Is the GOP all about Donald Trump or is it Christine Todd Whitman’s party, too?

New Jersey is proving to be a tough audience for Republicans, but even though more ardent followers of former President Donald Trump were unable to deny Jack Ciatarelli the party’s nomination to take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, even though the GOP’s moderate wing always seemed to be ill-fated in the general election.

Ciattarelli, a former state assemblyman and the establishment-backed candidate, edged out three other Republican candidates — engineer Hirsh Singh, pastor Phil Rizzo and former Franklin Mayor Brian Levine — to win the party’s nomination.

The 167,690 primary ballots earned by Ciattarelli comprised just 40 percent of the primary turnout, or less than the combined total cast for Rizzo, who got 87,007 votes; Hirsh, who got 73,155; and Levine, who got 11,181.

Ciattarelli was by far the best-funded candidate in the Republican race, raising $7 million while none of his rivals had reached the $1 million mark. With endorsements from all 21 county Republican organizations in the state, he also benefited from prime placement on the ballot.

Now, the liberal-conservative clash is surfacing again as Republicans consider which contender is best able to challenge Rep. Tom Malinowski when the Democrat seeks a third term in Congress representing Central Jersey, but the likely GOP nominee is clearly from the left side of the right-wing party.

Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, Rev. Father Thomas Quinn of St. Michael’s Church, Gov. Phil Murphy, Senator Thomas H. Kean, Jr., Rep. Tom Malinowski seated together at the 2020 Cranford Township reorganization meeting, appear as comfortable as any gaggle of liberals ever was.

Thomas H. Kean, Jr. got his start in politics working for Congressman Bob Franks, who— despite having widespread support from the state’s GOP establishment—was defeated for the Republican nomination for New Jersey governor in 2001 by Bret Schundler, who ran on a more conservative platform.

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans questioned in national polls say the party should not tolerate GOP elected officials who criticize Trump, so this creates a tight spot for someone like Tom Kean, Jr.

The grandson of former U.S. Representative Robert Kean and son of former Governor Thomas H. Kean, Sr. has been tagged as a RINO —Republican in name only— even though he has hung on to his minority leadership post in the state Senate.

Some Republicans also grumble that the ultra-moderate Kean is a three-time loser in races for Congress, having been defeating in the 2000 primary, a 2006 race for US Senate and his unsuccessful attempt to reclaim a longtime GOP congressional seat last year, when he had President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

“Ten months later, somehow, it’s still necessary to put a megaphone on the truth: the 2020 election was free, fair, secure and accurate. This simple and repeated message is so critical because in states across the country, anti-voter politicians are pursuing copycat election reviews of the widely criticized Cyber-Ninjas operation in Maricopa County, Arizona,” said former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman in an op-ed published in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Whitman’s book It’s My Party, Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America was an insider’s view of the corrosive effects—on the Republican Party and the country as a whole—of the rise of zealous conservatism.

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney has been fairly comfortable with Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr.. timidly herding the opposition party as Governor Phil Murphy boosted state spending by $11 billion, in sharp contrast to the zealous Republicans battling Biden in Congress.

Although Whitman believes, “voters deserve better than leaders who are willing to waste time and taxpayer dollars to placate Trump’s ego” it is pretty clear that her faction lost the struggle for control of the Republican Party but candidates like state Senate Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean Jr. are still potent liberal forces within the political establishment.

Whitman’s book offered an insider’s view of the corrosive effects—on the party and the country as a whole—of the rise of zealous conservatism. 

“As a Republican and lifelong public servant, I believe the health of our democracy is at stake,” said Whitman. “This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue, it’s a matter of living in a reality of truth or one based on lies. The same lies that led to a deadly attack on our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6.”

Liberal Republicans like Whitman and Kean argue that conservatives took the party in the wrong direction on race relations, abortion rights, the environment, taxes, and international affairs.

In her book, Whitman told stories about how she was able to make great progress on each of those issues by taking a moderate approach—finding what she calls “the productive middle,”

Ideology is one thing but real politics happens on the ground and behind closed doors, and moderate Republicans —or the more rare liberals like Whitman or Kean— have been getting their clocks cleaned by a conservative majority that shows no inclination for remaining silent when their message speaks far more powerful when it is loud.

From Whitman’s unprecedented admission that racial profiling was happening on New Jersey’s highways to Tom Kean Jr’s membership on the Amistad Commission, the state agency implementing critical race theory in New Jersey, there is still a core of decency that can provide a lesson to an all too silent moderate Republican majority, as Tea Party extremists and Qanon conspiracy theorists run rampant.

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