When the infamous “Time for Some Traffic Problems in Fort Lee” email first surfaced in 2014, PolitickerNJ was on the phone with a Republican insider who had been vehemently and vigorously trying to defend Gov. Chris Christie. When the email popped, the source simply said, “It’s every man for himself,” and hurriedly got off the phone.
And so it is still a day before Election Day 2016 in New Jersey.
Every person for himself.
This is not incredibly unusual.
It’s difficult to picture someone winning a game show by knee-jerking the word “selfless” when describing the attitudes we associate with that lovable, scrappy, foul-mouthed, self-interested and opportunistic rapscallion otherwise known as New Jersey. Moreover, if one has political ambitions and wants to advance according to those conventional political means, he or she doesn’t overly fixate on presidential politics. It’s probably more important to find a mayor or well-connected councilperson or ward captain who wields influence for a well placed back slap or bear hug.
But this year more than any other in recent New Jersey memory contains a foxhole by foxhole politically self-protective narrative as the toxicity of the top of the ticket—and in Drumthwacket, for that matter—creates newfound opportunities for unbridled individualism.
Consider the following:
Having already told The Star-Ledger that she won’t vote for Republican Donald Trump, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, angling for a gubernatorial run, has taken Ballot Question No. 2 as her battlefront. After seven years as Christie’s duct taped second banana, she desperately wants the association of an issue instead of the volatile, controversial Republican presidential nominee. Running from Trump, she’s running for governor.
So too is her chief primary rival, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli of Hillsborough. At one point, he made a statement to the effect that he backs Trump for president, then just as quickly at his kickoff welcomed the chance to swat away at the Republican nominee in the aftermath of a New York Times story about the Republican ducking federal income taxes for nearly two decades. Running for governor, Ciattarelli can’t get away from Trump fast enough.
And , oh, yeah, he cared so much about prez that he announced his candidacy in early fall, in the middle of Trump’s life and death struggle with Clinton.
Both Guadagno and Ciattarelli are simultaneously putting as much distance on the damaged Christie as possible.
Then there was a mailer from the engineers—and a 101.5 FM radio ad—from Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union).
“The biggest broad-based tax cut in the history of New Jersey—thanks to Jon Bramnick,” reads the mailer.
There’s nary a scintilla of badmouthing of the wounded governor from the ever-loyal lieutenant, of course. Unlike Guadagno and Ciattarelli, Bramnick has the added motivation to remain faithfully adherent to his old pal Christie. Sources say the assembly minority leader is angling for an appointment by Christie to a U.S. Senate seat – should one become available.
Now, on the other side of the equation here, the Democrats have the advantage of liking Clinton more than most of their Republican counterparts are willing to say they like Trump. But the word “like” means about as much in politics as the word “snowflake.” The New Jersey Democrats’ candidate for governor arguably secured the front-runner position in next year’s race by defying conventional wisdom about paying respect to the presidential contest. Retired Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy is now leaping up onto stages and talking about the importance of voting for Clinton, but he was the only Democrat who launched his gubernatorial candidacy prior to the settling of the presidential mess, way back in May.
Clinton was still fighting Bernie Sanders when Murphy stared into a camera and talked about himself.
A newcomer to the game from the Boston area who spent his professional career mostly overseas, Murphy politically contextualized in this current cycle might add up to: He gets it!
While Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop plodded around the state gently reminding people that they need to care about the presidential election, Murphy ran over them in the Murphy-mobile. Then he surfaced at a Hackensack press conference to announce how he had locked up governor, accompanied by multiple furrowed brow party chairs who excitedly declared their fealty to Murphy—and then individually did their best Al Pacino Any Given Sunday impersonations for why everyone needs to go out and fight for those six inches in front of your face for, er, what’s her name?
In their CD5 tilt, the most watched in the state, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett tried to score a punch on his Democratic challenger Josh Gottheimer by noting Clinton’s support for a tax on those Americans making more than $200,000 and how such a policy would harm his constituents. Rather than digging in with Clinton, Gottheimer ran from the tax. He doesn’t support it.
At a Friday night rally in North Bergen, state senator Brian P. Stack (D-Hudson) presided over a virtual laser lights show in his own honor ahead of 2017.
As for spending by independent groups in New Jersey: according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), $24 million has gone into a nuclearized effort to make insider pro and con cases for North Jersey casinos, a ballot question expected to fail because people don’t – surprise – trust NJ politicians and gambling in the same sentence.
On the western side of the state, state Senator Michael Doherty (R-Warren) was the most vocal elected official in the state in support of Trump. Arguably the best he could hope for was that the Trump campaign would pull the plug on a Bridgegate-besmirched Christie in swing state Pennsylvania this past weekend.
Unable to bench press her own personality to any great effect, Clinton, simultaneously, enlisted the aid of Jersey Shore rat rock icon Bruce Springsteen for her pre-Election Day rally in Philly today, where they hope to drive monster numbers to put the Keystone State in the bank.
It was yet one more chariot lap drag around the walls of Troy for the political carcass of lifelong Springsteen fan Christie, who insists he’s not dead in the annals of politics, who vows to fight on, who insists all he wants is that Trump do well, as sources say he prays for a win by the billionaire real estate tycoon tomorrow so he can vacate a state where pre-Murphy and pre-Guadagno v. Ciattarelli, all Christie did was take the every man for himself philosophy doggedly to heart and run for prez, and weather the island of his own making now, with all the bridges out of the swamp—or at least one—blown.
At least U.S. Senator Cory Booker was out there selflessly jet-setting around the country in support of Clinton.
Over the weekend, two Democratic Party insiders stood in the cold outside a run-down and lifeless-looking HQ with the sun down. “Cory don’t want Hillary to win,” one of them gurgled at PolitickerNJ. “That’s just an excuse for him to get out of New Jersey—legitimately. Seriously. Cory wants Hillary to lose so he can run for president in four years. Timing is everything in politics, let’s be honest.”