NJ Republicans Aren't Fully MAGA Yet

That's the good news. But Jack Ciattarelli's victory over two more radical contenders in the gubernatorial primary shows how far Trumpism has seeped into the GOP's moderate wing

Hey political junkies! This seems to be local politics week. Although Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill once famously said that all politics are local, he did not mean that state and local politics were of no interest to those not in those districts: he meant the opposite. Yes, politicians respond to local interests, but what happens at the local level helps us think about national trends before they appear. Is there a race, a referendum, or a piece of legislation in your town or state that I should cover? If so, let me know in the comments section, and I will research it.

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Image credit: GOTV Twitter campaign, Jack Ciattarelli for Governor

Be prepared for every state and local race around the country to be labeled a “bellwether.” The 2022 House races will determine whether Congress will legislate or marinate in the second half of Joe Biden’s presidency. It is common for presidents to lose at least one house in the midterm election, and the thin margins in the House and Senate make this question particularly urgent.

So one thing to look at is the races that are happening in 2021 to see what the general election temperature looks like. But it is also important to scrutinize what kind of Republicans are winning their primary races.

Last night's good news is that in yesterday’s race to pick a Republican candidate for governor, both MAGA candidates lost bigly. Trump himself did not back a candidate, possibly because he knew these guys were both losers, although, in true Florida man style, a Hirsh Singh campaign ad claimed to have a Trump endorsement. His own party has previously censured Singh for deceptive campaign tactics. And real estate developer Philip Rizzo, who has managed to maneuver himself into photo-ops with Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, distributed those images liberally as if both men had endorsed him.

Thus, Jack Ciattarelli, a former assemblyman and owner of a medical publishing company, took 49.6% of the vote, with the remaining votes split between three other contenders. As importantly, Ciatterelli was endorsed by every Republican county committee in the state. Even if you pinned the vote percentage that Singh and Rizzo amassed collectively (47.3%), it falls well shy of Ciattarelli’s 49.5%.

So that’s all good news for the health of democracy in the Garden State. And who is surprised? New Jersey, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by over a million voters, is, in general, not very Trumpy. If you look at this map from 2020, where Biden-Harris won 53.3% of the vote to Trump-Pence’s 41.4% (and 5% probably cast a vote for Bruce Springsteen), the districts that are overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic are represented in deep red or deep blue. There are only three of them, one Republican.

Source: Wikipedia

In the remaining six counties where Republicans dominate Democrats, they do so gently, by ten points or fewer. That’s also true of five of the Democratic districts. This may be one reason why few New Jersey governors in either party ever win re-election: many districts are theoretically in play in almost every election.

But here’s what else this race can teach us.

First, the New Jersey Republican Party has managed so far not to permit the stink of Trumpism to invade its core party structures, and it remains a solid stronghold of anti-Trumpism within the national party. Good.

That said, Ciatterelli’s platform also demonstrates how much four years of Trump have moved moderates to the right, and it gives us a sense of how the red meat issues that have dominated the landscape since 2015 will be framed nationally.

  • New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation, so this is obviously going to be a campaign issue. But Ciatterelli’s plan, which is to freeze taxes for homeowners 65 and up and not raise taxes for home improvements, is a huge giveaway to the wealthy and the real estate industry.

  • New Jersey has the third-highest personal income tax in the nation: here, we have more giveaways for the rich. Ciatterelli wants to eliminate capital gains on the sale of any home or second home and “make all retirement income tax-free.” This would be of particular benefit to corporate executives with deferred compensation packages. He also wants to lower corporate business taxes.

  • Ciatterelli opposes mandatory vaccination and any requirement for proof of vaccination.

  • Although he does not oppose all forms of gun licensing and registration, Ciaterelli wants to speed up the process of legal ownership and expand “concealed carry.”

  • Ciatterelli’s immigration policies permit a pathway to citizenship but otherwise reflect MAGA priorities.

In other words, as we approach 2022, we may have to unlearn the very high focus on the most attention-grabbing MAGA candidates and refocus attention on the ones who are presenting themselves as moderate.

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Claire Bond Potter is Professor of Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research and co-Executive Editor of Public Seminar. Her most recent book is Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy (Basic Books, 2020).

Short takes:

  • Those of us on Parler and Gab saw the J6 insurrection forming up in real-time. According to a Senate report released this week, it was a multi-layered failure, which included agency heads disregarding the intelligence they were given. You can read about it in The Hill. (Rebecca Beitsch and Cristina Marcos, June 08, 2021)

  • Charlie Sykes points out that conservatives used to fear tyranny, but now they aspire to it. (The Bulwark, June 8, 2021)

  • Richard Viguerie, eat your heart out! Judd Legum at Popular Information has “identified more than two dozen websites, including 1776 Coalition, Protect The USA, and Firearms & Freedom, owned or controlled by Alliance Strategies Group (ASG)” that are compiling and selling email fundraising lists to right-wing candidates, including Marjorie Taylor Greene and Josh Hawley. (June 7, 2021)