To say that I am an avid fan of the movie, “The Godfather,” Parts One, Two, and Three is the greatest understatement since Henry Aaron said he thought he could hit.
Let me state my personal motto: If it isn’t in the Torah or “The Godfather,” it isn’t worth talking about! Both the Torah and “The Godfather” are replete with scenes and dialogue applicable to real life situations.
And there is a scene in “Godfather, Part 2” that is most applicable to the forthcoming 2024 Democratic Senatorial primary face-off between First Lady Tammy Murphy and Congressman Andy Kim. I speak of the scene where Michael Corleone proclaims his famous line in a conversation with the Meyer Lansky-like Hyman Roth: “The soldiers are paid to fight. The rebels are not. The rebels can win.”
This scene is a remarkable bit of historical fiction, based loosely on the overthrow of Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista by the rebel forces of Fidel Castro on New Year’s Eve 1958-1959. Michael Corleone’s rebels are the Castroite rebels, and the soldiers are the forces of Batista. The only loyalty the soldiers have to Batista is based on money. The loyalty of the rebels is based on passion and ideological fervor.
The county Democratic chairs in the Murphy-Kim primary are the Batista soldiers. Their loyalty to Tammy Murphy is based solely on money – the ability to get funding for their counties in the last two remaining budgets of husband Governor Phil Murphy, FY 2025 and FY 2026. The Andy Kim rebels, whose core consists of left wing progressive, Socialist leaning Democrats are motivated by compelling passions of ideological fervor and a desire to give the Democratic establishment a bloody nose.
So the endorsements of virtually all the Democratic county chairs for Tammy Murphy matter a lot less than meets the eye. These party luminaries care very little about the outcome of a US Senate Democratic primary. The much ballyhooed “power of the line” does not matter nearly as much in a Senate intra-party nomination battle as in a gubernatorial primary.
The county Democratic chairs will not feel that their credibility will be at stake if Andy Kim defeats Tammy Murphy in any of their respective counties. Accordingly, you will not see them engage in extensive and intensive get-out-the-vote efforts in the 2024 Senate Democratic primary to reinforce their endorsement and the line position as they will in the 2025 Democratic gubernatorial primary.
In a gubernatorial primary, EVERYTHING is at stake, including not only state largesse but also appointments and jobs at all levels – the mother’s milk of politics. If a county Democratic chair endorses a losing candidate, he or she can find himself or herself out in the cold when it comes to the benefits the victorious primary victor can bestow if elected governor. And the loss of credibility in his or her home county can lead to the loss of his or her party chair position as well.
The Kim rebels will work 24 hours a day to get him elected. I saw a campaign like this succeed before, the 1978 Republican Senate primary where Jeff Bell upset the incumbent four term US Senator Clifford Case, largely due to the grassroots efforts of Reaganite conservatives. And Tammy Murphy is far less strong politically than Clifford Case was in 1978. The Public Policy Polling survey recently published shows Kim leading Tammy Murphy, 40-21. And the Public Policy Polling survey is highly reputed, with an A- rating in the Nate Silver 538 rating of pollsters.
The Murphys are involved in an effort to establish a political dynasty without the requisites of political dynasty. These requisites are money, plus either 1) historic achievement by the dynasty progenitor, or 2) compelling charisma. Phil Murphy has been an above average, reasonably competent governor, but hardly one with historic accomplishment. And compelling charisma is not a characteristic one would associate with the Murphys.
In the political arena, Phil Murphy has one remarkable skill: his supreme talent as a backroom operator, making effective, and I must say, legal use of his wealth. In Godfather terms, however, he has run out of offers his political customers can’t refuse!
Yet there has been one moment in the Tammy Murphy campaign thus far that I will never forget. One of her fervent politically prominent supporters compared her with Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt. I worked with Hillary Clinton as Region 2 EPA Administrator under Bush 43 and left the Republican Party to enthusiastically support her for President in 2016. In past columns I have described Eleanor Roosevelt as the greatest of all First Ladies. As a passionate student of American history, I can say that any comparison of Tammy Murphy with either Hillary Clinton or Eleanor Roosevelt is at best, ludicrous hyperbole, or at worst, an odious devaluation of what these two great women were. I also must wonder if Tammy Murphy or her most enthusiastic supporter know what “My Day” was.
Alan J. Steinberg of Highland Park 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.