The most significant event of the campaign between NJ-7th District incumbent Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski and his Republican challenger, State Senator Tom Kean, Junior happened on July 2. And this event went largely unnoticed and unreported by mainstream New Jersey media.
On that date, former Governor Tom Kean, Senior appeared on the New Jersey political talk show, NJ News 12 Power and Politics and declared that Donald Trump was “not fit” to become president again. In support of his Trump repudiation, Kean, Senior stated that the testimony before the House of Representatives’ Select Committee investigating the events of January 6, 2021 makes former President Donald Trump look “unhinged” and “not in control” of himself.
This portrayal by Kean, Senior of an unfit, unhinged Trump presents an acute political dilemma for Kean, Junior. During the primary, the younger Tom was very aware of the fact that conservative and MAGA Republicans have long unjustifiably regarded Kean Senior as a Republican in Name Only (RINO), in spite of his close personal and professional relationship with former President Ronald Reagan, an icon of Republican conservatism. Kean Junior was focused on allaying these fears.
Accordingly, Tom Kean, Junior ran in the primary as an unabashed MAGA Trumpian, heralding himself in direct mail pieces as an avatar of the Trump agenda.
Tom Kean, Senior, the greatest governor in the history of New Jersey, is an ideal loyal father and a Republican loyalist for six decades. Yet he is a man of unassailable patriotism and morality. Accordingly, he felt compelled to put country over both party and family political ambition and therefore repudiate Donald Trump, an unfit candidate and threat to the tradition of American democracy Senior Kean holds dear.
Pundits will have varying opinions regarding the political consequences of this disagreement between Senior and Junior Kean. One thing is certain, however. At the first 7th District Congressional debate, the following will be the initial question asked of Tom Kean, Jr:
Senator Kean, you have campaigned as a loyal supporter of Donald Trump. On July 2, 2022, your father, former Governor Tom Kean, Sr. said that the January 6 hearings show that Donald Trump is “not fit” to become president again. Do you agree or disagree with your father as to Donald Trump’s fitness to serve as president in the future?
The answer of Tom Kean, Jr. to this question may well determine the outcome of the Malinowski- Kean, Jr. campaign. In answering this question, Kean Junior faces a Hobson’s choice of massive desertions from the still-Trumpian Republican 7th District base or overwhelming rejection by the remaining 7th District Congressional District undecided voters.
If Kean, Jr. answers this question in the affirmative, that he agrees with his father as to the unfitness for the presidency of Donald Trump, his campaign will be doomed to defeat. The desertions from his base by Trumpian voters will constitute an avalanche. Tom Kean, Jr. will then have as much chance of defeating Tom Malinowski as I have of being selected for the romantic co-star role with Jennifer Lopez in her next movie.
If Kean, Jr. answers this question by disagreeing with Senior Kean and expressing confidence in the fitness in Donald Trump for future presidential service, he will get eviscerated among the undecided voters in the 7th District. True, the number of undecided voters is diminishing, but in a close race like this, they will hold the key to the outcome. Malinowski has the best message consultants in New Jersey in Steve DeMicco and Brad Lawrence. Their message to the 7th District undecideds will be pulverizing: The Trump supporting, NRA-endorsed Tom Kean, Jr. bears no resemblance to Tom Kean, Sr.
Now there is another possible Trump-determined outcome in the 7th District: If Donald Trump announces his candidacy for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination before the midterm election, the national races for both the House and Senate will become to a far greater extent a referendum on Donald Trump rather than on Joe Biden. This will become a political catastrophe for the Kean, Jr. campaign.
Trump toxicity is at an all-time high. Those Republican-leaning journalists who claimed that the January 6 hearings would have no impact on the midterms are being exposed as political dolts. The FiveThirtyEight compilation of generic Congressional polls shows the gap between Republicans and Democrats narrowing to a dead heat. The Reuters-Ipsos poll shows over a third of all Republicans believe that Trump should not seek the GOP presidential nomination.
And the nation’s two leading previously Trump supporting media organs, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal have both stated unequivocally that the January 6 hearings demonstrate Trump’s unfitness for further presidential service.
In spite of this, New Jersey Republican political gurus continue to attempt to sell to the media the notion that Trump will not affect the Malinowski-Kean, Jr. race and that even a Trump candidacy announcement will not affect the outcome. These GOP gurus have all the credibility of an Edsel salesperson in 1957. And any media person who buys this nonsense will be figuratively- speaking smoking and inhaling a highly hallucinatory form of political cannabis.
Throughout America, the new leading Democratic slogan is “Run, Donald Trump, Run! Announce, Donald Trump, Announce!”
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.