Tom Kean, Jr. and the Albatrosses of Chris Christie and Donald Trump 

In the Pantheon of American state politics, there are three iconic dynastic names: Kean in New Jersey, Kennedy in Massachusetts, and LaFollette in Wisconsin.  The Kean name, however is without question presently the most revered of the three. 

The Kennedy dynasty has been affected by personal scandal, and the LaFollette name has been haunted, perhaps unjustifiably, by the image of radicalism.  By contrast, the Kean name has been uniquely hallowed by the greatest Republican member of the New Jersey delegation in the US House of Representatives in the 20th century, Robert Kean, and the greatest 20th century New Jersey Republican governor, Tom Kean. 

Most importantly, Bob Kean and Tom Kean were models of goodness, as well as greatness.   

Bob Kean will always have a revered place in the Steinberg family and other New Jersey Jewish families for his role in being the first New Jersey Congressman calling attention to Hitler’s Holocaust and advocating the opening of America’s doors to Jewish refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe.  Tom Kean’s gubernatorial achievements in education and economic development were unsurpassed by those of any other of the then state governors, and his Politics of Inclusion set a standard of racial and ethnic understanding and tolerance for the entire nation to follow. 

State Senator Tom Kean, Jr. is a most worthy heir to the Kean legacy of public service.  As Senate Republican Leader, he has performed superbly, displaying his gifts of intellectualism, people skills, collegiality, concern for his fellow Republican senators, and issue incisiveness which make him an outstanding voice of the Republican opposition.  As Eleanor Roosevelt described the young Hubert Humphrey, Tom Kean, Jr. carries the spark of greatness within him. 

Tom Kean, Jr. is running for the US House of Representatives seat in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District against first term Democratic incumbent Tom Malinowski.  It will be a campaign of national interest, given the fact that due to Trump toxicity, 2020 will be a year of catastrophe for the Republican Party nationally, with Tom Kean, Jr. being one of the few Republican candidates for either the US House of Representatives or the Senate with any realistic chance of ousting a Democratic incumbent. 

And Tom Malinowski will not be a pushover opponent.  He is articulate, well-financed, knowledgeable on the issues, particularly foreign policy, and a darling of national cable media, particularly MSNBC, where he appears so often that I am starting to think that the “M” stands for Malinowski.  Furthermore, he has cleverly inoculated himself against any charges of being a left-wing Progressive Democrat by proclaiming himself to be a capitalist and emphasizing his opposition to Medicare for All. 

First, however, Kean, Jr. must win a primary over Rosemary Becchi in June, 2020.  Becchi is an amiable, articulate, and quite competent federal public policy service veteran.  But she is politically no Tom Kean, Jr., and he has wisely chosen to ignore her.  He will not lose a primary to her. 

In fact, the only concern Kean, Jr.  needs to have about Becchi is a politically stupid, embarrassing, and amateurish anti-Becchi clown show being orchestrated by National Republican Committeeman Bill Palatucci, whose style of political bullying and political intimidation distinguishes himself as the New Jersey Republican political version of Sonny Liston.  His anti-Becchi debacle is described in this InsiderNJ article, “Palatucci Cautions GOP about ‘Wasting’ Money’ on CD7 Contender Becchi”(https://www.insidernj.com/palatucci-cautions-wasting-money-becchi/). 

Palatucci is one of the ineffectual Three Stooges of the New Jersey GOP establishment.  The other two are 1) Chris Christie, who left the New Jersey governorship as the Beachchair-gate object of ridicule and now in his post-governmental career is distinguishing himself as an avatar of gluttonous greed (see the Politico article by Sam Sutton, How Christie’s influence on opioid panel landed him an $800K consulting contract”  

https://www.politico.com/states/new-jersey/story/2019/09/26/how-christies-influence-on-opioid-panel-landed-him-an-800k-consulting-contract-1209421); and 2) pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin, whose US Senate candidacy against incumbent Senator Bob Menendez last November qualified him for the Marv Throneberry award for political candidacy ineptitude.  The famous reference to Throneberry’s pathetic play at first base took place on his birthday in 1962 at the late, lamented Polo Grounds, when his fellow players on the then hapless New York Mets told him, “We would have given you a birthday cake, but we were afraid you would drop it.” 

