The excitement Saturday at a Parkway rest stop among Donald Trump devotees was genuine. After all, a Trump motorcade and then a boat parade were on the agenda.
Gregory Dooner seemed like the de facto leader of the group, many of whom arrived wearing and carrying all sorts of Trump clothing and gear. There were multiple flags on the back of pick-up trucks and one woman sported a baseball cap with the message “FU46.”
“I support all America First candidates,” said Dooner, who recently opened a “Let’s Go Brandon” store (really) in Toms River.
But with primary day now less than 24 hours away, just how much is the Trump wing of the Republican Party going to matter?
Exuberance of his supporters aside, Trump is simply not popular in New Jersey, where he was hardly competitive in both his runs for president.
Nonetheless, there clearly remains a Trump bloc among New Jersey Republicans.
Which brings us to three contested GOP congressional primaries in Districts 3, 4 and 7.
Republican organizations in each district have endorsed establishment candidates who couldn’t be more establishment if they tried.
The family business of Bob Healey (CD-3) is building yachts.
In CD-4, Chris Smith has been in Congress since 1981.
And in CD-7, Tom Kean Jr. is, of course, the son of the former governor.
Experience and business connections may be valuable political assets, but not necessarily to the MAGA crowd, which sees corruption and capitulation at every turn.
A businessman is scorned because he often has to deal – cooperatively – with those on the other side, politically. An entrenched politician must be “corrupt” by just about any measuring stick.
So, we see CD-3 challenger Ian Smith condemning both Healey and the state Republican Party for their “vanilla” approach to things, which suggests, apparently, that the GOP establishment lacks the will, or the stomach, to truly fight for America’s interests.
In CD-4, challenger Mike Crispi, who attended the motorcade and boat parade, prides himself on being an “America First,” or MAGA candidate.
On Sunday, Crispi walked the boardwalk in Ocean County with retired Lt. General Michael Flynn.
Flynn briefly was Trump’s National Security Advisor, but resigned and then pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He was later pardoned by Trump.
His somewhat shady past has not prevented Flynn from becoming a hero among the Trump crowd.
Up in CD-7, multiple candidates are vying for the “Trump vote.”
One of them, Phil Rizzo, has put together a website that practically suggests Kean is a Marxist, or maybe just a socialist.
You can’t ignore the passion, but it’s hard to see any of the candidates on the far right, if you will, defeating those endorsed by the party organizations.
We saw something similar last year.
Jack Ciattarelli was the chosen Republican candidate for governor. Like some of the establishment candidates this year for Congress, he too was condemned as a “RINO.”
Ciattarelli won the primary with about 50 percent of the vote, beating Hirsh Singh and the aforementioned Rizzo.
Ciattarelli then went on to lose by a mere three points to Phil Murphy. That was a pretty good achievement by a Republican in a “blue” state.
This brings up two schools of thought.
One is that a traditional Republican candidate – even (God forbid) a RINO – is what the party needs to be competitive in New Jersey.
Yet on the other hand, a traditional GOP candidate ran last year and still lost. So, let’s try running an authentic MAGA candidate.
That’s the point Smith, Crispi and the team of anti-Kean candidates in CD-7 are trying to make.
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