After Phil Murphy was elected governor of New Jersey in 2017, the question was how long he could politically survive. He was viewed by the Trenton cognoscenti as another Jon Corzine, a politically inept refugee from Wall Street who would be sliced and diced by New Jersey Democratic power players.
Now Phil Murphy is on the verge of national stardom. He will achieve it if he defeats Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli by a landslide, a highly likely outcome, as I wrote in my most recent column. (https://www.insidernj.com/numbers-confirm-ciattarelli-faces-landslide-defeat/)
The irony is that Murphy never sought such stardom, which his immediate predecessor as governor, Chris Christie, a man of irrepressible ambition craved, but abysmally failed to maintain.
Chris Christie did have his moment of national stardom during his first term. By the time he left office in 2018, however, his stardom was a distant memory. Bridgegate made Chris Christie a figure of contempt, while Beach Chair Gate, made him an object of ridicule. This combination eviscerated whatever artifacts of stardom Chris Christie had retained.
Murphy’s ascension onto the national stage has been largely due to geography. The national cable news media, most notably MSNBC and CNN, have a strong inclination to cover political and governmental events in the Northeast, and New Jersey is viewed as the ultimate bellwether state of the region. Accordingly, Murphy found himself flooded with invitations to appear as a guest on MSNBC and CNN, to comment on issues ranging from the Pandemic to immigration and economic matters.
And Murphy performed flawlessly. Television is a “cool medium,” perfectly suited to the toned down, yet friendly, warm, and engaging Murphy. Viewers from outside New Jersey found the Murphy style a welcome contrast from the overly hot, often personally antagonistic Chris Christie media approach. In terms of content, the Murphy responses were gaffe-free and erudite.
Phil Murphy has thus become a national media sought after guest commentator. He has not yet, however, become a national media star. Stardom will come when Phil Murphy becomes the subject of positive media coverage, rather than a commentator on events involving others.
The odds are overwhelming that Phil Murphy will become a national media star if he defeats Jack Ciattarelli by at least ten points. At that point, national media will begin to speculate about the possibility of Phil Murphy as a nominee for the 2024 Democratic national ticket.
If Joe Biden does not seek reelection due to his age (he will be 81 in 2024), Kamala Harris will be the likely heir apparent Democratic presidential nominee. Phil Murphy, a northeastern man governor, is the ideal Harris running mate, with foreign policy experience as a former Ambassador to Germany and domestic experience as a governor. His ability to provide Harris with vital assistance in retaining other key northeastern states like Pennsylvania would be highly valued.
So the media, particularly television, will run up close and personal stories on Phil Murphy, starting within months after the election. He and his wife, Tammy will become television celebrities. Murphy is a far more interesting New Jersey personality for media personages to cover than was Chris Christie. The current New Jersey governor is a man of sophisticated culture, as exemplified by his theatre experience, while Christie’s idea of cultural sophistication is watching the Dallas Cowboys on television.
Christie will doubtless envy the attention lavished upon Phil Murphy by the national media, and this will motivate him to consider another hopeless run for the White House in 2024. He would risk becoming a 21st Century Harold Stassen, the former Minnesota governor who came close to winning the 1948 GOP presidential nomination yet embarked on quixotic campaigns for the presidency in numerous elections after that.
Indeed, “quixotic” would be the word to describe any 2024 Chris Christie run for the White House. Christie would be the ultimate quintessence of Gentleman Don Quixote of LaMancha described in the Spanish novel, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes and popularized in the 1965 Broadway musical, Man of La Mancha. His confidant, Bill Palatucci would be Christie’s ideal Sancho Panza. With his Broadway erudition, Phil Murphy could answer any questions the media may have comparing Chris Christie and the Man of La Mancha.
If Christie’s irrepressible ambition and envy of Murphy goad him into another futile quest for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he faces another problem. The frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is likely to be Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the leading national heir to Trumpism. Despite current speculation to the contrary, Donald Trump will be sidelined by a myriad of financial and legal problems and thus unable to make another White House run.
In terms of voter appeal, utilizing the parlance of the former New Jersey governor’s beloved New York Mets, comparing Chris Christie with Ron DeSantis is like contrasting Marv Throneberry with Tom Seaver.
Ron DeSantis is a candidate of movie star good looks and a Madison Avenue smoothness cultivated by his Yale undergraduate and Harvard Law School education. The image of Chris Christie, with his corpulence and rough spoken manner, would constitute a horribly flawed and failed contrast to Ron DeSantis. Furthermore, there is nobody more universally mistrusted by Trumpists and anti-Trumpists nationally than Chris Christie.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear, as Richard Nixon used to say. Despite my substantial antipathy towards Chris Christie, my feelings regarding him are absolute adulation as compared with the unmitigated loathing I feel towards Ron DeSantis.
Chris Christie is not a racist nor a bigot towards any racial or ethnic group. Ron DeSantis is a cesspool of vile racism, camouflaged by his physical attractiveness and phony suavity. He is also a dangerously effective spokesman for Trump’s Big Lie about the election being stolen from him and for new anti-democracy voter suppression measures.
DeSantis is attempting to appeal to voters by his demagogic opposition to Critical Race Theory. This is an educational movement I regard as absolutely vital for teaching our children the pernicious impact of racism on our society.
Nevertheless, the likelihood is for DeSantis to run for the White House as the GOP candidate, while Chris Christie covers the DeSantis campaign for ABC-Television.
In that capacity, Christie may also be providing analysis on the campaign of Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee Phil Murphy. I do not expect Christie’s commentary on Murphy to be positive.
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.