Basically, the NJGOP Three Stooges are attempting to use the Kean, Jr. for Congress campaign as a life raft in order to prove their relevancy after their past sycophantic support of Donald Trump, which followed their involvement in the laughable fiasco of the 2016 Christie for President campaign.   

Christie’s efforts to reinvent himself have reached a new low level of credibility with his avowed effort to promote political civility through his Christie Institute of Public Policy.  Given his past record of abusive treatment of his political opponents and critics, Chris Christie as a promoter of political civility has all the credibility of Donald Trump promoting marital monogamy or the late Yankee manager Billy Martin promoting alcohol abstinence, safe driving, and nonviolence. 

The irony of the Three Stooges attempted alliance with Tom Kean, Jr. is that it follows a treacherous and abortive effort by Christie and Palatucci to remove Kean, Jr. as Senate Republican leader after Christie’s 2013 gubernatorial reelection victory.  This attempt was made all the more egregious by the fact that Tom Kean, Sr. had been the political mentor of both Christie and Palatucci, qualifying them both in the latest production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for the roles of Christie as Brutus and Palatucci as Cassius (Chris Christie cannot be said to have a lean and hungry look). 

Tom Kean, Jr. has a long memory, and he doubtless remembers the Christie-Palatucci attempted Senate putsch.  I am confident that while he will accept the fundraising efforts of the Three Stooges, he will prevent them from becoming the face of his campaign, thus removing from his shoulders the huge burden of the Chris Christie albatross.  

The problem of the Donald Trump albatross for Tom Kean, Jr., however is not so simple.  

In my view, which is indeed contrary to the consensus of most Washington pundits, the denouement of the Trump administration is now in sight, namely, Donald Trump’s resignation from the Presidency between late February and early March, 2020 resulting from what will then be the likelihood of the Senate voting to remove him from office.   Removal of a president from office requires 67 votes, and this total will be achieved with over 20 Republican senators declaring their willingness to join with the 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats to oust the president. 

The forthcoming Articles of Impeachment against Donald Trump will constitute the strongest such case in the history of the American presidency.  They will consist basically of the following three groups of charges: 1) the ten acts of obstruction of justice described in the Mueller Report; 2) the President’s flagrant violations of the Constitutional Domestic Emoluments Clause and the Foreign Emoluments Clause, and 3) Trump’s solicitation of an illegal campaign contribution from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, to wit, the assistance of the Ukraine government in digging up dirt against Joe Biden, the front runner for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination, and his son, Hunter. These acts regarding Ukraine also give rise to federal charges against the president of bribery and extortion. 

Yet it is not the grave nature and massive evidence in support of these charges that will, in my view, result in the defection of at least 20 GOP senators to vote for Trump’s ouster.  Rather, it is Trump’s withdrawal of assistance to our Kurdish allies, who played a vital role in our war against ISIS. 

Trump Know-Nothings contend that his despicable abandonment of the Kurds is simply an act on his part to end our involvement in endless foreign wars.  I would invite these uncritical supporters of Trump to tell the families of those Americans killed, indeed beheaded by ISIS terrorists that the war against ISIS is a foreign war. 

There are those opponents of removal of the president who will concede that Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds, leaving them to their slaughter by both the Turks and ISIS, is an act of gross incompetence and horrendous foreign policy.  They contend, however, that such foreign policy malfeasance does not per se constitute an impeachable offense. This is irrelevant, however, as this act demonstrates conclusively Trump’s gross unfitness for office. 

Added to this unfitness is the fact that Trump’s green light to Turkish slaughter of the Kurds appears conclusively to be motivated by his financial interest in the Trump Twin Towers combined office and hotel in Istanbul.  The blood of Americans and Kurds to be killed by ISIS will now be on the hands of Donald Trump.   

Ultimately, Trump’s unfitness for office is driving upwards the independent vote for impeachment and removal.  This will compel Republican Senators in late 2019 and early 2020 to cease defending the president and switch to advocating the president’s ouster.   

