Months after thousands of Trump supporters chanting stop the steal violently attacked the U.S. Capitol in a bid to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election, his MAGA movement has turned New Jersey’s June primary into a referendum on former President Trump.
No doubt, this is a great relief to Governor Phil Murphy, the Democratic incumbent who’s well aware that if he prevails in November, he will be the first member of his party to win re-election since Gov. Brendan Byrne did so 43 years ago.
If the November general election were to focus just on the tragic here and now of New Jersey– 25,000 residents dead including several thousand senior citizens in nursing homes— close to 900,000 people infected—and a third of our small businesses shuttered, Murphy might have something to worry about.
and a perennial ultra-right MAGA candidate has pulled even or better against Jack Ciattarelli, the former Somerset County Freeholder and Assemblyman, who’s been embraced by the Republican establishment.
In the four-way race for the GOP nomination Singh polled 22.2 percent, ahead of Ciattarelli, who garnered 19.9 percent. Phil Rizzo, a developer and pastor drew 10.2 percent while Brian Levine, a former Somerset Freeholder and Mayor of Franklin way behind in single digits at 3.2 percent.
“This poll shows the race is down to two choices—myself, or never-Trump RINO Jack Ciattarelli,” Singh told the Daily Caller. “I am proud to be the only pro-Trump, America-First leader, while Jack Ciattarelli trashes Trump and his supporters.”
Ciattarelli has been on both sides of the Trump divide, a gyration that usually doesn’t end well. He denounced him in 2016 and then tried to align himself with the former president, which spells real trouble for his candidacy if the GOP primary becomes a loyalty test for a failed insurrection in exile.
Last month, before the poll surfaced, Trentonian columnist Jeff Edelstein succinctly captured Ciattarelli’s Trump arc and advised he just “ditch Trump, play up your Jersey roots, and introduce us to your wife.”
“See, the thing here is Ciattarelli was a never-Trumper a few short years ago, calling the national embarrassment a ‘charlatan who preys on people’s worst instincts and fears’ and that Trump was ‘not fit to be president.’ But then he changed his tune once Doug Steinhardt, the New Jersey GOP chair and Trump loyalist, decided to jump in the race. Realizing he was going to have an impossible time getting out of the primary without embracing Trump – a December poll showed over 75% of New Jersey Republicans believe Trump won the 2020 election.”
When Steinhardt dropped out, that left Ciattarelli with the all of the news stories like the one in Politico that reported that in December, “Ciattarelli spoke at a rally billed as ‘Stop the Steal,’ referring to Trump’s repeatedly debunked claims of election fraud.”
Around that same time before Christmas, Star Ledger columnist Tom Moran offered Ciattarelli a helping hand out of the tunnel he had dug himself into the Trump bunker of never say die.
“I guarantee this much: Ciattarelli doesn’t believe this nonsense,” wrote Moran. “He’s a smart guy, a self-made success in the private sector, and a former state legislator who was thoughtful and independent. He knows that Trump has lost one court case after another, that even Republican judges have scorched his claims as entirely unfounded. On Tuesday afternoon, even Attorney General William Barr conceded that the fraud story was nonsense from the start.”
Moran continued. “But Ciattarelli is sticking to the story, apparently. I called him to talk it over, but he wouldn’t come to the phone. I asked the campaign in writing if he really believed the election was a fraud, if he thought Biden had won, and what he thought of the guy in the Confederate flag costume. He wouldn’t answer any of that, either.”
By March, Ciattarelli was still playing defense in response to the Murphy campaign reminding voter about the Republican candidate’s appearance at the “Stop the Steal” rally months earlier.
“Let me be clear: I’ve publicly congratulated Joe Biden for being elected our President, never alleged the election was stolen, and was appalled at the attempted insurrection,” Ciattarelli said in a statement. “Governor Murphy can’t credibly dispute any of those facts. He can spew all he wants. NJ voters know BS when they hear it.”
Perhaps what’s most telling is that on Ciattarelli’s online “Jack’s story” bio on his campaign website we learns that his “father’s parents immigrated to this country nearly 100 years ago” and that his “parents had but one high school diploma between them, but what they lacked in formal education, they made up for in work ethic and integrity.”
We learn that he “earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, passed the CPA exam, and started and owned two very successful businesses and created real jobs. All right here, in New Jersey.”
Yet, nowhere in that introduction does he mention he’s given much of his adult life to public service as a member of the Raritan Borough Council, a County Freeholder and a member of the New Jersey State Assembly.
Could it be that in Trump’s GOP in exile that many years of public service is a badge of dishonor? In another day, such a multi-layered resume along with a campaign about what really ails New Jersey, could have made Murphy just another one-term Democrat.