Two irrefutable facts of national political life emerge from Tuesday’s Congressional midterm elections. The first relates to the growing obstacles to impeaching and removing President Donald Trump from office. The second is the rising unlikelihood of his reelection.
The increase in the Republican majority in the Senate means that it will be virtually impossible to remove President Donald Trump from office by means of a Senate impeachment trial, regardless of how much evidence the Mueller report provides regarding impeachable offenses allegedly committed by the president.
Yet it must be noted that the increase in the Republican majority in the Senate is in no way a measure of President Trump’s public approval or disapproval. All four of the Senate seats the Republicans picked up from the Democrats were in Red states. They did not pick up a single Senate seat in a Blue state and lost a Senate seat in a Purple state, Nevada.
The real measure of the undeniable national repudiation of Donald Trump is to be found in the flipping of 37 House seats from the Republicans to the Democrats. This loss signifies that Donald Trump faces overwhelming negative odds in his reelection bid.
The 37 House seat gain by the Democrats constituted the largest House seat midterm loss by an incumbent president’s party in a time of relative peace and prosperity since the end of the Second World War. The national House of Representatives popular vote in favor of the Democrats was roughly equivalent percentage-wise to the vote in favor of the Republicans in the 2010 House elections in which the GOP gained 64 seats. The reason for the disparity in the seat gains in 2010 and 2018 is the national gerrymander that has taken place over the past decade.
The New York Times classified this election as a Blue Wave. I respectively disagree with the Times. When you combine the Democratic House landslide victory with the increase from eight to 14 states in which the Democrats now control both houses of the legislature plus the governorship, you have what can best be classified as a Blue Tsunami.
It is not difficult to determine the reasons for the Trumpian Blue Tsunami of 2018. Trump toxicity consists of the three elements of bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia. This politically toxic stew has, in turn, given rise to three electoral gaps: 1) a voting pattern disparity of the three major minorities, to wit, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians as contrasted with all other constituent groups; 2) the well-known “gender gap” between the voting patterns of men and women; and 3) the intra-white men divide, to wit, the difference in the voting patterns of white college-educated men as distinguished from all other white men.
The creation of these three gaps has created a winning powerful national Democratic coalition of white college educated men, women voters, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-American voters. This coalition is particularly impactful in New Jersey, given the growing presence in the Garden State of the aforesaid minorities plus the increasing education level of both men and women. In fact, this Democratic coalition is so powerful here that it will be virtually impossible for the Republicans to win control of either house of the state legislature within the next decade.
It may be possible in the future to elect a New Jersey Republican governor in cases where the incumbent Democratic administration is viewed as a failure. Such circumstances have resulted in the election of Republican governors in dark Blue states such as Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland. Yet in both these states, as with New Jersey, it will be virtually impossible to elect a Republican US Senator.
Trump is not the only cause of the deterioration of the GOP in New Jersey to its present moribund condition. An equally negative cause in the party decline has been its leadership over the past decade by former Governor Chris Christie and his principal political confidant and partner, Bill Palatucci.
Since his nomination and election as governor in 2009, Christie and Palatucci have had virtual suzerainty over the New Jersey Republican Party. Their paramount interest has been promoting the political agenda of Chris Christie, i.e.; his gubernatorial election and reelection, his failed campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, and his attempt to become a “player” in the Trump White House.
Christie and Palatucci have failed completely to broaden the base of the party, even in periods where Christie’s popularity was high. If there was anything that graphically demonstrated their failure at party leadership, it was the Christie gubernatorial reelection campaign of 2013.
That campaign was a remarkable historical parallel to Richard Nixon’s presidential reelection campaign of 1972. All the focus of that presidential campaign was directed towards achieving an historic landslide reelection for Nixon, resulting in the failure to achieve significant Republican Congressional gains. All the focus of Christie’s gubernatorial reelection campaign was directed towards achieving a huge landslide for him in order to boost his 2016 presidential prospects, resulting in the failure to achieve significant GOP legislative gains. Immediately after the conclusion of each reelection campaign, the connection of each administration with a major scandal was revealed, Watergate in the case of Nixon and Bridgegate in the case of Christie. In both cases, there was maximum damage to the Republican brand, although in the case of Christie, unlike Nixon, he was never criminally implicated.
By the time Christie left office in 2018, his approval rating had sunk below 20 percent, and he was a national object of ridicule due to the famous picture of him in the beach chair. I felt at the time that a perfect metaphor for New Jersey politics would be a beach scene of 97-pound weakling Arnold Stang of Chunky chocolate fame representing the Republican Party and standing next to a Democratic Party Charles Atlas.
Yet the Christie-Palatucci duo continued to dominate the New Jersey Republican Party after he left office. Their final act was to spearhead the effort to nominate Bob Hugin as the Republican candidate for the US Senate in 2018 to oppose incumbent Bob Menendez. From the outset of the campaign, I predicted in my columns that given his background as Trump’s leading player in New Jersey in 2016 and his role as a pharmaceutical executive, Hugin would be an electoral disaster. It wasn’t too difficult a prediction to make.
The Republican Party emerges from this campaign in the worst shape it has been since the Brendan Byrne landslide of 1973, resulting from the Watergate scandal. It appears that the New Jersey House of Representatives delegation in the next Congress will have only one Republican member, Chris Smith.
With the abysmal failure of the Hugin campaign, it is likely that the era of Christie-Palatucci New Jersey Republican suzerainty is over. The Trump factor, however, will continue to do substantial brand damage to the NJGOP.
The Republicans have two excellent prospective candidates for governor in 2021, Tom Kean, Jr. and Jack Ciattarelli. They will each find, however, that their most difficult task will not be in overcoming per se the forces of the incumbent Democratic governor Phil Murphy but rather in shedding themselves of the Trump albatross, for which neither bears any responsibility.
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.