Trump Toxicity Elects Conor Lamb – And Will Elect Mikie Sherrill


“Trump toxicity” may best be defined as electoral revulsion against Donald Trump and consequently, the Republican Party.  On Tuesday night, it resulted in the election of Democrat Conor Lamb to the U.S. House of Representatives over Republican Rick Saccone in a special election in Pennsylvania Congressional District 18, a solidly Republican district that Donald Trump had carried by 20 points in 2016.

This November, Trump toxicity is certain to result in the election of Democrat Mikie Sherrill to the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey Congressional District 11.  This District is based primarily in Morris County, historically the most solidly Republican county in New Jersey.  Sherrill’s election, both symbolically and in itself will have profound implications for the future of New Jersey politics. 

Trump toxicity is not per se a protest against the policies of the presidential administration of Donald Trump, but rather outrage against his values, character, and conduct.  Trump is perceived, accurately in my view, as embracing the prejudicial values of misogyny, xenophobia, and racial and ethnic bigotry. His character in the minds of the voters is best defined by his mendacity.  The aspect of his conduct that has most alienated voters of both parties has been his abuses of power, specifically, his obstruction of justice in the Russia probe.   

The nonpartisan and universally respected Cook Partisan Voting Index classified Pennsylvania Congressional District 18 as R+ 11, meaning this district has voted 11 percentage points more Republican than the country as a whole in the last two presidential elections.  Yet due to Trump toxicity, Conor Lamb was able to attract a massive crossover Republican vote, enabling him to win an extremely close election.  This November, Trump toxicity will likewise enable Mikie Sherrill to attract a massive Republican crossover vote, particularly among women and millennials, sealing her victory.  Her margin will be comfortable, however, unlike that of Conor Lamb’s razor thin plurality.   

In order to gauge the effect of Trump toxicity in Morris County, it is first necessary to note that Hillary Clinton only lost New Jersey Congressional District 11 by one percentage point to Donald Trump in the 2016 general election.  And that was before the full extent and dimensions of Trump toxicity emerged.

Indeed, if one studies the history and political culture of Morris County, it is easy to see how Trump toxicity could generate a major Republican crossover vote for Mikie Sherrill.  To be sure, Morris County is the most reliable Republican county in New Jersey.  Yet the Republican voting pattern in Morris is a matter of custom and habit, rather than conservative ideology.  This lack of ideological commitment has resulted in a willingness for Republican voters in Morris County to vote for Democratic candidates on occasions where a Republican incumbent or the party itself is impacted by malodorous controversy. 

Indeed, on two such occasions, in 1973 and 1993, Morris County Republicans crossed over to vote for not just Democratic candidates but actual left liberal Democrat insurgents.  In 1973, when the Republican brand was under assault due to the Watergate scandal, Morris County voters elected left liberal Democrat Stephen Wiley as a state senator.  In 1993, incumbent Republican Senator John Dorsey fell into public disrepute when he used senatorial courtesy to attempt to block the reappointment of Family Court Judge Marianne Espinosa Murphy, a most highly regarded jurist.  He was defeated for reelection by ultraliberal Democrat Gordon MacInnes. 

The good people of Morris County, including its dominant Republican constituency, are unlikely to have any tolerance whatsoever for Trump toxicity.  In Mikie Sherrill, they have a Democratic center-left alternative right out of Central Casting. 

Sherrill’s resume, it itself, makes her a remarkably politically attractive candidate.  Her military career qualifies her as a woman trailblazer, having graduated from the Naval Academy and served with distinction as a helicopter pilot.  Her academic credentials are outstanding, distinguished by her attaining a Master’s degree in Global History from the renowned London School of Economics and Political Science.  After receiving her law degree from Georgetown, she achieved remarkable success as a lawyer, most notably as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey.   

In short, Mikie Sherrill is the New Jersey political star of 2018.  In spite of her outstanding credentials, however, she would have normally faced an uphill battle in her Congressional campaign.  Trump toxicity, however, will be an insurmountable obstacle for her Republican opponent, regardless of who he may be.  Mikie Sherrill will be elected. 

Within days after her election, political pundits will speculate as to the possibility of Mikie Sherrill as a New Jersey gubernatorial candidate or Democratic vice presidential nominee.  In politics, timing is everything, and the year of Trump toxicity, 2018, is the ideal time for the emergence of Mikie Sherrill.   

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 under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman. 

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