From the outset of his campaign to unseat Democratic Incumbent New Jersey 7th District Congressman Tom Malinowski, Republican Tom Kean, Jr. has focused almost exclusively on one issue: the inflationary cost of living. This strategy is in accordance with the maxim of James Carville, consultant in the 1992 Clinton for President campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Indeed, usually the economy is the decisive factor in a Congressional campaign, unless there is a long-range values issue of greater prominence. We have in this campaign such an issue, totally ignored by Kean, Jr.: the threat to democracy posed by the authoritarian movement in American politics, led by former President Donald Trump. This movement manifested itself in the violence of January 6, 2021, which almost resulted in the forcible theft by Trump of the 2020 presidential election.
Indeed, the Trumpian authoritarian movement has taken full control of the GOP to such an extent that it is no longer a legitimate political party. I define “legitimate political party” as one that complies with the laws, norms, institutions, and conventions of American democracy. Among these norms are acceptance of the results of lawful elections, the peaceful transfer of power between presidential administrations, respect for our law enforcement institutions, particularly the FBI, the condemnation of racism, and protection of the individual rights to his or her life, liberty, and property.
Nobody should make the mistake of thinking of Donald Trump as a conservative. The leading conservative in the intellectual history of the Western world was Edmund Burke, who emphasized respect and compliance with laws, norms, institutions, and conventions. The philosophy of Burke was the core of the advocacy of his philosophical conservative successor and our greatest modern conservative, William F. Buckley, Jr. Bill Buckley absolutely loathed and had the deepest contempt for Trump.
Trump, no conservative, was and is, plain and simple, a fascist. Indeed, he is the American Mussolini. My column published immediately before the 2018 midterm election demonstrated how Trump has met virtually every test for defining fascism and fascists.
The fascism of Trumpism was informally confirmed by the MAGA movement at the recent Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), where a featured speaker was the strongman racist and fascist prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban. In this era of intellectual vacuity in the Republican Party, the annual CPAC conference serves as the ideological lodestar of the Republican Party. This year’s CPAC conference enshrined Viktor Orban with a more honored place in today’s Republican Party than Dwight Eisenhower, a great American in war and peace. Eisenhower is ignored and forgotten by the Republican Party of Donald Trump and MAGA militants.
Trump’s incitement of the violence committed by MAGA militia types in the nation’s capitol on January 6, 2021 was the central component of his attempted coup d’état to reverse by force the 2020 election returns. The Trump defamation and misinformation onslaught against the FBI has had the foreseeable consequence of attempted MAGA violence against the Bureau’s offices and agents, such as that which happened in Cincinnati this month.
Since the January 6, 2021 insurrection, Trump fascist influence within the GOP has intensified, as exemplified by two trends. First is his persuasion of the GOP masses that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
Second is his success thus far in winning GOP primaries with his endorsed MAGA candidates for key positions at both state and local levels. The objective is to ultimately elect Trumpites who will assist his efforts to steal the 2024 election.
Trump has captured the unwavering support of the overwhelming majority of GOP rank and file, supporting media, and leadership, both in New Jersey and nationally. Recently, the fervent extent of this loyalty has manifested itself in two ways.
The first was the Republican reaction to the federal Department of Justice (DOJ)/FBI search and seizure at Mar-a-Lago. Incredibly, GOP activists and advocates saw the event as likely to spark an anti-DOJ/FBI backlash that would resurrect Trump and enhance his reputation. Without waiting to see what was the objective of the search, the Republicans minimized the severity of Trump’s offense of unlawfully carting away documents from the White House. They claimed that in terms of political corruption, Trump’s offense was the equivalent of a speeding ticket, not justifying the FBI search and seizure. When it was revealed that the FBI was searching for documents relating to nuclear weapons, these blind defenders of Trump were exposed as political fools.
The second was the almost universal claim of GOP cognoscenti, in Trenton and Washington, that the voters in the forthcoming election would focus solely on economic matters and would completely ignore the issues of January 6 and the increasing threat to democracy. As they proclaimed to an absurd extent, the midterm voters were only concerned about “kitchen table issues,” which did not include the growing authoritarian threat to democracy.
The NBC News poll released on Sunday graphically displayed that there are millions of Americans discussing the growing threat to democracy of Trump fascism at the kitchen table.
Specifically, “threats to democracy” has overtaken cost of living as voters’ top issue facing the country, after months of cost of living being No. 1 in the poll. Tom Kean, Jr. can no longer avoid addressing this issue, growing in paramountcy, if he is to have any chance to defeat Malinowski.
Up until now, Kean, Jr. has maintained a steadfast silence on the issue of the authoritarian extremist threat to American democracy. The NBC News Poll reveals that the silence is incompatible with his maintaining a competitive position in this campaign.
Additionally, the poll disclosed that the Democrats nationally have drawn virtually even with Republicans in terms of voter enthusiasm. This is largely due to the Supreme Court reversal of the abortion choice decision of Roe v. Wade. Given the fact that the New Jersey 7th Congressional District contains a roughly equal number of Democrats and Republicans voter registrants, with the nearly thirty percent Independent registrants holding the election outcome key, the increase in the Democratic enthusiasm is an ominous development for the Kean, Jr. campaign. They cannot rely on a higher GOP turnout to prevail.
Finally, the NBC News poll confirmed the abject failure of the Republican effort to use the Mar-a-Lago search and seizure to benefit Trump. On the contrary, the poll confirmed that a clear majority of American voters believe that the various investigations into alleged wrongdoing by Trump should continue.
This is a major problem for the Kean, Jr. campaign. He ran in this year’s GOP primary as an unabashed MAGA Trumpian.
His self- identification with Trump in the primary is likely to be a major albatross for him in the 2022 general election.
In his 2006 campaign for the US Senate, in a campaign stop in Atlantic City, Tom Kean, Jr. ran away from reporters and hid in an elevator. The message from the Sunday NBC News poll is that in 2022, in the words of former heavyweight champion Joe Louis, Tom Kean, Jr. can run from his record, but he can’t hide.
Alan J. Steinberg 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.