Was Lonegan’s defeat an inside job?
Well, at least Jay Webber won… and Seth Grossman.
Bob Hugin won’t totally have his way in wrapping the State’s Republican brand in a plain brown paper. He’s going to have a Reagan conservative and an eccentric libertarian to provide some color to the package – not to mention the incumbents, starting with the staunchly Pro-Life Chris Smith.
What Hugin won’t have is a genuine Trump-style populist bouncing around in the orchestra, stealing the stage of an election that he plainly believes he is paying for. Like Grossman, Steve Lonegan is decidedly his own article, but enough in the Trump mold to easily wear the costume.
McCann you say? The most baldly dishonest campaign in memory will now be set aside, and with it, all the Trumpian rhetoric. No, John McCann was not endorsed by President Trump, even though his campaign communications led you to believe he was. More on this later.
It is enough for now to compare the post-truth campaigning style of a certain southern political consultant to the rather insufficient counter-measures of the Lonegan team, whose messaging was done by a consultant shared with the Hugin team. Although completely false, McCann’s consultant had the discipline to dominate his candidate, confine him to those tasks of which he was capable, and to run the kind of sharp, focused, MESSAGE-driven campaign that we don’t often see here in New Jersey.
If McCann’s consultant survives the recent raid on his office by the FBI, the inquires by the United States Justice Department and such, he could become a formidable presence on the field in New Jersey. It takes a certain toughness to come up with a message so at variance with a candidate, to bully the candidate into silence, and then to brazenly run with it to victory.
Unfortunately, now the candidate will think the victory his… he will start to talk again. Like he did last week when, in an unguarded moment, he let slip his true feelings about abortion (he won’t vote for ANY Pro-Life legislation if elected to Congress) and guns (he opposes the NRA and supports universal background checks). Did the New Jersey Family Policy Council know this when its (c)4 lobbying arm was induced into doing an openly political mailer that buttered the Pro-Choice candidate but trashed the Pro-Lifer? Or did they know and did they not care? More on this later.
Not to worry though. John McCann has served his purpose. The candidate with the money lost (and now that candidate is a wounded, angry animal, sitting on a million dollar war chest). But John McCann is broke. He has eaten his seed corn. Don’t look for him to trouble Josh Gottheimer. And there might even be a reward in it for him. Another lucrative patronage job perhaps? He might end up a judge.
So the money that would have been spent in the 5th fighting off the visceral attacks of a Lonegan candidacy will now be heading… where? Which Democrat will be the beneficiary of yesterday… perhaps they will all share in a piece of it?
Among the other lessons learned…
The party potentates who opened the bottle of a Tony Ghee candidacy did so before its time. They gave the newcomer no time to breathe. It’s a solid vintage that will hopefully be available again.
And speaking of which. We learn from the former Wally Edge that Peter Murphy is about to assume the throne of the GOP in Passaic County – the place he occupied before a certain United States Attorney, named Chris Christie, sent him away. It’s a bad business – especially for Bob Hugin, who has made political corruption his ONLY issue. Lonegan’s polling showed Murphy’s support to be the strongest negative against McCann. More than 80 percent of Republicans were less likely to vote for a candidate who had his support… that’s REPUBLICANS. You would have hardly guessed it from Lonegan’s campaign communications, but there you have it.
Surprisingly enough, Lonegan did have coattails of a sort. In Sussex County, Lonegan-backed challengers to two incumbent Freeholders annihilated the incumbents. It is the first time in living memory that a ticket with two incumbents was defeated in Sussex County.
Dawn Fantasia is the principal at a charter school. Josh Hertzberg is an administrator with the ILA union. These are what Republican candidates look like in our populist era. Fantasia supported Senator Steve Oroho’s negotiations over the refinancing of the Transportation Trust Fund. She learned about it and patiently explained the details to others – and ended up cutting a radio spot to that end. People warned that it would hurt her politically, because the final deal raised the gas tax, while cutting or eliminating a host of taxes (including the estate tax) and providing property tax relief. Another lesson learned?
John McCann injected himself into the Freeholder race, on behalf of the incumbents, who supported him. He ran a radio spot that attacked Senator Oroho by name on the gas tax. Former Congressman Scott Garrett came out in support of the incumbents and ran a robo-call on their behalf. More lessons?
Lonegan won Sussex County, but by a much smaller margin – about 500 votes. Why the difference? Well, in Sussex, the Lonegan freeholder ticket had a strong message that they pursued relentlessly – and were quick and sharp with their counterattacks. The Lonegan campaign proper lacked this, especially the quick counterpunches. Fantasia and Hertzberg also had the full attentions of Kelly Hart, who had been “let go” by the Lonegan campaign in April. She had been field director for Sussex County.
Curiously enough though, when the dust settles after the General Election, the only big changes to the line-up of elected officials in CD05 will be the election of Lonegan’s running mates in Sussex County. Everyone else… McCann and all his running mates in Bergen and Passaic will have lost.
A few years ago, Ralph Nadar wrote a book called “Unstoppable” – in which he predicted the rise of populist movements on both the Left and the Right in response to the disconnect with the mainstream political parties. He suggested that Left and Right reformers had much in common and therefore, the basis of a genuine “resistance” movement.
How will this translate with Dr. Murray Sabrin on the Libertarian Party ticket for U.S. Senate is anyone’s guess, but there are Libertarian candidates in Districts 5 and 11, and a Constitution party in District 3. A Center-Left populist, Wendy Goetz, is also running in the 5th.
And finally, election night parties. The people you meet at such things are not average Republican voters. Many earn a living from politics – whether as a lobbyist or a vendor, a job holder or a consultant. They are in the business of politics – even those that just secure from it a certain status, as a member of a local government perhaps, or a school board.
That is not the case with 99 percent of Republican voters. All they get out of voting is the idea that they are checking the box for someone who thinks like they do. Most have a general idea of what the Republican Party stands for and that they stand for that too. That “general idea” is provided to them, largely, by the mainstream media. And yes, it includes the points that Republicans are Pro-Life and pro-Second Amendment.
New Jersey’s Republican political class needs to learn to live with this. Bring to a close their 40 years war with Reagan and their contempt for our base. Trying to pretend that you are something else or “a different kind of Republican” is not a message, it is a deflection. For all his money spent on advertising, Bob Hugin was able to convince just 52 percent of Republicans in Sussex County to vote for him. He will need to do a great deal better.
Let the political class make its money… but leave average GOP voters someone they can vote for.
Sadly, the party took a step back yesterday. They took away someone who meant something to a great many average Republicans – and they did so by telling voters that McCann was just a newer Lonegan, only more conservative, and that Donald Trump endorsed him. We all know that isn’t true.
And on that note, we begin the General Election.