Fight of the Week: Selen Versus Webber

Jay Webber and Tayfun Selen

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

William Faulkner’s famous quote is very much alive for Tayfun Selen – perhaps to his regret.

Selen, one of a handful of folks seeking the Republican nomination in CD-11, ran into an unexpected obstacle the other night, Assemblyman Jay Webber.

No, Webber is not running again for Congress. He tried that in 2018. But his campaign four years ago is relevant to the political drama of today.

To grasp why, we must go back to Webber’s 2018 campaign and learn about a man named Webster Lewin.

A digital marketer and humorist (his description), Lewin lives in Chatham Township, as does Selen. In 2020, Lewin coordinated Selen’s successful digital campaign for Morris County Commissioner. Lewin’s work, in fact, earned him a nomination for a Reed Award, a sort-of Academy Award for political work.

Two years prior – in 2018 – Lewin discovered Webber, which is one way of putting it.

Lewin decided to run a social media campaign against Webber using parody and satire. Recall that this was a pretty consequential House election in New Jersey, coming as it did after the retirement of Rodney Frelinghuysen.

On his webpage, Lewin explained his strategy.

“The goal was to satirically tie Jay Webber to President Trump as well as some of the most troubling aspects of online culture in the age of Trump, the rise of white nationalism.”

The campaign that followed included more than 2,000 tweets and memes under the “Trad Jay Webber” heading. The term “Trad” was designed to mock Webber’s belief in traditional values.

Lewin suggests all is well and good – and fair – if people know it’s a parody. Still, a number of Lewin’s creations seemed to “push the envelope.” Some of them poked fun at Webber’s wife and children. Others suggested Webber backs white supremacy; one mocked the appearance of one of Webber’s young interns by saying he needed to buy better-fitting clothes.

It was this material that brought Webber to last week’s meeting of Republicans in his hometown of Morris Plains. Selen attended as well, as primary candidates are wont to do.

Sources say Webber brought up Selen’s connection to Lewin and for good measure, distributed some of the offending material to local Republicans.

Asked about this, Webber sent a statement:

“Webster Lewin’s brand of politics is despicable: he viciously and disgustingly mocks candidates’ spouses, children, and their most deeply held religious and moral beliefs. He enjoys it, makes money off of it and then brags about it. Anyone who chooses to work with Mr. Lewin takes on the filth that comes with him and should be rejected.”

In the world of internal GOP politics, Webber’s sentiments are not trivial.

The Morris County Republican Committee will endorse a CD-11 candidate in a few months. Webber is a sitting assemblyman and a man who easily won the committee’s backing last year. He does have some influence.

Selen responded with a statement of his own:

“With all due respect, silly years-old slights from the campaign trail don’t really seem to be a smart way to choose candidates for Congress. I’m proud of my record as a CPA, a business executive, a fiscal conservative who has never raised taxes across four budgets, and as an immigrant who came to America and lived the American dream – I believe I have a solid taxpayer-first resume to win over independent voters.

“I believed as did many leading Morris Republicans that we needed an out-of-the-box Republican candidate to appeal to Independent voters in 2018, and the Democrats 15-point win that fall proved it to be true. This district is even more difficult for Republicans after redistricting, and as such we have no room for error. We need to put forward the best Republican candidate who can win. I look forward to a spirited debate on the issues.”

In case anyone forgot, it was incumbent Mikie Sherrill who won the 2018 race.

Lewin, for his part, was unapologetic.

“Someone like Jay Webber should never be holding a public office,” he said in a phone chat. Lewin added that Webber seems “too sensitive” and that he needs a tougher skin to be involved in Jersey politics.

Lewin declined to say if he plans to work on Selen’s congressional campaign. But he did say that Selen is a “great guy” and a very qualified candidate.

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