With the packed presidential Republican field, the national GOP has been drawing significantly more attention than counterparts on the Democratic side. However, Republicans are significantly in the minority in New Jersey and a year of losses has left the party weak in the Garden State.
PolitickerNJ spoke with some insiders in the NJ GOP to get their opinions on the national party and see how they believe the rhetoric that has come out of the national spotlight will come into play in NJ.
According to Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, the national debates have sparked some important dialogue into the issues of “how polarized society has become.”
“With respect to New Jersey in particular, I think the past decade of voting has proven that New Jersey tends to run a little bit more blue and more moderate to liberal than what is transpiring in national politics,” Schepisi said.
According to Schepisi, a wedge has been growing in society that makes compromise more difficult.
“I also think you have a lot of people on both sides of the aisle that have really become concerned about how polarized society has become and how certain agendas have sought to ban basically anything anyone has to say that others find offensive or disagree with,” Schepisi said. “We have reached a point in our society where, rather than being able to have open dialogue and differences of opinion, in the event that somebody is offended by something it is almost like attempting to put forth some kind of nonexistent constitutional right not to be offended.”
According to Schepisi, this heightened polarization is what has allowed the presidential candidacy of businessman Donald Trump to flourish. He is currently the frontrunner in most polls despite a lack of establishment support and a number of statements—particularly remarks against Mexicans and Muslims traveling to the United States—that have cause many Republicans to distance themselves from him. Trump has, so far, dwarfed candidates like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, among others.
“I think that within the past couple of years you have seen that taking offense occur so often that I think there is a backlash,” Schepisi said. “I think that is part of what you see in the appeal of Trump and some of the numbers he has been generating.”
Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango agreed with Schepisi that Trump’s candidacy, in particular, is not representative of the national Republican Party.
“The only reason people are paying attention is because of Donald Trump,” Arango said. “Why? Because he is entertainment. It is not because he is really representing anybody. He is representing himself.”
According to Arango, New Jersey’s party has been typically more center-leaning than some branches of the GOP nationwide.
“The Republican Party of the North East United States and the Atlantic Coast—I’m talking Florida, Massachusetts, the New England States—we have a more pragmatic party,” Arango said. “We are more center and that is historically. That’s doesn’t mean we don’t believe the Republican values but we have different constituents and people that we have to deal with that in the Midwest and the Bible Belt states.”
According to Arango, those differences—which he said makes winning primaries difficult and has allowed Trump an audience of “extremists” to speak to—is part of the landscape of the political world.
“The Republican Party is a big tent. We have ultra-right, center and pragmatic people and I believe that the New Jersey Republican Party is a very productive party because we want what is best for America without forgetting our values,” Arango said.
For state Senator Joe Pennacchio, however, current national issues (particularly economic struggles) can be boiled down to national leadership under the Obama administration.
“If you take a look at the national issues that we have, they weren’t caused by conservatives,” Pennacchio said. “People want to go back to a fundamental government. They want a government that is less, not more. As far as I am concerned, that is where I stand on the national party and the direction that we should be taking. I think government should be smaller and more responsible.”
For Pennacchio, the New Jersey Republican Party’s biggest flaw stems from the fact that it cannot muster the numbers it needs to lead effectively.
“Unfortunately for us in New Jersey, we would love to take a leadership role but the numbers just aren’t there,” Pennacchio said. “We are an opposition party. We can tell you what’s been done and how it is driving people out of state. But with so many more Democrats in the state, it is just so much harder to do.”
According to Schepisi, the national spotlight has “opened up some important dialogue on the issues” that she thinks are “incredibly prudent to the population as a whole.” She cited Obamacare and matters of national security as national topics that can be boiled down to the state level.