If he’s like most of us who embark on summer vacations, Gov. Phil Murphy packed a stack of books he’s been meaning to read to pass the time during his two-week stay at his villa in Italy.
Chilling out on the veranda of his 23-room digs outside Parrano, it wasn’t fiction or non-fiction that captured the governor’s attention, though.
Rather, it was the New York Times account of its poll taken in conjunction with Siena College that revealed 64 percent of self-identified Democrats desired a 2024 presidential candidate other than President Joe Biden — a 2-1 expression of no confidence.
Thirty-three percent in the Times survey said Biden’s age (he’ll be 80 in November) was their decisive factor, followed by 32 percent who cited poor job performance, 12 percent who said it was time for a new face and 10 percent felt he was insufficiently progressive in his policies.
At the same time, nearly 80 percent of respondents felt the nation was moving in the wrong direction and 13 percent said the right direction.
The driving factor was the economy, inflation and cost of living while only five percent cited abortion rights.
Whether Murphy smiled inwardly or grinned for all to see, the specter of a president so roundly rejected by his own party after less than two years in office is but one more item on the governor’s internal scale weighing the potential for seeking the party’s nomination.
Murphy has steadfastly maintained the obligatory lack of interest or ambition in building a national profile but he cannot disregard Biden’s rapid fall from favor and the continuing deterioration of the Democratic Party.
Republican control of the House of Representatives is a close to a sure thing as it gets in electoral politics and, though less certain, control of the evenly divided Senate is in play.
Biden is in jeopardy of tumbling into lame duck status with no hope for his legislative agenda.
The intra-party sniping at him personally and his Administration will likely grow in intensity and frequency, an unmistakable sign that the two elements crucial to any president’s success — fear and loyalty — are vanishing.
As national Democratic leaders continue to fret about the prospects for 2024 and the viability of Vice President Kamala Harris as their candidate, speculation grows steadily about a fresh start with a new national ticket.
Enter Murphy. He is already a part of the conversation, mentioned in the same breath as incumbent Senators and governors and cabinet officers.
Murphy has planted his flag firmly in the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the party, vigorously promoting his leadership in securing enhanced abortion rights and stronger restrictions on the sale and possession of firearms — two polarizing issues which have become litmus tests for any Democrat with national aspirations.
The $2 million advertising campaign begun on his behalf by the Stronger Fairer Forward political action committee touts his gubernatorial record of accomplishment in creating an affordable New Jersey benefitting from a vibrant economy and a fiscally responsible government.
The ads bear some resemblance to the re-election campaign of President Reagan in 1984 — “It’s Morning Again in America”— a nostalgia-tinged appeal for a return to a responsive government that understands and sympathizes with the needs and concerns of its people.
In a state with the highest average property taxes in the nation, Murphy won approval of a $2 billion rebate program to ease the burden on beleaguered homeowners and renters — a victory, he claims, is solid evidence of his stewardship of the state’s fiscal condition.
His critics note cynically that the rebates will not be realized until mid-2023, a time period during which presidential politics will become dominant.
Murphy, like every potential candidate, will continue to remain coy about his future, dismissing the speculation and refuting the arguments of those who question his every motive as another step toward national recognition.
It may be simply a matter of time before Murphy is forced to utilize the hackneyed phrase “Never say never” when pressed more vigorously about his future — a response interpreted by the media as tantamount to a declaration of candidacy.
Relaxing and kicking back in sunny Italy will give Murphy the opportunity to assess the impact of the New York Times poll and could reach the conclusion that Biden will — voluntarily or involuntarily — stand aside.
By any objective reading, the American people believe the Biden presidency has been disappointing to disastrous.
With the release of each new poll, the outlook for the president grows bleaker, driven by the highest rate of inflation in 40 years and punishing increases in the cost of living.
His Administration appears helpless in the face of a battering of the economy, veering from denial and bewilderment to blaming others — Russian President Vladimir Putin, former President Trump, the Republican Party and corporate misbehavior.
A disastrous midterm Congressional election, a wounded economy and the genuine prospect of a recession may be more than an incumbent president can withstand.
For Murphy, it may be an opening to bring his version of “It’s morning again in New Jersey” to the national stage.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.