Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi of New Jersey’s 39th legislative district has yet to endorse Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. According to Schepisi, her hesitation stems partly from a lack of focus from Trump’s campaign.
“I have continued to kind of sit back and hope that he could pivot, go on message, and be able to really start conveying strong policy and counter a lot of what [Democratic nominee] Hillary Clinton has been saying and doing,” Schepisi said. “I have concerns that rather than be able to put forward those kinds of policies, he has been locked into just taking the bait from the Clinton campaign. I think that in order for him to have a shot and not have a negative impact on down ticket candidates… it is really going to come down to how he does during the debates.”
A recent New York Times report shows that Clinton is struggling with just one group: white, male voters who are less educated (without a college degree). In that group, Trump is solidly in the lead. In the New Jersey county Schepisi calls home–Bergen–over 26 percent of voters are non-white or of mixed race, 30 percent are foreign-born, and over 46 percent have college degrees (U.S. Census Bureau).
“I think, as we stand here today, there are a lot of people who fall into the more educated small business owner category that are truly at a loss about what to do for this election both Democrat as well as Republican,” Schepisi said, also stating that she feels many NJ Democrats are at loss over the candidacy of Clinton in the same way she is for Trump.
According to Schepisi, whether it is win or lose for Trump, it is time for the GOP to rebrand if they are to have any hope of recapturing voters.
“We can’t be perceived as a party of just angry white men,” Schepisi said. “You look at minority communities, whether they are people who are Sikh or Punjabi or Korean or Latino, there are so many minority communities in our country that are small business owners that are being vastly hurt by policies that are being promulgated on the Democratic side. These are populations of people that if you speak with them, if you sit down with them, if you get involved in their communities, it makes you realize that a lot of their philosophy echoes small government, echoes Republican foundation type of policies. Yet there has been no reach out. There has been no attempt to bring those populations into the fold.”
Since declaring his candidacy, Trump has not held a single event aimed at black voters, according to the New York Times. For Schepisi such a lack of communication is unacceptable. The assemblywoman said the GOP also needs to take steps to “actively work together” and recruit inside minority communities and also take steps to “stop being perceived as hating gay people.”
While Schepisi does not back Trump, the assemblywoman has not made a statement about who she is backing for the presidency.
Bergen County Republican Party Chairman Paul DiGaetano favored former Florida Governor Jeb Bush during the GOP primary. However, unlike Schepisi, the chairman now says that Trump is his choice. According to official election results from the June 7 New Jersey primary, Trump won Bergen County’s Republican vote by a landslide collecting 35,622 votes while Texas Senator Ted Cruz received about 2,500 votes and Ohio Governor John Kasich received about 5,400 votes in the county. There were 309 write-in votes cast in the Bergen Republican presidential primary.
“He did very well in the vote in the primary in Bergen County so he is our choice and we support him and I think that is how all Republicans should remain. Whether he was our number one or number 17, he is our candidate. And he wasn’t my number one, nor anywhere in the middle,” DiGaetano said.
According to the chairman, Trump’s campaign can teach rank and file Republican electeds a message. However, he said that Trump’s nomination could also lead to a more volatile electorate with some Republicans shifting votes to Clinton and some Democrats shifting votes to Trump.
“I think there is a lesson for those who have been involved in politics for many many years that the people from time to time respond to different messaging. We should take heed of that,” DiGaetano said. “You can’t argue with success. Our choices are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It is a clear choice in my opinion.”
While some NJ Republicans are unethusastic about the presidential nominee, others have been vocal Trump supporters. Most notably, NJ Governor Chris Christie has supported Trump since the end of his own presidential run early this year. Other NJ Republicans who entered the fold early for Trump include state Senator Mike Doherty and state Senator Joe Pennacchio.
While Schepisi said that Trump’s message needs to change quickly, she said that she felt many Republicans simply need to hear more policy from Trump in order for concerns to be assuaged.
“I don’t think the door is slammed shut but I do think that for many of the people that I speak with the main message that everyone says is that he has to stop taking the bait and start providing substance,” Schepisi said. “Other than a couple of campaign slogans, if you interview 20 supporters of his, I think 19 of the 20 would not be able to tell you what he really stands for. This late in the game to still be there is a little disconcerting.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.