The one two punch to 21st century American democracy came in the last several months in the form of a once in a century mass death event and our first violent insurrection that aimed to subvert the peaceful transition of presidential power by disrupting the certification of the Electoral College vote.
You can’t discuss the results of yesterday’s New Jersey’s Republican party without that wide panoramic view like that signature scene in Gone with the Wind (1939) where we get the aerial shot panning in on the 2,000 dead and wounded Confederate soldiers moaning in misery in the Atlanta train yard.
Consider that the 27,000 of our state residents that died from COVID is more than 13 times the number of bodies in that shot, most of which where dummies. Add in your post COVID damage assessment, that over a million New Jersey residents were infected with COVID, which could have long term health consequences for them, something we just would like to forget, as we do that eyes forward thing survivors tend to do.
New Jersey’s GOP Republican establishment might breathe a sigh of relief today that their pick to run against Governor Murphy prevailed in a four-way contest that drew out more than 311,000 of their party faithful, 120,000 more than their 2017 intramural contest. However, it was lower than the 2009 primary contest where Gov. Christie prevailed over former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan.
Yet, yesterday’s winner Jack Ciattarelli, the former Somerset County Freeholder and Assemblyman, was hovering below, or at just 50 percent in the four-way race where Phil Rizzo, a Hudson County developer and pastor, garnered 26.2 percent of the vote. Rizzo’s finish was enough to best Hirsh Singh, who wanted to make the primary all about who was the most ardent Trump supporter. Singh got just 21.4 percent of the vote.
Singh, a defense contractor and perennial candidate, failed to break 20 percent in several counties like Morris, Essex, and Union counties. But his Trump ardor was enough for him to earn a second-place finish in Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic and Bergen counties.
For Ciattarelli, bright spots where he won a solid majority of all the GOP votes cast included Cape May, Somerset, Union, Essex, Bergen counties. But he was way below that critical threshold in Middlesex, Monmouth, Salem and Sussex.
After initially downplaying his previous experience at every level of New Jersey government to cater to the Trump base, that sees a lack government experience as a prerequisite, by the final days of the campaign he was sounding more conventional and even electable.
In the May 25 101.5 FM debate, Ciattarelli was making a strong case that he was at least authentically from New Jersey where his family has lived for a century. “This is where I went to school…It’s where I passed the CPA exam,” he said, while maintaining strong eye contact. “It’s where I have owned and operated two very successful Main Street businesses. I have served at every level of government and term limited myself every single time.”
After some very athletic gyrations where he morphed from his 2016 ‘never Trumper’ status, to his 2020 pro-Trump persona, by the primary homestretch he cleared a place to stand. “I supported Donald Trump’s policies,” he said, during the 101.5 debate. “He won the war on ISIS. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He was tough and successful on border security. His economy was great, and he appointed conservative judges to the Supreme Court and the federal bench.”
So, while Ciattarelli believes that Joe Biden actually won the 2020 election, he’s endorsing the Trump immigration policies which included the forcible separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents.
The latest Rutgers/ Eagleton Poll indicates the November election is Gov. Murphy’s to lose, with 42 percent of those surveyed saying they “would definitely vote to reelect the governor. Twenty-one percent say they are on the fence, and 31 percent would definitely vote for someone else.”
According to the poll, support for Murphy in a head-to-head match-up increased when he was pitted against Ciattarelli. “Fifty-two percent of registered voters say they would vote for Murphy if the election were held today, compared to 26 percent for Ciattarelli,” according to the press release for the Rutgers Eagleton poll. “Murphy wins 83 percent of his Democratic base, while 67 percent of Republicans back Ciattarelli; independents are more unsure, with 19 percent not knowing who to vote for, another 39 percent siding with Murphy, and 29 percent backing Ciattarelli.”
For the former Republican Assemblyman his steepest mountain to climb is “a large name recognition deficit” with more than three-quarters of New Jerseyans having no opinion of him and more than half of those surveyed not knowing who he was. But then most surveyed voters in the Rutgers/Eagleton poll where clueless there was an election yesterday.
There’s also the matter of New Jersey electorate, which according to the Pew Research Center is becoming increasingly more diverse and less white. That spells trouble for a brand still largely represented by an avowed anti-immigrant and white supremacist like President Trump.
In 2000, our state had 4.1 million voters, 74 percent of whom were white. By 2018, we had 3.86 million voters with just 62 percent white. This diversification of the electorate is happening here at an accelerated rate than it is in the rest of the country, where in 2000, 76 percent of the voters were white. By 2018 that had dropped to 67 percent.
“The ways in which these demographic shifts might shape electoral outcomes are closely linked to the distinct partisan preferences of different racial and ethnic groups,” according to Pew. “Pew Research Center survey data spanning more than two decades shows that the Democratic Party maintains a wide and long-standing advantage among Black, Hispanic and Asian American registered voters.3 Among White voters, the partisan balance has been generally stable over the past decade, with the Republican Party holding a slight advantage.”
This response to this and the 2020 Democratic electoral success in states like Georgia and Arizona, is to quickly pass state legislation to make it harder to vote, particularly in the communities of color, where the GOP is now opting for suppression and repression rather than engagement.
MSNBC, the New York Times, NPR and Washington Post have all been wringing their hands over the “death of the two-party system” with the collapse of the GOP. But in places like Camden, one of the nation’s poorest communities, that’s been run by a self-serving Democratic Party machine for generations, there’s no Republican Party to speak off and in the yesterday’s primary for Mayor 2,500 votes was enough to win an election to lead a city of 80,000.
That’s one-party rule on life support.
There was a time in New Jersey when Republicans were able to get some traction with voters of color and actually compete with the Democratic Party, that all too often takes Black and Latino support for granted. ‘Where are you going to go? To the party that supports a movement that carried the Confederate in 2021 into the U.S. Capitol in hopes of stopping the certification of the first female Vice-President who also is a person of color?’
Back in 1985, Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican was endorsed for re-election by Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow, and a Democrat. According to the New York Times, Mrs. King described Kean as ”one of the most unique and promising statesmen of our time.”
At the time, several prominent Black New Jersey state legislators protested the endorsement by boycotting Mrs. King’s appearance.
But Dr. King’s widow saw her Kean endorsement as a way to shake up a stagnating status quo. ”To the extent that decent and concerned New Jerseyans, especially blacks and Hispanics, say ‘thank you’ at the polls, ‘they will set in motion a revolution in party attention and respect,” she told reporters at a news conference.
According to the Times, the Kean campaign hoped the endorsement would send a “strong message” to the national GOP that it had made “a terrible mistake” ignoring America’s Black voters.
”The message is that the national party has made a terrible mistake over the years ignoring the black community,” Greg Stevens, then Governor’s chief of staff, told the Times. ”We’re telling them we have something to offer the black community and that can win elections.”
Evidently, the GOP chose another path.