“I think the fact that Doug did not stay away from his position on Donald Trump was a real challenge in November, especially what happened on Wednesday. I think it’s a challenge for all Republicans, “Essex County’s Republican chairman Al Barlas said of the riots. “I’m not saying we can’t overcome it, we can’t deal with it. But it’s a challenge.”
Even if Steinhardt, a private practice attorney, stayed in the running and won the GOP nomination, the governor’s door was likely slammed. His candidacy could be among the first in the country to be ended by the events of January 6th.
Just as Chris Christie’s 2009 election as governor envisaged the GOP’s takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010, New Jersey – along with Virginia one of only two states to hold gubernatorial elections this year – could again be an early indicator of the political winds.
But it is far from a perfect political augur. New Jersey has a million more registered Democrats than Republicans, has not elected a US Republican Senator in nearly 50 years, and has voted blue in every presidential election since 1992. But Republicans can and can win Governors in the Garden State. And while Democratic Governor Phil Murphy has a vote of approval in his re-election campaign in the low 60s, New Jersey attitudes about their elected leaders can and must change quickly.
Steinhardt wasn’t just for Trump in general. He was all there.
His top strategist was Bill Stepien, a native of New Jersey who served as Trump’s campaign manager. In a video in December announcing his candidacy, Steinhardt said, “Let me be very clear: I support President Trump. I have always. Some have said goodbye to our President during difficult times, hoping that he would not notice. “
And last week, just hours before the mob, inspired by Trump’s false claims of widespread electoral fraud, stormed the U.S. Capitol, he posted one of his first campaign advertisements calling out his main antagonist for the GOP nomination, the former member of the congregation Jack Ciattarelli, painted as anti-Trump. Even after the uprising, Steinhardt would not blame the president.
“The actions of violent criminals do not speak for Republicans and supporters of President Trump,” he told POLITICO. “The grassroots conservative movement that I am proud to represent here in New Jersey supports democracy and the rule of law.”
Still, Steinhardt spoke to some New Jersey Republican leaders after the uprising to assess the impact on his candidacy, according to a GOP source who asked not to be identified when discussing private conversations.
Steinhardt is a partner in the law firm Florio, Perucci, Steinhardt and Capelli, which was founded by former Democratic Governor Jim Florio and has prominent clients in the public and private sectors. In an interview on Tuesday, Florio said he recently spoke to Steinhardt, who told him he was considering whether to keep walking.
Florio said he hadn’t put pressure on Steinhardt to get out of the race, and he hadn’t heard from any client of the law firm who expressed reservations.
Big corporations have already announced that they will withhold donations from Republican Congressmen who backed Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about the election and voted to reject the electoral college results.
Steinhardt’s departure from the race likely paves the way for Ciattarelli, who has officially been running for a year, to secure the party’s nomination for the Murphy challenge.
Murphy, a progressive Democrat running for re-election, is popular but not invulnerable. His administration had a major #MeToo scandal, his tenure was marked by intense intra-party rivalries, and he was criticized for dealing with the pandemic that killed more than 20,000 New Jersey residents.
Despite being a moderate member of the General Assembly and an outspoken critic of Trump in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign, Ciattarelli began to praise Trump before launching his own campaign for the governor early last year.
He was a spokesman for a recent “Stop the Steal” rally that followed the president’s false claims of campaign fraud. And in a statement following the unrest in the Capitol, Ciattarelli did not blame Trump, but rather “political leaders in both parties” who “share responsibility for bipartisan rhetoric”.
Democrats won’t let voters forget Ciattarelli’s late embrace of Trump or his comments on the riots.
Within minutes of Steinhardt’s withdrawal from the race, the Murphy campaign issued a statement attacking Ciattarelli for “failing to blame Trump, his facilitators and his supporters.”
The only potential bright spot for New Jersey Republicans is that Ciattarelli is now only running nominally against the GOP nomination by perennial candidate Hirsh Singh and possibly former freeholder Brian Levine of Somerset County. Deadlines for Republican stragglers to compete for support for local GOP organizations begin this weekend, including in Ocean County – a red bastion that is extremely important in a Republican elementary school.
An uncompetitive primary would leave Ciattarelli free to attack Murphy instead of fighting a Republican in a primary and taking positions that could hurt him in the general election. But he is still facing a divided party whose base Trump remains loyal to.
“At first it is a minority party, but to have a badly divided minority party you have to overcome all these internal problems first and only then can you overcome the massive deficit of the blue state that you are facing.” said Micah Rasmussen, professor of political science at Rider University. “It’s a big job.”