OLD BRIDGE – When it came time tonight for Middlesex Republicans to quiz the gubernatorial candidates about their views of President Donald J. Trump, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli appeared conscious of individually negotiating a very thin and shaky balance beam, and ultimately – despite past doubts – celebrating the sitting Republican president.
Neither had much positive to say about Trump during last year’s presidential contest.
But tonight at a forum moderated by Middlesex GOP Chair Lucille Panos (pictured above with GOP State Committeeman Don Katz) they tried to make the case for why they back him now, as those members of the Middlesex County GOP Screening Committee who count themselves strong Trump supporters wanted to know why they should bother with the 2016 Trump-wobbly versions of Guadagno and Ciattarelli.
Guadagno’s argument included a nod to Bill Stepien, Gov. Chris Christie’s controversial 2013 campaign manager, who worked for Guadagno before going to serve as Trump’s political strategist.
“First of all, I think I made it clear why I personally and as a woman did not vote for Donald Trump,” Guadagno said. “But what I did do was campaign up and down the state for candidates who believed in Donald Trump. I campaigned up and down the state of New Jersey for good Republicans from the top of the ticket to the bottom of the ticket. And I did it…when I was not on the ballot and I did it all seven and a half years I’ve been here. I have been in 400 different rooms knocking on doors for many of you in this room – good Republican candidates.
“I may not have personally believed that Donald trump was the candidate that represented me because when I first started to work as a female lawyer in Brooklyn, the first lecture I ever got was ‘this is a locker room and if you don’t like it, there’s the door.’ That was 35 years ago. That’s my explanation. It was my personal decision.”
Then she discussed his presidency to this point.
“The most important thing tonight is he is keeping his promises,” Guadagno said. “When people complain about something he’s doing, I look at them straight in the face and say, ‘Why are you surprised?’ This president campaigned on these issues. He is doing what he said he was going to do. None of America should be surprised, because he’s simply doing what he promised the American people he said he would do. I will work with that president. Many of my staffers are already working with my president. In fact, my former political consultant is now sitting in the White House as his political strategist. So I don’t think going forward that any Republican should have a problem with the White House, especially one who keeps his promises and he does them quickly. That’s the kind of governor I’m going to be.”
Then it was Ciattarelli’s turn.
“I may have had differences with ways Donald Trump said things,” said the assemblyman. “My wife is here today and one of my four children. We know this. As parents, as siblings, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. So I challenge Donald Trump on how he says things, but know this. Donald Trump is talking abut the issues that matter to Americans and that is why he won the election. We’re talking about security, the economy, trade agreements…”
A delegate interrupted to note that Trump got to the White House without Ciattarelli’s help.
The candidate objected.
“I worked very hard,” he said. “Nobody gave more money or worked harder for people on the ticket. When you say he didn’t have my help, if you take a look at my statements about Hillary Clinton, I would consider that a lot of help. I called her a liar. I called her borderline criminal. I called her unfit for office. We’re talking about people who started out broke and 16 years later are worth close to a billion. Harry Truman left the White House and a year later had to sell the farm because he was broke.”
Next up, Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers told the executive committee that he served as a cop and as a naval officer.
But his proudest moment was to work for Donald Trump.
That won a big applause line for Rogers.
The fourth and final gubernatorial candidate, businessman Joe Rullo, also tried to capitalize on his public 2016 support for Trump, but he and Rogers struggled as Ciattarelli and Guadagno – their Trump twisting notwithstanding – won.