As we make our way further into spring and the wheels of New Jersey’s “off-year” election begin to spin faster and faster, it is evident that both major political parties are in the midst of soul-searching and realignments. The Democratic Party, numerically victorious at the Federal level and seemingly dominant without relief in the Garden State – is flying very high and deservedly so. My own Republican Party did regain one Congressional seat here in NJ and held onto a Senate and Assembly seat with wins by Anthony Bucco, Jr. and Aura Dunn in Legislative District 25 this past November.
For us in the Party of Lincoln, that is good news. But for the Democrats, they must decide how far left they will go in decision-making and if California is really what they want our state to be. Whether New Jersey’s voters really want may be up for discussion, but my bet is that they are not.
However, as we prepare for this year’s important Gubernatorial election, we are doing so in a dangerous twilight zone made up of a pandemic, economic stagnation, declining public services, mounting effects of social isolation and poor mental health and lack of adequate in-school education.
Unlike in past eras when my GOP lost the White House and/or control of Congress after the peace and prosperity of the Eisenhower 1950s or the Reagan 1980s, there is little collective feeling that our Republican Party will make it back to similar prominence before long. Back then, most American voters still trusted Republicans more than Democrats on issues such as the economy, smaller government, and upward social mobility. Fairly or unfairly, the last twenty years of ever-increasing government spending, debt and higher taxes have eroded such trust across the board.
New Jersey Republicans must find a way to convince more and more Republican voters of all stripes to turn out and bring their like-minded friends, while appealing to the much larger group of Unaffiliated voters mathematically necessary to win. Only by winning vast numbers of Unaffiliated voters can we win in partisan-contested elections. At this point, voter registration numbers indicate that in too many elections in too many counties – politically, it is a “David vs. Goliath” situation for the Grand Old Party.
However, things can change. The challenges that the NJ Republican Party faces are not insurmountable in the long-term. Having been a candidate for the NJ General Assembly in 2019, I saw and heard first-hand how frustrated many of our voters are; how disconnected they feel; and why they haven’t tasted victory in so long. Many are terribly worried that our party will not win again before they go on to that great election booth in the sky and that we have already given the store away for future generations. As expensive as campaign races are here, it is almost hair-raising to hear voter after voter across demographics say that they rarely receive any campaign literature or phone calls nor meet candidates. They only see what they read in social media or in our rapidly disappearing newspapers. In too many cases, TV or internet ads are the only way they, in mass, ever hear a candidate’s voice. And this certainly hasn’t changed since Covid-19 came to our shores.
Others are welcome to disagree, but I remain hopeful that New Jersey Republicans can begin the long climb back to political power in our state. Barring a scandal of galactic proportions, it may take a decade or more – and require a new redistricting map, but Republican fortunes can change drastically for the better. The positive signs are there if you look for them beyond newspaper headlines or TV/Radio soundbites. The hard part is seeing the change occurring with the daily beat of Red vs. Blue nationally and the social media swamp we live in.
For example, in New Jersey’s 2018 Congressional elections, all twelve Republican candidates for Congress were white males over the age of sixty. Not that there is anything wrong with white males over the age of sixty – I’m glad to have three such men as brothers and I like them just fine. However, the GOP must rapidly begin offering candidates more accurately reflecting New Jersey’s and our nation’s electorate. Just a few months ago in November 2020, three candidates were female, including Rosemary Becchi (CD-11), Jennifer Zinone (CD-10) and Claire Gustafson (CD-1). More candidate diversity was also displayed on the ballot with the ballot-fresh candidacy of Christian Onuoha (CD-6). Those are some big changes and these developments were not widely reported or publicized.
In 2020, we had two men of South Asian descent vie for our United States Senate nomination, with Rik Mehta being the eventual winner of the Republican Primary. This year, former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian is running for Assembly in Legislative District 2 and he is considered a great, qualified candidate for the Legislature – and against stereotype, voters could care less about his LGBTQ status. However, this shows our diversity. The New Jersey Young Republicans are growing by leaps and bounds, even here in very blue Mercer County.
While this news is all good, we must recognize the challenges we face in growing our “Big Tent” as we try to retain our moderate-conservative base while keeping the strong support and passion of the many new Republicans who first joined us as supporters of President Trump. It will not be easy to do and our hard-working NJGOP State Committee team has its work cut out for it. No matter what, all Republicans should remember what President Reagan said long ago about a “rendezvous with destiny”. Success is never guaranteed, but one always has a chance with a lot of hard work, risk-taking, lesson-learning and not waiting for things to change on their own. Blue can turn to purple, but only if more voters are given a chance to safely meet us, hear our message and then we truly listen to what they have to say in return.
Unfortunately, pictures are sometimes worth more than a thousand words and as events and many analysts suggest – they may be worth votes in an election. That said, we are not the party of the half-naked, buffalo hat-wearing shaman. Nor are we the party of bigoted, white supremacists carrying Confederate flags and others wearing anti-Semitic clothing or yelling racial slurs and worse. And the Party of Lincoln is not made up of Proud Boys and Q-Anon members. Shamefully, these people apparently do exist in places and where they do – they must be driven out of the GOP. These people did not serve our President, the Republican Party and more importantly – our country – well at all and they harmed all of us. No matter what online trolls and some in the media might say, these are fringe people and they do not run or lead our party here in New Jersey or in Washington, DC.
In the coming months, I believe New Jerseyans will see a resurgent, harder-working Republican Party and meet candidates and volunteers bringing a message of hope, responsibility, leadership and inclusion. From our Gubernatorial candidates down to the local Committee level, it is up to us Republicans to remember President Ronald Reagan’s message that our “best days lie ahead” and then work like heck to make that happen. We have no other choice, because as was wisely said in the popular film, Bohemian Rhapsody – “Fortune favors the bold.”
Jennifer Williams is a candidate for Republican State Committeewoman in Mercer County, NJ, serves as Chair of the Trenton Republican Committee and was a General Assembly candidate in the 15th Legislative District in 2019.