan set up a 501c(4) policy advocacy group and Stronger Fairer Forward, a political organization to reassert the optics of a narrative to help folks. Check. Check. Check.

First Lady Tammy Murphy will serve as Chair of the Board for both organizations. Mollie Binotto and Kristen McMahon will also serve on both boards, according to the release.

“Phil and I have spent the past four years working tirelessly to make New Jersey a stronger and fairer place for everyone,” Tammy Murphy said. “Though we’ve come far, there is still much more work to be done. These organizations will advocate for policies and candidates to further strengthen our economy and provide opportunity for all. Now is the time for action.”

“Now is the time for action.”

Well, kind of.

It’s more like aggressive non-action, as Democrats like Murphy position themselves for a promotion while berating anyone who suggests they’re positioning themselves for a promotion.

In the meantime, does the sitting governor truly possess something more than Bill Bradley, Chris Christie and Cory Booker, recent statewide brands who somehow failed to convince the rest of the country that we would do better nationally to be more like New Jersey? Well, for one, those who back Murphy – and even those who don’t back him – marvel at his political luck. He opposed South Jersey Democratic Party pit boss George Norcross, then kissed and made up, only to narrowly win reelection while the voters dealt Norcross and his allies punishing defeats. He weathered a palace intrigue scandal early in his tenure in which his chief counsel squirmed on the hot seat, only to find himself in his second term relieved of most of the political irritants that would make it difficult to make that same counsel his attorney general, which is what Murphy is in the process of doing, insiders say, successfully. He adopted a mostly respectfully subservient role to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who called all the audibles at the height of the COVID crisis, only to watch Cuomo implode, and the mantle of COVID leadership chops fall on his shoulders in time for the lead-up to 2024. And on and on.

Sources speculate about the governor’s chief of staff, George Helmy, leaving the administration around budget time (successor possibilities include Zakiya Smith Ellis and Justin Braz, among others), but note that his timing ultimately may be tied to Murphy’s accelerated presidential schedule. Trenton sources too dismiss the possibility of U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2020, somehow inhibiting Murphy’s pathway, although at least one Murphy source treaded cautiously. “It’s great to have two great candidates from New Jersey in the national mix,” the source said.

Under all the inner circle excitement in his own circle about him taking a crack – against the odds – at making New Jersey more than merely a national piggy bank for other people’s presidential campaigns (Democrats) or a golf course crash pad for strategy (Republicans), Murphy allies worried about the coming transfer of power, given what happened last time on Jan. 6th, 2021. All the dreamy checkpoints and flashy national-sized grins aside, what version of America would Murphy and his fellow travelers in search of representative power encounter come 2024?  For some sources, it was too frightening to think about, as one Democrat, in obdurate Jersey-centric mode, this week sagely remarked in response to a question about the second Murphy inaugural, “I think Tammy Murphy’s running for governor.”




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One response to “And So it Begins, And So it Begins, And so it Begins…”

  1. “All the dreamy checkpoints and flashy national-sized grins aside,…”

    Hope he gets his teeth fixed before all that grinning goes national.

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