For Phil Murphy, George Norcross, and Cory Booker, the first half of 2019 has been The Season of Their Discontent.
The life of Phil Murphy has been an Horatio Alger story of the rise of a son of working-class suburban Boston roots through Harvard and Wharton to the elite of Wall Street leadership. He possessed the first-rate intelligence and business street smarts that enabled him to overcome all obstacles in his path.
Note that I use the term “business street smarts.” Unlike his fellow Irish Bostonians, the Kennedys, Phil Murphy is totally devoid of the political street smarts that enabled them to travel from the Back Bay to the White House.
Murphy’s wealth bought him the Democratic nomination and finally election to New Jersey Governor in 2017. It cannot buy him success as a governor. He is setting a record for massive non-achievement.
In an era of renewed populism, Phil Murphy politically has a major tin ear. He has richly earned the sobriquet, “Hapless Phil.” Politically, Hapless Phil makes the politically inept Jon Corzine look like a unique combination of Karl Rove and David Axelrod.
Murphy is fortunate that in the era of Trump, the New Jersey Republican Party has declined from a condition of impotency into a moribund entity. Yet he faces the increasing likelihood of a 2021 Democratic primary challenge backed and strategized by South Jersey’s George Norcross, universally recognized as the most powerful man in the state who does not hold elected office.
Yet such a Norcross-led challenge will face a major image challenge of its own. The TaxCreditGate scandal has major potential for damaging the reputation of George Norcross. He could be a major political image albatross for the candidate challenging Phil Murphy in the 2021 Democratic primary. This will be particularly true if Norcross’s close ally, Senate President Steve Sweeney, is the candidate challenging Hapless Phil in the 2021 Democratic primary.
Having previously lived in South Jersey for much of my adult life, I have a different perspective on George Norcross from most political observers. My view of him is somewhat agnostic – I do not view him either as the Savior of South Jersey or the Devil Incarnate.
The game of political fundraising has actually become more antithetical to the public interest due to the well- intentioned yet counter-productive reforms enacted during the first two decades following the Watergate scandal. George Norcross is the best player at this game. Yet he is not responsible for inventing it.
There is a positive aspect to the years of Norcross’s leadership of the Camden County Democrats. He brought a much higher quality of leaders into Camden County government. I remember the 1970s and early 1980s when Camden County government was a vast wasteland of Democratic political hacks. During the Norcross era, Camden County government has been characterized by increased professionalism and an absence of scandal.
The problem with George Norcross hasn’t been any activity of his involving illegality. I have yet to see any credible evidence of criminality on his part. Rather, the chink in George Norcross’s armor has been the perception, rightly or wrongly. that due to his prodigious fundraising, he has an undue influence on the process of the granting by New Jersey public entities of contracts, financial awards, and incentives.
This perception of Norcross began with the large number of relationships established between New Jersey public entities and Norcross’s insurance brokerage firm, Connor Strong and Buckelew. This negative perception has been dramatically reinforced by the media coverage of TaxCreditGate, which involves in large part news coverage of the tax credits awarded by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) to South Jersey firms in which Norcross or his allies have a substantial ownership interest.
While internecine political warfare is brewing between Norcross and Murphy within New Jersey, the Garden State’s junior US Senator Cory Booker has found success for his presidential candidacy outside the state to be somewhat elusive, to say the least.
The selection of a presidential nominee by both political parties increasingly resembles the NCAA basketball tournament, where the Final Four is largely a product of what happens at the bracket level. In order to make the presidential nominee Final Four, you must capture control of a major bracket.
The Democratic Final Four is already foreseeable, even before the first primary or caucus vote is cast: 1) Joe Biden, who owns the Mainstream Center-Left lane; 2) Bernie Sanders, who owns the Socialist Progressive lane; 3) Pete Buttigieg, who owns Rockstar Newcomer lane; and 4) Kamala Harris, who owns the two most rapidly accelerating and passing lanes, the Impeachment lane and the Woman for President lane.
Booker’s problem is his inability to capture a lane. That is why he trails the field both in the polls and in fundraising.
Yet 2021 may be a year of ultimate political triumph for Murphy, Booker, and Norcross. This will result from the inevitable political demise of Donald Trump. This is evidenced by the horrific poll results on Trump performance approval and honesty since Barr-gate, the distortion of the Mueller report by the winner of the Fred Flintstone look-alike award, Mendacious Attorney General William Barr, the worst Attorney General since Nixon’s John Mitchell. Trump is already experiencing a large decrease in his favorability rating among those who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.
And there is the looming ominous legal threat to Donald Trump: Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York. State prosecutions of a sitting president are not precluded by the US Department of Justice policy precluding such federal presidential prosecutions.
Deutschebank is already cooperating with Letitia James in her civil investigation of the Trump Organization. Donald Trump is the most anti-African-American president since Woodrow Wilson, as evidenced by his housing discrimination in Brooklyn in the early 1970s, resulting in a Justice Department lawsuit, in which he had to consent to substantial corrective action, his campaign for the death penalty for the Central Park 5 even after they were found innocent, and his advocacy of the despicable birther movement. It would be most ironic if Trump was brought to account for his violation of the law by an African-American prosecutor.
In short, Donald Trump will leave the presidency on or before January 20, 2021. The following scenario is highly possible, perhaps even probable:
1). During the transition, the new president will get the current World Bank president, David Malpass to resign. He will be replaced by Phil Murphy. At the World Bank, he will no longer be Hapless Phil. Rather, he will be Green Eyeshade Phil.
2). The New Jersey Democratic Party will unite around Cory Booker to be the Democratic candidate for Governor in the 2021 election. He will be elected as New Jersey’s first African-American governor in a landslide.
3). To fill his US Senate vacancy, Governor Booker will appoint Congressional Representative Donald Norcross, brother of George Norcross.
There is virtually no problem in the New Jersey Democratic Party that the political meltdown of Donald Trump cannot cure!
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.