Most insiders don’t see Governor Phil Murphy hanging around the Delaware River for a full term if he gets reelected on Nov. 2nd. For his part, veteran Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine doesn’t need a drunken operative to tell him what he saw on his television set on Tuesday night, and Mulshine saw Murphy auditioning for a presidential run.
It’s an interesting idea – inevitable, of course, going back to when Murphy’s name first surfaced as a New Jersey gubernatorial prospect. The buzz about Murphy running for president now occurs at an equally interesting and politically perilous time, as sitting President Joe Biden attempts to get a deeply divided United States House of Representatives to affirm his agenda.
But whether Congress passes a full or partial package of the President’s goals or derails utterly seems not to impact at all the consensus among insiders about Biden’s 2024 designs.
Win or lose, he won’t run for a second term.
That’s the overriding belief.
Of course, Murphy can’t posit such a view, nor will he.
He depends on the good graces of a Democratic president, and would no doubt appear astounded if asked about Biden pulling a Lyndon Johnson and not seeking or accepting a party nomination for president.
But if it is so, and Biden opts out of pursuing reelection, the imminent power vacuum at the top must stir the blood of a player like Murphy, a former Ambassador to Germany who seems to have only endured – and never thrived – in the South Jersey torture chamber otherwise known as the New Jersey Statehouse.
Curiously, that same wing of the Democratic Party that doesn’t see Vice President Kamala Harris as a strong successor to Biden and seeks to debilitate her now to make way for someone else, likewise dismisses New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver as Murphy’s successor if he takes a stab at national office. That’s two African American women on the chopping block of the same party that self corrects white male in the name of supposedly appealing to suburban independent voters. It’s not a good look, to say the least, and a plotline Murphy clearly can’t be a part of if he intends to survive politically at a higher level than the ravages of New Jersey machine politics.
Now, of course, some of Murphy’s allies believe that his best shot, in fact, hinges on Harris sticking around as a presidential candidate. They argue that Murphy as a second banana would serve as an almost seamless inversion of the 202o ticket, with an in-his-prime avuncular Irish American guy from the Northeast now dutifully serving as a Biden substitute for presidential candidate Harris.
That may be so.
The full effect of the establishment to weaken and disable Harris in time for 2024 must give Murphy pause, just as he must check any ambitious racing pulse around Biden. The main trouble is that Murphy would have a difficult time positioning himself as a would-be alpha male alternative to Harris in this iteration of the Democratic Party, and, sources say, would likely even have a hard time convincing party members that he’s not the second choice for president coming out of his home state.
It’s a home state, one should remember, that last successfully fielded a presidential candidate in 1912, and where United States Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) also wants to be president – even took a crack at it in 2020. New Jersey’s junior senator most assuredly can easily rationalize his loss any number of ways. Certainly, he will make a case to donors about why he blew it two years ago and why he’d be a better bet than Murphy, who to start with would have a hard time as an establishment choice if the establishment eliminates Harris.
As a side note, Murphy and Booker aren’t the only New Jerseyans who dream of the White House. Former Governor Chris Christie still sees himself as Oval Office material.
But only Booker and Murphy have the flexibility afforded by their power projection platforms of elected office. For all the tightrope walking of the New Jersey governor’s office, moreover, Murphy shows no danger of immersing himself in the weeds the way Christie did with Bridgegate and imploding in equally spectacular fashion.
He’s basically hands off governmentally, and that’s a good thing in the theater of political aspiration. Indeed, on paper, the back-slapping Murphy may look like a natural heir apparent to Biden – the little brother who can likewise supposedly relate to real people as a consequence of having grown up “middle class, on a good day.”
But that politically advantageous hard luck narrative comes with an unfortunate ending for Murphy – or rather, an unfortunate, politically hobbling beginning.
Blue state Biden was a Delaware guy whose Scranton origin story conveniently went to battleground Pennsylvania. Blue state Murphy – who made his money on Wall Street – hails from Massachusetts, hardly the Michigan, Wisconsin or Ohio the party needs, especially if fellow coastal denizen Harris occupies the top of the ticket.
It’s a problem.
The relatively youthful Booker, on the other hand – certainly in front of the mirror in a way that almost translates to believability, and conceivably with gullible primary voters – can still pitch himself as a transcendent figure with a wildcard voter reachability factor evident on his overactive twitter feed, if not in the results of his doomed 2020 prez run.
Booker could head Murphy off, or at least present a significant political obstacle.
They would have to work it out, at the very least.
All of that said, neither Murphy nor Booker can appear to be in a position of rubbing his hands together waiting for Biden to retire. Too much of their own longer range political capital hinges on the executive. By staying close to Biden, Murphy keeps open the possibility of a cabinet appointment (supposedly he would hesitate to settle for anything less than Secretary of State) in the event that Antony Blinken goes completely belly up.
If the complexity of the political terrain right now presents no clear path to the presidency for Murphy (and again, that’s not even taking into account New Jersey’s awful record of fielded presidential candidates), the implosion of Andrew Cuomo in New York, the potential derailment of Terry McAullife in Virginia, still put the Nov. 2nd results in play for Murphy on a national canvas. If he wins by double digits, even with all the handicaps and Machiavellian labyrinths thrown in, he could probably consider himself a legitimate national player the size of a cabinet post, even if president – or even vice – looks like a longshot at best.