Get Well, Governor Phil. You’re in the Political Catbird Seat for 2020 – and 2021


Last night, I was in the process of writing a column describing how Phil Murphy’s political prospects have never been brighter, both in terms of his influence on the Democratic presidential nomination process in 2020 and the likelihood of his reelection for governor in 2021.  Then, I got news that hit me like a sickening thud.

Phil Murphy has a cancerous tumor on his kidney.  He is hopeful, however that the cancer has been detected early enough for the surgery to be successful and to make a full recovery.

Full disclosure:  The news hit me hard because in the process of getting to know Phil Murphy since he took office in 2018, I have developed a genuine affection for him, regardless of the differences in our views on significant issues.  He and his wife, Tammy, are individuals of the most profound decency and superb character. Tonight, Phil Murphy is in my prayers.

And my political respect for him has grown significantly as well.  For somebody whose career was almost entirely in the private sector, his political acumen is indeed remarkable.  My column, “Phil Murphy is No Jon Corzine (’ tells it all in this regard.

So I take Phil Murphy at his word when he says that his outlook is very good.  I believe this, because a former close friend of mine had the same cancer over ten years ago, had surgery, and made a complete recovery.

Thus, I will not let Phil’s temporary setback interfere with the publication of this column- especially since it is a most positive forecast of what lies ahead for his political future.

And let me begin by utilizing one of my patented “Steinberg sports analogies.”

My all-time favorite baseball broadcaster was the late, lamented Walter Lanier “Red” Barber, the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers during their halcyon days of the late 1940s and early 1950s.  He often used the phrase, “the catbird seat” to describe an enviable position, often in terms of having the upper hand or greater advantage in any type of dealing among parties.

And it is abundantly clear that when it comes to both the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2020 and his own reelection in 2021, Phil Murphy is indeed in the catbird seat.

When I last interviewed the governor, we discussed the status of New Jersey in the presidential nomination process and the fact that usually, the nomination has been decided in each political party before the June primary.

Murphy then, however, made a comment that surprised me with its boldness.

“Not this year,” he said.  In 2021, the New Jersey primary will have a large impact on the selection of the Democratic nominee.”

And it looks like Phil Murphy, who supposedly is lacking in political smarts, is going to be right again.

The debate this past week and the Nevada caucus has narrowed the Democratic presidential field to only three viable candidates: Bernie Sanders, Michael Bloomberg, and Joe Biden.

One parenthetical note:  In my post-debate column (, I stated that the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg was already fatally damaged by his inability to attract African-American voters.  The results in the Nevada caucus confirmed this: Buttigieg received less than 3 percent of the African-American vote.

Now the media has an absurd bias against Joe Biden.  He performed superbly in the debate on Wednesday night, but nobody in the press gave him the credit.

Lost in the news out of Nevada was the fact that Biden outpolled Sanders in the African-American community by 12 points.  This augurs very well for the former vice-president in the Democratic South Carolina presidential primary on February 29, where the African-American constituency constitutes over 60 percent of the vote.

Joe Biden will win South Carolina.  The national media, with its vapid conventional wisdom and anti-Biden bias, will downplay the significance of the result.

What they fail to grasp is that a South Carolina victory will establish a clear path to the nomination for Biden:  Victories by Joe in the New York and Pennsylvania primaries on April 28, followed by his winning the New Jersey primary on June 2 will ensure that no candidate will arrive at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in July with a sufficient number of delegates to win a first-ballot nomination.  On the second or third ballot, the 700-plus super delegates will put Joe over the top.  Joe will pick the new Democratic gubernatorial superstar, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer as his running mate, and the Biden-Whitmer ticket will oust Trump from the White House in November.

The outlook for Biden in Pennsylvania and New York is most favorable.

In Pennsylvania, where Joe has solid Scranton roots, the polls show him to be ahead.  And Biden has the emphatic, powerful endorsement of the lead Democrat in the Commonwealth: former Governor and mayor of Philadelphia Ed Rendell.

In New York, it is the ethnic factor that favors Biden.  The Jewish vote will be overwhelmingly against Sanders, due to his virulent anti-Israel position, which contrasts with Biden’s record as a senator of solid support for the. Jewish State.  The African-American vote will be pro-Biden and anti-Bloomberg, due to the issues of Stop-and-Frisk and the Central Park Five.  And Biden will remind the Latino community of the Sanders vote against the 2007 immigration bill, a bipartisan measure which, if it had passed, by now would have given a pathway to citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants.

A note on Sanders and the Jewish community: Last night, in his Nevada victory speech, Sanders spoke of his Polish-Jewish immigrant father.  Well, my grandfather, Archie Steinberg, born Aryeh Yoel Malovany, was a Polish Jewish immigrant also.  But all of Archie Steinberg’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren reject the Sanders hostility to Israel and his shameful embrace of anti-Semites like Linda Sarsour, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.

