The Kean Strategy, Contextualized

Noble Rodney Frelinghuysen, heading hastily for the open door of a dark sedan with furrowed brow, heard a reporter’s question about Donald Trump and said, ” I wish he wouldn’t tweet as much.” Then, the congressman who had served the district from 1995, practically dove headlong into his idling car with government plates, and it lurched out of the area.


That was the last time many in the dwindling press corps saw Frelinghuysen, scion of a New Jersey political family, son of a congressman, with roots in the Revolutionary War. Mulling over his public future at the midway of Trump’s presidency, Frelinghuysen decided he didn’t want to talk about Trump tweeting anymore, acting like that was the crux of the problem with the former Apprentice star’s presidency. So, he quietly opted out of running for reelection in 2018.  At two and a half decades, the mild-mannered conservative Republican, veteran of the backyard barbecue and rubber chicken circuit, who had served his country in Vietnam while Trump was writhing with a bone spur problem, called it a career.

It’s a strategy.

It doesn’t allow for one to continue his life of public service.

But it is a distinct reaction to the phenomenon of Donald Trump, which, slowly and prodigiously in Frelinghuysen’s aftermath, would consume his beloved GOP with all the ceremony of an anaconda digesting a bowling alley.

A different political animal than Frelinghuysen, from a much different region of New Jersey – the South – U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew that same year attempted to put distance on his own party by casting a vociferous “no” vote on the speakership of Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

It was his first official vote as a congressman.

The following year, Van Drew – ostracized by Democrats in his attempts to placate the right – would pull the plug on his party affiliation and become a Republican, swearing “undying support” for President Trump.

If Frelinghuysen felt pursued by Trump’s twitter feed, like Steve McQueen in The Blob, Van Drew ran headlong into the madness.

Normal people – like us – are treated as second class citizens,” said the congressman, when he seized the helm of Trump’s campaign in New Jersey.

Frelinghuysen was so horrified, he evacuated the public domain.

But “normal people like us,” – yes, Jeff – we understand.

Then there’s U.S. Rep. Tom Kean, Jr. (R-7).

If Frelinghuysen fled, preferring his legacy speak for itself on the historic building plaques and public park benches districtwide, and Van Drew embraced, standing at a podium with Trump in Wildwood and diving headlong into the volcano as his state campaign chairman this year, Kean appears to have chosen his own path: keeping his seat, yes, while dissolving into nothingness.

In his sophisticated leafy world, Frelinghuysen could see it wouldn’t work.

For Van Drew, presiding over a reddening working class district, which Trump won big, it works.

Van Drew tonight
Van Drew



In 2020, Joe Biden defeated Trump 111,173 to 71,996 in Somerset County, the heart of the 7th District.

It works, if one is invisible.

For if he disappears, he will exist, like a character in a play by Samuel Beckett, silently waiting, not for God or for Godot, but for the Trump era to end, or to again begin.

He doesn’t appear.

But he takes supposedly principled positions.

He’s pro-Ukraine.

Tough on the border.

But Trump doesn’t want the GOP to seal that deal.


Tough on the border.

But Trump doesn’t want it.


Tough on the border.

If Trump’s Tweets made Frelinghuysen’s hair stand on end, Kean’s Tweets read like snow drifts. They don’t connect to anything, and depend on the season, because the GOP’s 2024 government delivery system, hinged on Trump’s ravenous efforts to beat jail and pardon himself, inevitably goes nowhere.

Kean in his Carlos Casteneda-like separate reality has the added reinforcement of a map created by Democrats to protect other Democrats (like Andy Kim, Josh Gottheimer, and Mikie Sherrill) and concede CD-7 to Kean by turning former Congressman Tom Malinowski into a sacrificial lamb.

So, if he doesn’t say anything that makes sense in terms of turning into something tangible, he’s kind of like a Democrat, too, lest you hesitant, cynical nonbelievers out there attempt to characterize him as a total Trump tool. After watching him whiff three times as he tried to land a gig in federal office, the Democrats essentially made junior (or complemented the bronzed family edifice) by allowing him to hit off the tee of their Kim-Sherill-Gottheimer-protecting and Malinowski-guillotining map. So those same party forces, snug in their own cocoons of backslapping, power-sharing and lobbying, aren’t ever going to go nuclear on him.

That’s the learned behavior of NJ establishment detente, perfected by Kean’s father, former Governor Tom Kean, Sr. over the course of two statewide terms in office, and worked to good effect for one term by the elder Kean’s disciple, former Governor Chris Christie, who knew how to work with Democrats (like Van Drew) come budget time – before running aground amid an access of ambition and bombast. Christie limped out of office with a 16% approval rating. Kean, at the very least, will not suffer such a fate, going out amid crashing, conflicting gesticulations of baiting a crowd to brand Hillary Clinton jailbait on Trump’s behalf in 2016, then “warning the country” about Trump in time to compete in the 2024 GOP Primary.

But whether he loses or wins in the Trump era, the congressman’s method of relying on structural intergenerational politics to justify having no functioning structure, and posting words attached to meaninglessness, simultaneously feeding the MAGA anti-media beast by ceasing to speak, and allowing Trump’s voice to dominate the CD-7 YouTube ad airwaves, while still trying to hook the occasional Somerset County Frelinghuysen era fossil, fearful of Trump, who detests bombast in a man, and certainly putting the principal out of the political upward mobility conversation – makes a uniquely cynical case for nothingness in these troubled and terrifying times.



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2 responses to “The Kean Strategy, Contextualized”

  1. How does that saying go “say nothing and let people think you are an empty fool, rather than open your mouth and confirm it”? Kind of like the speculation of what Jared Kushner sounded since he never said anything in public and Gilbert Gottfried’s voice was substituted for fun. He is a cardboard cutout of the perceived republican; borrow and spend, appeal to what voters may want but not deliver. He is still trying to find a voice, something like his father’s patrician chortle that made you forget that Tom Sr. doubled the state budget in 8 years leaving the next administration to pay for his misdeeds. I always thought that Jim Florio and the democrats should have given the next 4 years for free to Jim Courtier and let him suffer. I guess if Tom had anything to say he would have said it by now. Rather than earn his paycheck Tom and the republicans just want to jam up any process that can accomplish something and wait in the hope that the trump criminal enterprise will return. After all, look at how much the trump criminal enterprise accomplished in 4 years.

  2. Congressional dysfunction has finally come home. It’s little secret that our government no longer represents the majority of its voting citizens. This past week, our Congressman, Tom Kean Jr., voted to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas over his role in executing current immigration policies. Nowhere did the secretary commit “high crimes or misdemeanors” by any definition.
    Rep. Kean distinctively choose to blindly follow an increasingly radicalized party whose only purposes are to appeal to its narrow base, score cheap political points, and foist moral extremism on the general public. The net of this is a continuation of the cheapening of civil and societal discourse. I’d wager good money Tom Kean Sr. rolled his own eyes at his son lack of virtuous character. Sr. was a government official with a moral spine. His son is apparently without one.

    Not since 1876, when the financially corrupt Secretary of War was rightfully impeached for real crimes have we seen this kind of activity. The 2024 Congress, unlike its predecessor, has proven itself inept and unable to discern a policy difference from a substantial crime. Impeaching people over policy differences isn’t what we expect from our representatives.

    Sadly, Rep. Kean Jr. has decided it’s more expedient and politically feckless to appease his D.C. master’s instead of accurately reflecting the unquestionable majority of voters in his district. Red or Blue, NJ voters from this area have long proven themselves to be pragmatic and mostly policy centrists. Kean Jr. has failed us. We deserve better.

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