Republicans Must Find a Pinch Hitter for Hugin

I often use sports as a metaphor for politics.  The recent events surrounding the now moribund campaign of Republican New Jersey U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin provide a perfect landscape for the utilization of such a metaphor. 

Last week, Bob Hugin received his third strike.  In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out.  The same is true in politics.  If a candidate has three strikes against him, he or she should be out, as his or her campaign has lost all viability. 

Bob Hugin’s first strike was his close association with Donald Trump, acting as a key fundraiser and national convention delegate in the president’s 2016 campaign.  Trump is overwhelmingly unpopular in New Jersey, and Hugin’s close association with him was enough in itself to make him a prohibitive underdog.

Strike two consisted of the various media stories regarding Hugin’s activities as a business executive. While serving as CEO of Celgene, a brand name drug manufacturer, Hugin actively lobbied against the passage of federal legislation that would improve access by generic drug manufacturers to supplies of brand-name drugs, enabling them to produce lower-cost alternatives.   His prevention of competition against Celgene from generic drug manufacturers enabled his company to keep its prices artificially high.

Strikes one and two were sufficient to significantly reduce Hugin’s chances of success, but the third strike was the one that made his prospects hopeless. 

Specifically, strike three was the revelation that as the undergraduate president of the Princeton University Tiger Inn eating club, Hugin opposed the admission to the entity of both women and gays.  Later when he was an alumnus in his thirties, Hugin continued to oppose the admission of women.

One can just imagine the negative commercial the campaign of incumbent New Jersey U.S. Senator Bob Menendez will run against Bob Hugin.  It will portray him as an anti-woman, anti-gay Trump ally who made a fortune as a price gouging pharmaceutical executive. 

Internal polls of the Menendez campaign early last week showed him leading Hugin by a double-digit margin.  As I wrote last week, Menendez is now basking in the sunshine of outstanding post-Helsinki television performances as the ranking Democrat and principle Trump critic on the Senate Foreign Relations committee.  The combination of the newly found Menendez television stardom and the latest Hugin revelations could well result in the explosion of the Menendez lead to at least 20 points. 

So for all practical purposes, the Bob Hugin campaign is over. He has as much chance of defeating Bob Menendez as Floyd Patterson had against Sonny Liston.  It doesn’t matter if he spends $100 million on commercials.  He will make the hapless campaign of Pete Dawkins against Frank Lautenberg in 1988 look like a major success. 

One has to also question the political judgment of Bill Palatucci, the New Jersey Republican National Committeeman and Chris Christie confidant who serves as Hugin’s leading advocate.  A self-opposition research investigation (self-oppo) would almost certainly have revealed Hugin’s discriminatory activities regarding the Tiger Inn.  Did Palatucci counsel Hugin to do a self-oppo before he tried to sell him to the party?  If not, why not?

Given his considerable ego, I doubt very much that Hugin will willingly withdraw from the race. I don’t think that Hugin has any idea of what he faces in Bob Menendez, the ultimate tough man of New Jersey politics. 

Hugin is a former Marine, and so, he is obviously physically tough.  But I doubt that he has any conception of what political toughness is. 

Donald Trump and Chris Christie, for example, are not tough.  They are both bullies who are reduced to submissiveness in the presence of a greater political force.  Just look at the video tapes of Trump’s shameful appeasement of Vladimir Putin at Helsinki and Christie’s obsequiousness towards Trump on the day he endorsed him for President during the primary.

By contrast, the toughness of Bob Menendez is genuine.  He has survived the most brutal political hand-to-hand combat in Hudson County and a criminal trial in which his life and liberty were at stake.  Compared to these experiences, for Menendez, a reelection campaign against Bob Hugin is as tough as a leisurely day at the beach. 

In boxing terms, Menendez is the Tony DeMarco of modern New Jersey politics, the welterweight champion of the world during the middle 1950s.  Pound for pound, DeMarco was the toughest boxer I ever saw.  Even in defeat, he could administer a fearful beating to his opponent.  Carmen Basilio knocked him out in two championship fights, and he looked more like a loser than a winner after each. 

So a political amateur like Bob Hugin is badly overmatched against Bob Menendez.  If it was only a matter of failing to win a United States Senate seat, there would be no problem for the New Jersey Republicans to let Bob Hugin remain on the ballot.  The problem is that if Hugin loses by a likely overwhelming landslide, his presence at the top of the ticket could jeopardize the reelection prospects of two Republican members of the US House of Representatives, Tom MacArthur and Leonard Lance. 

Both MacArthur and Lance are outstanding Congressmen who have demonstrated their independence from Trump on the key issues of Trump’s cruel and inhumane refugee policies and his disgraceful performance at Helsinki.  They are running against two extreme left-wing Democrats, and they would normally be secure favorites for reelection.  The presence of Hugin at the top of the GOP ticket, however, could result in defeat for both. 

Accordingly, it is incumbent for the leadership of the state GOP to prevail upon Bob Hugin to withdraw from the race.  Let us be under no illusions: No pinch hitter will be able to defeat Bob Menendez. But it should be possible to find a substitute candidate who will not have Hugin’s Allied Van Lines load of baggage and will therefore not lose by a margin that dooms down ballot GOP House of Representatives candidates as well. 

The era of Chris Christie-Bill Palatucci dominance of New Jersey Republican politics is mercifully over, and the new State GOP chair, Doug Steinhardt is a most capable and honorable individual who can lead the party out of the wilderness.  In the post-Trump era, Steinhardt can also emerge as a leader who could have influence on the national stage, along with post-Trump heroes Dan Coats and Will Hurd. 

Steinhardt’s first order of business should be to persuade Bob Hugin to withdraw and find a good pinch hitter for him.  And there is a good baseball metaphor to describe Steinhardt’s predicament. 

In 1954, Leo Durocher, in my opinion the greatest manager in the history of baseball, led the New York Giants of the late, lamented Polo Grounds to a four game World Series sweep over a vastly superior Cleveland Indians team.  Leo did it on the strength of the famous Willie Mays catch in Game One and the greatest pinch-hitting performance in the history of the World Series by Dusty Rhodes. 

Can Doug Steinhardt find a Dusty Rhodes? 

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. 

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One response to “Republicans Must Find a Pinch Hitter for Hugin”

  1. Sorry Alan, this has nothing to do with Trump.
    Hugin is the typical NJGOP statewide candidate – rich, ill-prepared and obviously not properly vetted. For decades, the NJ GOP leadership (or lack thereof) seeks out rich people who will self-fund their campaigns so the NJGOP doesn’t have to. Nothing else matters. This guy was flawed from the start. First, no one knew him. Second, you don’t run a pharmaceutical exec who jacked up prices in an environment where high health care costs affect nearly everyone. Third, he has no political/government record on which to run and contrast to Menendez.
    Unfortunately, thanks to our previous Governor, the NJGOP has not built any “bench strength” and really has no one positioned to launch a statewide campaign. More problematic is the way Christy destroyed the NJGOP brand. Just more of the Christie legacy. Bet he doesn’t put that in his book.

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