New Jersey Republicans have sent a clear message to GOP primary winner Jack Ciattarelli. More than half of all Republicans who voted on Tuesday do not want a New Jersey establishment guy to be their next governor. The loss is a heavy one for former President Donald J. Trump and his America First movement. The victory for Ciattarelli, an outspoken critic of Trump over the years might be short-lived. Ciattarelli is the underdog heading into November’s election and he goes into battle against Phil Murphy with half of the state’s Republicans against him.
Ciattarelli win delivers sharp blow to Trump and his base
Ciattarelli won with a 49.2% margin over his opponents, who would have defeated Ciattarelli if they only worked together, instead of against each other. Now it is Ciattarelli’s job to try to unite a sharply divided Republican Party, now with three distinct sects if he wants to think about holding a competitive campaign against Governor Phil Murphy.
Phil Rizzo and Hirsh Singh managed to split the conservative Republican base nearly down the middle and that other guy, Brian Levine received just 3% of the vote. For Ciattarelli, the victory came at a cost to both his campaign and the taxpayers of New Jersey. The candidate who has been branded as a “Never Trumper” spent an astonishing $5.94 million during the primary account, leaving his campaign with just $1.5 million to fight Governor Phil Murphy. Over $4 million of that money came from public matching funds paid for by the State of New Jersey.
On the other side of the aisle, Governor Phil Murphy raised over $7 million and has a powerful national Democratic base to begin what is expected to be a massive campaign drive between now and November.
Ciattarelli’s fundraising base is tapped out. It’s unlikely that conservative Republicans will be opening their wallet for the guy who called former President Trump “An embarrassment…unfit to be President…a charlatan”. Ciattarelli, in the eyes of many Republicans, lives in the same political space as Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney and it will be interesting to see if the party will continue whacking dissenters or if the party will come together to defeat what they perceive as the common enemy, Phil Murphy.
Will Trump risk his friendship with Phil Murphy over Republic infighting?
Murphy has a Trump card that he is keeping close to his chest. The Democrat governor and former President were able to maintain an abnormally close friendship during the President’s term in office. Trump laid off Murphy during the pandemic and even bestowed the governor with kind words about him. In April of 2020, Trump invited Murphy to the White House.
“New Jersey is a great state with a wonderful man running it,” Trump said about Murphy while the two sat together in the Oval Office. “He runs it with heart and with brains. He’s done a terrific job. We work together and we work closely.”
Trump commended Murphy on his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
“He’s one of the governors who has really done his job, he worked hard, he stepped up to the plate,” Trump said.
Murphy lavished praise and thanks on Trump for his support of New Jersey during the pandemic. It is suspected that Trump will give Phil Murphy a pass in 2021 and remain hands-off in the New Jersey gubernatorial election.
“We could not have made the progress we have without,” Murphy said to Trump. “Thank you for everything.”
Now the question remains, can Ciattarelli win over the former President from his bromance with Governor Murphy and will Trump’s supporters follow Ciattarelli if he does? The Trump inner circle was sharply divided between Hirsh Singh and Phil Rizzo.
Ciattarelli’s win is a defeat for Trump campaign managers Brad Parscale and Bill Stepian
Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Brad Parscale worked on the Singh campaign and 2020 Trump campaign manager Bill Stepian worked on Trump’s losing 2020 campaign. Trump himself made no endorsement in the 2021 Republican primary election.