There are no public questions on my Official 2021 Primary Election Sample Ballot that came in the mail the other day. Yet one of historic proportions looms large over the June 8 contest and that’s the future of the Republican Party, not just here in New Jersey, but in the United States.
The fact that our state, like the Commonwealth of Virginia, holds its gubernatorial election the year after the national election, has always provided the news media with an inflection point to view voters’ sentiment several months into the start of a new presidential term.
As such, both states’ contests have been used in past years as augers for the following years bi-annual Congressional contests.
However, this year, the four-way GOP race for the gubernatorial nomination will be every much about whether or not New Jersey Republicans believe that the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen or not as it is about who should challenge Gov. Murphy in November.
Incredibly, five months after former President Trump directed an angry mob on Jan. 6 to head up to Capitol Hill and “stop the steal” of the 2020 election, the question of the last election’s legitimacy dominated the May 25 101.5 FM New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission debate.
The broadcast face-off was between Jack Ciattarelli, who has lined up the state’s county Republican organizations, and Hirsh Singh, a Trump acolyte, who believes that Joe Biden stole the last election. Only Ciattarelli and Singh met ELEC’s qualifications to participate, even though Brian Levine and Phillip Rizzo are both on the ballot.
When asked by 101.5 FM’s Eric Scott who actually won the 2020 election, Singh responded “we all know Trump won” adding that “there are election results being disqualified all over the country.”
Scott did not ask Singh to substantiate his claims by offering even just one example of where 2020 election results were “being disqualified” which should have been easy enough since it was happening “all over the country.”
“So, I hope we will get back to Phil Murphy and New Jersey, but Joe Biden won the presidency,” countered Ciattarelli. “The Trump campaign and the Trump team filed 62 lawsuits around the country with regard to voter fraud and voter irregularity. Two of those cases made it up to the Supreme Court which has a majority of Trump appointees and conservative justices and the decisions went against the Trump team 9 to 0. Joe Biden is our president.”
To buttress his argument, Singh cited a poll like the Reuters/Ipsos poll that found that 53 percent of GOP voters surveyed between May 17-19 believed Trump to be the “true president.” According to Reuters, about one in four adults surveyed, including 56 percent of Republicans, believe the 2020 election, that Biden won by several millions votes, “was tainted by illegal voting. That number was only a few percentage points below where it was when pollsters asked the same question right after the election.
Singh insisted during the debate that his opponent was part of a cabal of Republicans like Rep. Lynne Cheney and Sen. Mitt Romney “who stabbed Mr. Trump in the back” and needed to be purged from the GOP. Early on in the debate, Singh said that Trump “was the greatest president” in his lifetime” and that Trump supporters were being unfairly maligned as “terrorists when we are just America loving patriots.”
Ciattarelli, who in 2016 opposed Trump, but in 2020 tried to align himself with him, was still trying to appease the Trump base by stipulating he “supported Donald Trump’s policies” on China, border security, the economy and his conservative picks for the Supreme Court and the federal bench.
For Singh, like the folks that stormed the U.S. Capitol in January, the 2020 election is very much an emotional flashpoint sensitive to the touch.
The day of the Capitol Hill insurrection, which had as its objective obstructing the lawful certification of the 2020 Presidential election, resulted in five deaths that day including that of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, a New Jersey native and veteran. Two responding police officers committed suicide after the attack and over 140 were injured.
Subsequently, federal prosecutors criminally charged hundreds of Trump supporters including law enforcement officers and an active duty U.S. Marine for their actions that day. A Colts Neck military contractor was also arrested. The Asbury Park Press reported a federal judge ordered that suspect held him in custody after “concluding his extremist ideology and comments favorable to a civil war make him a danger to the community.”
Almost a half-year since the bloody riot, the first of its kind inside the U.S. Capitol, and it’s not just Singh and Ciattarelli caught up in a retro debate over the outcome of the 2020 election and the significance of what came in its aftermath.
Last month, the two remaining Republican members of the New Jersey Congressional delegation split on the question of whether or not we should create a bi-partisan panel like the 9/11 Commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Rep. Chris Smith, who was first elected to his seat in 1980, was one of 35 Republicans to break with 175 GOP members who voted against convening a commission. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who left the Democratic Party to support Trump in 2020, voted against the investigation.
Ultimately, the measure was defeated in the U.S. Senate after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition and Democrats were only able to peel off six of their Republican colleagues to vote to form the panel.
Before that Senate vote, the mother of Officer Sicknick and the fallen officer’s girlfriend had walked the halls of Congress and had face to face meetings with Republican Senators. The pair told reporters they hoped to persuade the members, who themselves had come under attack that day, to vote for the probe.
“Usually I stay in the background,” said Gladys Sicknick, according to NJ Advance Media. “I couldn’t stay quiet anymore.”
“If they look at the footage that happened, it’s very obvious that that was not a peaceful day,” said Sandra Garza, Sicknick’s girlfriend, NJ Advance reported. “Police officers were getting attacked, they were getting beaten, fire extinguishers were being thrown at them, they were being attacked by flag poles.”
Before the U.S. Senate rejected the commission, former Governor Tom Kean and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who both lead the 9/11 Commission, “urged” the Senate pass the legislation to investigate the 01-06-21 “assault on the U.S. Capitol.”
“Today, democracy faces a new threat,” wrote Kean and Hamilton. “The January 6 attack on the U.S Capitol was one of the darkest days in the history of our country, Americans deserve an objective and an accurate account of what happened. As we did in the wake of Sept. 11, its time to set aside partisan politics and come together as Americans in common pursuit of truth and justice.”
After the measure’s defeat in the Senate, Kean told the Guardian newspaper its failure was “democracy’s loss.”
“It saddens me because there was no real, public reason for turning it down,” Kean, told the Guardian. “I guess some people were scared of what they’d find out. That’s not a good reason for turning it down.”
The real problem is that so many people think that what happened on 01-06-21 was justified and believe Trump should still be president. After the June 8 primary we will have a better idea of just how many of those folks live here in New Jersey.
The whole country will be watching.