SOMERVILLE – If that most primly pampered set had collectively experienced its worst discomfort
suffering the after effects of a ride in the English saddle, they arguably had yet to reckon how badly President Donald J. Trump had mangled the Mayflower magisterium.
“Oh, Gertrude, Gertrude,” one can imagine the fatigued entreaties of a grand old lady somewhere in the Mrs. Havisham shambles of empire a block away as CNN drones in the background.
It was perhaps one of the cruel ironies of politics that all the worst excesses of a long-hollowed-out aristocracy – the most banal and absurd egocentrism, like the overgrown son who continues to insist on playing the role of his other self – Winston Churchill – in addition to acting out in public other nativist crudities – should come to roost now in the presidency, with none other than U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7) – the good one – left back home in the vicinity of Bedminster to fret and sweat and finally personally account for it.
Democrats here in Somerset – and the battleground 7th District, reliably Republican since the 1970s – obviously mean to make this election about Trump, sticking the giant balloon of his presidency (see above) like a rubber killer clown nose on the gentility of the mild-mannered congressman’s reelection campaign. He’s a Republican, a foot-soldier in the Trump Army, so he should not be allowed to persist, or so runs the logic of these long huddled and shivering rebels with D’s on their ragged uniforms, who last year got a gleam of daylight with the countywide election of one of their own, Clerk Steve Peter.
At this evening’s headquarters opening, Peter – adorned in a brilliant purple shirt and matching tie – stood amid the scattershot of lib neophytes and bullhorn fly by nights like Somerset County Democratic Committee Chair Peg Schaffer’s most sturdy Route 22 example of the possible.
Now it’s former assistant secretary of state Tom Malinowski of Rocky Hill looking to be that guy for the Democrats this year, intent on riding roughshod over Lance by tapping Trump horror in the backyard of the President’s own golf course.
Lance looks concerned.
Or rather his ads and the PAC ads beamed into the dystopian Central Jersey night have the look of woe, just as the wounded U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) at the top of the opposing ticket occupied by Malinowski churns negative ad after negative ad to get the conversation moving in the direction of his rival’s deficiencies.
Malinowski’s a carpetbagger, Lance asserts.
He unpacked in time to run for Congress.
He favored the Iran nuclear deal, architected by his then-boss John Kerry.
His allies note that Republican gubernatorial nominee Kim Guadagno convincingly defeated Democrat Phil Murphy in the 7th district last year, and happily account for the distance Lance ($1.15 million cash on hand near the beginning of the summer) put on Trump on the occasions of critical votes. Lance – the son of a state senator from Glen Gardner – they argue, isn’t Trump.
An immigrant from communist Poland who made his way up the ladder with education, Malinowski ($1.6 million COH before the mid-summer craziness started) doesn’t see it that way.
Lance is too passive and pliable amid the onslaught, he argues.
“He’s down at the bottom in terms of influence,” Republican David Larsen griped in reference to Lance, during one of his three ill-fated runs against the incumbent that ultimately had the effect of molding the congressman into a GOP Primary animal.
Now the challenger – in agreement with Larsen at least on the point of leadership – wants to make the swiftly pivoting congressman pay on a general election time table.
The Republican congressman voted numerous times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, for example, then reversed himself as he began what Malinowski allies see as a desperate evacuation of the rightward reaches of his party to occupy a steadier middle ground in time for the 2018 midterm election. He also royally irked the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel, who had hoped Lance would embody at the federal level the same sensible environmentalism he did as a state senator.
If Lance had voiced only the occasional objection to Trump and the hardly outraged observation that he wished the President wouldn’t tweet as much, Malinowski – seizing on the president’s performance alongside Vladimir Putin – hammers his record at the state department, noting unapologetically that he was the guy who stood up to dictators. So far, two of the challenger’s ads have framed the contest thus. While Lance occupies the sideline of history – Malinowski’s characterization – Trump behaves obsequiously around Putin, and Malinowski takes a hard stand. Lance and his allies have hit back hard, dismissing the challenger as a 20-year Beltway creature, twisting his pre-state department record at Human Rights Watch into soft-on-terror belly flab. One of these ads charges him with being critical of the “war on Al-Qaeda,” while failing to contextualize the controversies of Guantanamo and then-President George W Bush’s prosecution of a war that included mobilizing American troops to Iraq, where they failed to find the weapons of destruction Bush’s administration said would be there, and failed to find and bring to justice 9/11 perpetrator Osama bin Laden. Malinowski boss President Barack Obama ultimately successfully dealt with him.
But Lance keeps hammering on Malinowski’s support for the Iran deal, which – of all people – top of the ticket Menendez – opposed. The incumbent also enjoys relative inoculation from the most egregious and punishing policies of the Trump Administration in the area of state and local property tax deduction eliminations with the projected bipartisan goodwill of U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5). And as recently as this week, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) gave an attaboy across the aisle to Lance when his opening statement on the House Ways and Means Committee included the following quote about the Affordable Care Act, “Maybe that’s why New Jersey Republican Leonard Lance called this new attempt [to repeal] an ‘exercise in futility.'”
His colleagues like him.
It’s not enough, Malinowski says.
The country’s under attack, the challenger’s allies assert.
Lance does not sufficiently represent the outrage and toughness the district requires in the Trump era, Malinowski says, intent on demonstrating the ease with which the incumbent shifts positions. “The Leonard has been trying to change his spots recently,” the challenger cracked at the opening of his headquarters in May.
But Malinowski, Lance maintains, is not sufficiently grounded. He’s not adequately of the district, runs the undercurrent through much of his messaging.
Malinowski and his mother clawed their way over here. But he’s still not settled enough, Lance argues, even as Malinowski makes his ongoing subtle case that the molded wooden benches of the Mayflower – or sustained saddle burn – failed to prepare the incumbent Republican for one of his own going utterly off the rails.
On a fall Thursday evening on Main Street where the likes of Assemblyman Roy Freiman and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, both of LD16, joined Peter and Schaffer for the official headquarters opening, what diehard Democrats had hoped would be the blown-up obnoxious likeness of the president sagged on the sidewalk, air dismally escaping from its phallic orifice, leaking the metaphor of a bloated ruling class laid flat?, ordered down by the building’s proprietor who – in this nest of quiet gentility – evidently feared being tagged anti-Trump.
Outrage apparently did not abide everywhere.
- Andrew Zwicker
- Bill Pascrell
- Bob Menendez
- David Larsen
- Donald Trump
- Glen Gardner
- Human Rights Watch
- Jeff Tittel
- Josh Gottheimer
- Kim Guadagno
- Leonard Lance
- Peg Schaffer
- Phil Murphy
- Rocky Hill
- Roy Freiman
- Sierra Club
- Somerset County
- Somerset County Democrats
- Steve Peters
- Tom Malinowski
- Vladimir Putin
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