And the Gallup Poll released on Thursday, October 16, 2019 provided most ominous news to Donald Trump in this regard: Currently, 52% say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 46% say he should not be. This is roughly the opposite of what Gallup found in June when asked in the context of special counselor Robert Mueller’s investigation.  

Finally, the article by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell Friday in the Washington Post entitled “ Withdrawing from Syria is a grave mistake”(https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mitch-mcconnell-withdrawing-from-syria-is-a-grave-mistake/2019/10/18/c0a811a8-f1cd-11e9-89eb-ec56cd414732_story.html) appears to be the beginning of the end of shameless Senate GOP submission to the Autocrat-in-Chief and Grifter-in-Chief in the White House. 

By Election Day 2020, Donald Trump will either have resigned from office or be headed for a certain landslide defeat, regardless of whom the Democrats nominate for president. 

My view is that he will leave the presidency sooner than that, as predicted by former close Trump business associate Barbara Res.  Trump will avoid the disgrace of impeachment and removal by resigning and making a deal for his non-prosecution, encompassing all prospective federal and state charges.  This will also make moot subpoenas for Trump tax returns.  

The Wall Street firm of Raymond James has done an analysis of scenarios that could ensue after an early Trump departure from the White House.  They posit a farewell address by the president as follows:

I have done everything I set out to do as President. America is great again. We have record low unemployment, the market is doing amazing, we have exited endless foreign wars, and I’ve stopped other countries like China from taking advantage of us in trade deals. We passed massive tax cuts and drug prices are down for the first time ever. I’m not one of these lifetime politicians. I’m ready to return to my business and spend more time with my family. This harassment of me by Democrats has really hurt Melania and my kids. 

I agree with this scenario, and I take it one step further.  Trump has always found his rallies to be self-intoxicating, and he will continue them after he leaves office, inveighing against the “deep state” and the “fake news media.”  He will become the 21st century version of a Father Charles Coughlin or a Gerald L.K. Smith.  

The GOP hard core supporters of Donald Trump will be very much present at these rallies.  They will not go gently into the night after The Donald departs from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.   

Trump acolytes describe fervent Never-Trump center-right advocates like myself as being afflicted with TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome).  Assuming, but not conceding that such an acronym is accurate, Never Trumpers can at least with equal validity describe Trump activists as being afflicted with TSDS – Trump SelfDelusion Syndrome.  This description is supported by the words of The Donald himself, who said that he could shoot somebody in plain sight on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and his supporters wouldn’t care. 

Conventional wisdom is that after the 2020 primary, Kean, Jr. should focus on 1) how to obtain the votes of Right-of-Center victims of both TDS and TSDS; and 2) still have the possibility of getting enough support from Independents to obtain a plurality against Tom Malinowski. 

Unfortunately, such an approach will not work in this 7th Congressional District, where Trump toxicity is overpowering.  Malinowski’s five-point victory in 2018 over then five term incumbent Republican Representative Leonard Lance illustrated how virulently anti-Trump that 7th District is.  Any effort by Kean, Jr. to placate Trump supporters will result in a defection of independent voters he must have in order to achieve victory. 

Given the anti-Trump demographics of the 7th District and the difficulty in portraying Tom Malinowski as a left-wing extremist Progressive Democrat, what is the best way for Tom Kean, Jr. to position himself? 

My response is not likely to please Republican consultants who may become involved in this race. They will view it as a lame strategy, like bringing a water pistol to a gun fight.  

If one views the entire context of the impeachment battle, however, by November, 2020, Americans will have grown weary of the partisanship displayed by both Democrats and Republicans on this issue, regardless of the outcome.  Tom Malinowski will clearly be identified as one of the lead fiery partisans. 

This will make it possible for Tom Kean, Jr. to frame a message for himself as an agent of healing in the Congress, as opposed to the narrow partisanship of Tom Malinowski.  He should stay out of the impeachment issue as much as possible and make the case for himself as a person who, like his father, seeks bipartisan healing and inclusiveness in order to move on beyond the bitterness of the Trump era. 

The politics of healing and inclusiveness worked well for Tom Kean.  It can be a winner for Tom Kean, Jr. as well.  

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. 

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