For the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, it was clearly all about politics when he pooh-poohed any suggestion of scheduling the special U.S. Senate election to fill Frank Lautenberg’s seat on Election Day, when he’s up for re-election. Christie’s alleged fiscal conservative principles seemingly evaporated once higher stakes got into the equation. Added expense of a second election be damned! Christie wasn’t about to allow any raining on his big parade, the one in which his presumed horse-whipping of the Democratic opponent is supposed to put him right up front as the go-to Republican for 2016. So dueling for the Senate seat between Newark Mayor Cory Booker and the GOP’s Steven Lonegan was deliberately set by Christie to have its climax on Oct. 16. Such manipulation notwithstanding, if the polls had it right, Booker was due to emerge winner.
But that’s all things being equal. The Christie decision to have any “interference” like a Senate election off limits to his coming out party might well have done much to make things not all that equal…at least as far as the turnout factor. Two elections within a span of three weeks is a lot to ask of voters. But a little issue like optimizing voter participation, not only for his own benefit, obviously didn’t register much on Christie’s Richter scale.
Beyond those naked political calculations framing the Senate race, the GOP came up with somewhat of an eyebrow-raising choice of candidate in Lonegan. How a dyed-in-the-wool right winger becomes the party’s candidate in a state like New Jersey is as sobering a reminder as there is of the upheaval that has roiled today’s GOP. It’s no small leap from your Christine Todd Whitman/Tom Keane types to this season’s GOP guy. While party figures sporting stripes like Lonegan’s in the Sun Belt or Midwest or thereabouts are now commonplace, there’s a bit of a surreal look to the phenomenon when it happens in the Northeast. No surprise, then, that a Lonegan campaign ad provided us with a snapshot that one hopes, for Republicans’ sake, isn’t a portent of the party brand going forward. Touting a position stridently opposed to the Affordable Care Act or using a line like “Obama rubber stamp” against an opponent would be par for the course in certain solidly red parts of the country. Whether or not such marketing rhetoric is to be henceforth applicable throughout the country could well be influenced some by the New Jersey result.
The election came at a particularly interesting time for Republicans, they having taken a shellacking, in the public’s perception (according to opinion surveys), for the abysmal state of dysfunction now existing in Washington. Why more rational, more intelligent heads in the party did not or could not prevail over the eruption of maniacal bluster coming from the extreme right, is difficult to fathom. Or maybe not, given the ramped up capacity for ugliness from the right fringe that was precipitated by Barack Obama’s becoming president.
Yet another episode of Washington walking precariously close to the edge in the conduct of the nation’s business has brought no sense from the usual suspects of recognizing what harm is being done to the national psyche as the commitment to lawlessness proceeds non-stop. Far from coming to terms with how out of touch they are with where most of us are coming from, they have taken to advancing an alternate universe reality that makes sense only to themselves. A government shutdown is not a big deal. Not raising the debt ceiling isn’t the “sky is falling” calamity it’s made out to be. Indeed, we have seen in the current debacle, some new touches added to the theater of the absurd rollout. Like some of the folks responsible for the shutdown organizing protests against the shutdown! New Jersey’s Lonegan looks to be a guy organically matched with such scenes.
It’s the reason we rated the oddity of Lonegan’s unabashed extremism across the river right up there with a whopper of a comment made last weekend by Newt Gingrich concerning Ted Cruz, as first-rate highlight reel footage. Refusing to subscribe to the now growing conventional wisdom on Cruz, that the man is highly contaminated material to be avoided at all cost, Gingrich offered that the freshman Texas senator will in two years be extremely popular and sailing along, presumably very much in the forefront of GOP presidential nominee prospects. Although having a background in academia, Gingrich, in his time in the public square, has had some bouts of oddball behavior associated with his name. Today’s shutdown mess has inspired revisiting the Gingrich authored shutdowns of the 90s, and with it that often referenced tidbit about how much the then speaker’s being miffed over an alleged diss aboard Air Force One factored in that shutdown drama. Fast forwarding to Gingrich’s quest for his party’s 2012 nomination, his most “memorable” primary campaign moment has to be an enunciated plan to resume lunar exploration, with settlements very much an objective to be pursued.
All of which begs to say that Gingrich notwithstanding, one would think that the makeover Cruz would require to become nationally viable anytime soon is just too big a challenge. As for the other wacko close to home, hopefully as of this reading he has been returned to the anonymity that is his proper domain.