So for Biden, it will all come down to New Jersey.  The key will be whether Biden will get the endorsement of Phil Murphy.

I have never discussed with either Phil Murphy or any of his staff the question as to whether or whom he would endorse for president.  But I have every reason to think that he will endorse Joe Biden.

Given all the controversy in New Jersey about NonDisclosure Agreements (NDAs) and anti-women toxic work places, I find it impossible to believe that Phil Murphy would even consider endorsing Michael Bloomberg. It would be an act of outright political suicide, and I do not believe that Phil Murphy is suicidal in any respect.

Nor do I think that Murphy will be inclined to endorse Bernie Sanders.  In the 2018 midterm elections, the Democrats captured two US House of Representatives seats from the Republicans, the Third District with Andy Kim and the Seventh District with Tom Malinowski.  If Bernie Sanders is at the top of the ticket, Kim and Malinowski should start packing their Washington offices.  Their defeats by their respective challengers, Kate Gibbs and Tom Kean, Jr. will be guaranteed.

Phil Murphy, as the titular and actual leader of the Democratic Party in New Jersey is determined not to lose these two Congressional seats.  True, he is a Progressive, more or less.  But he is not a MOVEMENT Progressive who automatically takes the positions of the leadership of Progressive organizations.  He will not endorse Sanders.

Biden comes close to being the ideal Democratic presidential candidate for New Jersey.  His center-left philosophy is consistent with that of the great majority of New Jersey voters.  His long-term outstanding partnership with the African-American community is most relevant for a state like New Jersey with a large Black population.

The needs of New Jersey and the urgency of defeating Donald Trump are the two paramount aspects to be considered by Phil Murphy in endorsing a presidential candidate.  Biden consistently leads Trump nationally by a substantial popular vote margin in every poll and has conclusively demonstrated that he is the most electable Democratic candidate against The Donald.

Accordingly, all factors point to a Murphy endorsement of Biden and to that endorsement being decisive in the presidential race.  Phil Murphy is in the catbird seat of Democratic presidential sweepstakes 2020 by virtue of his being a potential kingmaker.

And this week, with the publication of the Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Poll, conducted by the eminent Krista Jenkins, Director of the Poll and a Professor of Politics and Government, the New Jersey political community learned that the unpopularity of Donald Trump in New Jersey had worsened ( ).  This unpopularity places Phil Murphy in the catbird seat for a virtually certain reelection.

The prospects for Trump in New Jersey are most dismal.  His grotesquely ugly poll numbers (32 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove) are the natural outcome of a grotesquely ugly narrative.  It is a narrative of racism, misogyny, cruel xenophobia, rejection of climate change science, bribery of foreign powers to interfere in our election on Trump’s behalf, embrace of foreign tyrants, and presidential violation of Constitutional ethics, particularly the Emoluments Clause.

Since Donald Trump escaped removal from office, he has been emboldened to commit worse abuses of power.  Accordingly, added to the repulsive Trump narrative, post impeachment, are 1) presidential refusal to share intelligence with the Congress showing Russian violation of our sovereignty in continuing to interfere in our 2020 election on Trump’s behalf; 2) wrongful Trump/Barr interference with career Justice Department prosecutors; and 3) shameless abuse of the pardon power by the president himself.

New Jersey is the state of Tom Kean and the Politics of Inclusion.  Accordingly, the Trump narrative is manifestly repulsive to the overwhelming majority of New Jersey voters.  It is the ugliest narrative any Republican presidential candidate has had since the GOP nominated its first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont in 1856.

The New Jersey Republican Party has several good and competent candidates for governor in 2021.  The problem is that the NJGOP is now fully in the grip of Trumpists and Trumpism.

No Republican can be nominated for New Jersey governor without pledging absolute fealty to Donald Trump and the Trump presidency.  When you swear this allegiance to Trump, you forevermore wear the ugliness and bear the stench of the Trump narrative, regardless of your own good qualities.

And Phil Murphy’s superb political media consultants, Brad Lawrence and Steve DeMicco will have a film clip of every appearance you make on television in which you affirm your support of Trump.  This will make for absolutely devastating negative commercials against you in New Jersey Gubernatorial Campaign 2021.

So barring an unforeseen scandal of mammoth proportions, the Trump narrative assures the reelection by a massive margin of Phil Murphy in 2021.  Phil Murphy, you’re in the Red Barber Catbird Seat to be a presidential kingmaker in 2020 and to be reelected in 2021.  You are a first class mentsch, and I will pray in Hebrew that you have a Refuah Shleima – a complete and speedy recovery, and that you and your family be blessed with all the good things life has to offer.

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.

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