Post-election: The NJGOP and Trump Political Toxicity
I was one of the first New Jersey Republicans of note to repudiate BOTH Chris Christie and Donald Trump. Yet today, I take no joy in my vindication.
On Tuesday, Republican Kim Guadagno, a person I considered to have the attributes to be an excellent New Jersey governor, lost to Democrat Phil Murphy. She communicated effectively and succeeded in uniting the NJGOP and solidifying her base. As lieutenant governor, however, she carried the albatross of serving in the administration of Chris Christie, a governor attaining previously unsurpassed levels of unpopularity. As a Republican, she was also burdened by the albatross of Donald Trump, whom she never supported for the presidency.
The combination of the Christie and Trump albatrosses made it impossible for Kim Guadagno to attract the sufficient number of unaffiliated voters to prevail in the election. Christie, however, will not be a negative factor for the NJGOP beyond this past election. He is loathed by the electorate for his unethical and bullying style of governing, as exemplified by Bridgegate, and his contempt for the sensitivities of mainstream citizens, as exemplified by Beachchairgate. After this year, however, there will be no substantial antipathy on the part of the electorate towards the NJGOP on account of Christie.
Trump, however, is a different matter. When it comes to the present and future prospects of the Republican Party in New Jersey, Donald Trump constitutes pure political toxicity. The long term nature of the Trump malignancy stems from what New York Times columnist David Brooks has described as the Trump cultural war.
Brooks has cogently described the Trump cultural war as an effort to destroy multiculturalism, an ideal cherished by academia, clergy, political leaders on both sides of the political and ideological divide, and the vast majority of New Jerseyans. Inherent in the ideal of multiculturalism is the sacrosanct concept of tolerance.
The concept of tolerance entails acceptance and understanding of individuals and folkways of all ethnic groups, religious denominations, races, and nationalities. The Trump war on multiculturalism and its assault on tolerance is viewed with revulsion and disgust throughout the Garden State.
The message of the Trump cultural war is one of bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia. In essence, it is “only white men need apply.” It is a direct contrast to the messages of New Jersey’s recent successful Republican governors, Tom Kean and Christie Whitman. The watchword of the Kean administration was “the politics of inclusion.” The mantra of the Whitman administration was “New Jersey – many faces, one family.” New Jersey Republicans who cherished the Kean and Whitman messages can only view the Trump cultural war with total contempt.
Unless New Jersey Republican political and government officials repudiate the Trump cultural war, the NJGOP will be identified by it. This will make it virtually impossible for New Jersey Republicans to win a U.S. Senate seat or control of either or both houses of the legislature.
There are two programmatic aspects of the Trump administration that are most deleterious to the quality of life in the Garden State. The Trump tax proposals to eliminate in whole or in part the deductibility of state and local taxes increase the unaffordability of New Jersey. Trump and his pro-polluter EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have eliminated regulations preventing air pollution by coal, which is pure environmental poison. Trump and Pruitt are environmental menaces, and their policies constitute an assault against air quality and public health in New Jersey.
Accordingly, the environmental and tax policies of Donald Trump are major contributors to the current political toxicity of the Republican Party in New Jersey. Yet as the renowned political demographer Ben Wattenberg once said, values matter most in politics. The Trump cultural war is more than just the cause of the current national Republican civil war between the Trumpist Alt-Right and Reaganite classical conservatives, like myself. It constitutes a direct assault on the values of decency, tolerance, and civility that New Jerseyans of all political stripes hold dear.
It is not sufficient for New Jersey political leaders and governmental officials to distance themselves from Donald Trump. They must repudiate Donald Trump and his cultural war. Otherwise, the NJGOP will be unable to effectively offer an alternative to the policies of the incoming Murphy administration, and the 2018 Congressional elections will be an unmitigated New Jersey Republican disaster. Trumpism is an American political malignancy which is threatening the very future of the Republican Party of New Jersey.
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 under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.
We are known for who we keep company. I appreciate much of what you have said. Whether in NJ or DC, repudiation, though, is not sufficient. PC – political carefulness – by too many with McConnel and Ryan at the lead, has allowed the abyss of Trump and Christie as his fawning errand boy. Repudiating publicly the bellicose, pompous, and pandering Christie by other Republicans, soundly and repeatedly, including those who were seeking office, may have been a start for them. And, though as an educator I know Governor Kean had valuable education policy, Ms. Whittman’s 10% tax cut a year significantly increased the underfunding of public schools that has continued. Taxes pay for services, understood by Walter Mondale, and exploited by penny wise pound foolish discredited trickle down tax cut policies promulgated by Republicans. Had people been put to work with the tunnel and needed infrastructure had been started, workers on those projects, happy to have work, would also be paying taxes and spending on services. The DC – Trump, Muchkin, Cohn Republican tax plan is a discredited flim-flam to enrich Christie and his cronies, and “show us the taxes”, Trump and his oligarchs.