Peter DeNeufville comes across more like an academic than a New Jersey politician.
That’s a compliment, but you have to wonder how it will play in what can be a nasty battle for the Republican congressional nomination in the 11th District.
A 50-year-old Mendham resident, DeNeufville’s name didn’t surface as a possible candidate until a week before the filing deadline. The candidate is a businessman and an adjunct senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, a bipartisan Washington think tank.
His specialty is the Middle East and more specifically, Afghanistan, which he has visited more than once. Afghanistan, which was once a remote, if not exotic, land largely unknown to most Americans, has occupied a central role in U.S. policy since American military involvement began in 2001. DeNeufville’s interest goes back further than that; his doctoral thesis at the University of London covered the country’s anti-Communist insurgency, which began in the 1970s.
While there’s nothing simple about Afghanistan, DeNeufville breaks things down into an easy-to-grasp analysis. While the Afghan government has the support of the United States, it lacks the support of the people, he said over coffee Tuesday morning in Morristown.
President Trump increased American troop strength in Afghanistan, but the numbers are far less than they were under Presidents Bush and Obama. Notwithstanding ongoing problems, DeNeufville says the U.S. should not pull out, but that its mission should be scaled back.
Economics is also his forte and DeNeufville notes that the current Afghan mission is costing taxpayers about $45 billion a year. He says wistfully that $45 billion could do New Jersey’s infrastructure a world of good.
Looking over the nation’s finances in general, DeNeufville speaks of a “crisis of epic proportions.” He’s referring to the federal budget deficit and a debt of $21 trillion.
The problem here is that while many decry government spending on all levels, there is less consensus on what precisely you should cut from the budget. Just about every program and government initiative has a vocal and sometimes politically powerful constituency.
DeNeufville supports a balanced budget amendment, but short of that, he would like to see a line-item veto for the president, growth-based spending caps and civil service reform. He also is no fan of unlimited direct American involvement overseas, which brings him back to the $45 billion cost of the Afghanistan mission.
DeNeufville knows that if he gets to the House, it may not be easy for his ideas to gain traction. Even if Republicans maintain control, which is no sure thing, he would be a freshman in a body where seniority rules. He doesn’t seem bothered by that, saying that it’s important to have ideas on vital issues and to seek out those who share them.
Politics often is a craft when people latch onto kernels of information and reach quick conclusions.
On that score, it’s been noted by some of his opponents that DeNeufville lives relatively close to Chris Christie and that his spokesman, Brian Murray, did the same job for the former governor in the last few years of his term. So, presto, go the conspiracy thinkers – DeNeufville must be running at Christie’s behest.
While it’s debatable, of course, what that would even mean, DeNeufville says the former governor has nothing to do with his run for Congress. As for Murray, the candidate said he was recommended by a mutual friend. And no, that friend was not Christie.
On such passionate issues as immigration and guns, DeNeufville seems to be staking out what can be termed standard Republican positions.
He calls himself “pro-gun,” and a supporter of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision reconfirming an individual’s right to own a firearm. That ruling also held that “reasonable” restrictions on gun ownership are allowed, a standard DeNeufville would be happy to leave to the states.
DeNeufville said that a needed overhaul of immigration laws should reward “talent” as opposed to so-called chain migration, a system in which individuals who have immigrated to the United States are allowed to also bring in many of their relatives.
Polls currently show a advantage nationally for Democrats going into the November election. That sentiment certainly hits the 11th District, which is now considered competitive. That hasn’t been the case in recent memory.
DeNeufville says there’s a lot of “hyperbole” out there coming from the press, but that he’s confident the state’s Republican incumbents will prevail, specifically mentioning Leonard Lance and Thomas MacArthur in Districts 7 and 3 respectively. Both have Morris County ties. Lance represents the western half of Morris and MacArthur once lived in Randolph and served as mayor.
As for his own District 11, DeNeufville said, “This is a pretty conservative area. Rockaway, Wayne, these are conservative places.”
There are four other Republicans in the primary race. most notably Jay Webber, a state assemblyman from Morris Plains, and Antony Ghee of Totowa, who has organizational support in Essex and Passaic counties, which represent about 40 percent of the district. DeNeufville is not fazed by Ghee’s backing, saying he plans to campaign throughout the district. And that includes Essex and Passaic counties.
DeNeufville seemed ready for a question about going up against Webber’s government experience.
“I’ve created more jobs than Jay Webber,” he said.