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Post Georgia 2022 Gubernatorial Primary: Mike Pence on path to become 2024 GOP presidential frontrunner: New Jersey Winner: Mike Ferguson. New Jersey Loser: Chris Christie

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My nutshell analysis:

The Republican Party nationally is beset by a civil war between paleoconservatives and authoritarians, the latter who really aren’t conservatives at all.  Indeed, the conflict is it its early stages, but Tuesday’s Georgia GOP gubernatorial primary may well prove to be a decisive event, leading to the ultimate victory two years hence of the paleoconservatives- and the Republican presidential nomination of former Vice President Mike Pence.

The key player behind the ascent of Pence will be Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the ultimate GOP partisan, who actually loathes former President Donald Trump – and fears that the anti-democracy feature of authoritarian Republicanism, which became manifest in the insurrection of January 6, 2021, could relegate the Republican Party to permanent minority status.

To understand the political landscape  of the paleoconservative – authoritarian GOP  civil  war, it is at this point necessary to distinguish paleoconservatism from authoritarianism – and identify the dramatis personae of both movements.

The current dramatis personae of the GOP internecine struggle are as follows:

On the paleo wing are Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell.   Pence has no real paleo rival for the Republican presidential nomination.  McConnell will be his kingmaker.

Leader McConnell chafed under Trump’s autocratic rule throughout his presidency.  Yet he entered into a Faustian bargain of loyalty with Trump, both for the benefit of the Republican Party and to enable McConnell to achieve his goal of a reconstituted strict constructionist Supreme Court.  Since the insurrection of January 6, 2021, however, there is no such understanding in effect between the former president and the current Senate Republican leader.

The dramatis personae on the authoritarian GOP wing are Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, both aspirants for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.  The movement towards authoritarianism in democratic societies is international in character, its avatar being Hungarian strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orban, with whom both Trump and DeSantis have been often compared.

The dominant feature of paleoconservatism is adherence to “traditional conservative values” including American nationalism, Christian doctrine, “America first” priority in foreign policy, limited government, individual freedom, and above all, veneration of American institutions and conventions.  Its philosophical godfather is the 18th century Irish-born, British statesman and polemicist Edmund Burke, and its American political player embodiments are the late Ohio U.S. Senator Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater.

It must be emphasized that the paleocons, as distinguished from the authoritarians, venerate the norms, values, and legal constitutional framework of democracy and believe basically in individual freedom, as long as it doesn’t violate Christian norms against obscenity.  By contrast, the authoritarians believe in the unrestrained rule of the Hobbesian strongman, free to violate democratic norms and infringe upon individual freedoms in pursuit of his or her own personal agenda.

The American incarnation of authoritarianism is Trumpism, with its salient features of xenophobia, misogyny, racism, and anti-democracy, as I have extensively documented on these pages.  As offensive as xenophobia, misogyny, and racism are, they unfortunately will not prevent the election of a GOP president and Congress, as long as inflation persists at its current level of virulency.

The one Trumpian negative that could supersede inflation as an issue is the fear of a loss of democracy caused by a Republican authoritarian president.  Inflation is a temporary economic hardship, but the loss of democracy is a permanent deprivation of freedom.  Voters of all political stripes, left and right, venerate democracy and freedom, and they are highly likely to vote against any candidate who endangers these sacred rights, regardless of the condition of the economy and the views of the candidates on inflation.

I have often used the word “Fascism” in referring to Trumpism.  The reference is accurate.  I seem to be more effective with my centrist readers when I describe Trumpism as “authoritarianism.”  So out of an unusual abundance (for me) of tact and politesse, I will use the “authoritarian” designation in describing Trumpism.

Now for a report from the paleo- authoritarian battlefield:

The GOP internal fear factor of Donald Trump is waning, due primarily to increasing losses in GOP primaries of Trump-endorsed candidates. And the fatigue factor is rising, as Republicans tire of having to defend the Donald on actions of his reflecting racism and misogyny and potential criminal indictments against his January 6, 2021 insurrection activity.

Mike Pence is about to score a major pre-2024 presidential victory over Trump in Georgia, with the anticipated GOP gubernatorial primary landslide triumph of Pence’s endorsed candidate, incumbent Governor Brian Kemp over the Trump-endorsed challenger, former US Senator David Perdue.  This will mark the first direct GOP primary election confrontation between a Trump endorsed candidate for statewide office and another endorsed by one of his potential 2024 GOP presidential rivals.

This Pence victory in Georgia will markedly diminish the Trump fear factor within the GOP and substantially increase the stature of Pence, a paleo-conservative over the other major potential challenger to Trump, Ron DeSantis.   From this point on, every 2022 and 2023 Republican primary in which Pence and Trump support opposing candidates will be viewed as a presidential battleground between the two.

DeSantis is avoiding any direct confrontation with Trump over endorsed candidates in these midterm primaries.  He thinks that if Trump endorsees lose, he can inherit the authoritarian mantle and then defeat Pence, one on one.  This is a foolhardy strategy.  Pence will be far ahead of DeSantis, by virtue of the primary victories of his endorsees, and DeSantis will be left at the starting gate.

The distinction between Pence as a paleo-conservative and Trump and DeSantis as authoritarians is vital to understanding why Pence will emerge as the 2024 presidential nominee.

As long as malignant inflation persists, and as long as the GOP does not nominate a presidential candidate perceived as anti-democracy, the Republicans have a strong chance of recapturing the White House in 2024.

A rapidly growing majority of Republicans realize, however, how the electorate fears the permanent loss of democracy more than the temporary economic loss due to inflation.   A Republican tonic for these fears is the nomination for the White House of Mike Pence, the man who refused to steal for Donald Trump the 2020 presidential election.

If Pence receives the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, as I expect, he will need to designate a woman vice presidential nominee in order to diminish the misogynist image that the authoritarians have given the GOP.  The Pence running mate will be former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

Please note that nothing in this column is to be construed as an endorsement by me of Mike Pence for the presidency.  I plan to make an endorsement of a presidential candidate at some point in late 2023 or early 2024.

And there will be a definite New Jersey winner and loser if Pence wins the GOP nomination.

New Jersey Winner:  Mike Ferguson.  The former Congressman is closer to Pence than any other political notable in the state.  Mike compiled an excellent record of accomplishment during his eight years as a Congressman.  He is likable, charismatic, and competent.  A strong White House relationship could be of enormous value to him if he decides to return to the campaign arena and make a run for New Jersey statewide office.

New Jersey Loser:  Chris Christie.  There he goes again.  After years of trying to slavishly ingratiate himself with The Donald, Christie, sensing the growing GOP disillusionment with Trump, is now making cacophonous anti-Trump noise, as is his wont, in order to arouse interest in another doomed Christie for President candidacy.  That won’t work – the former New Jersey governor failed to make a Washington Post list of the top ten GOP presidential candidates this past weekend. And now he will have to endure the ultimate indignity of witnessing the GOP  presidential nomination in 2024 go to the man who defeated him in the Trump running mate sweepstakes in 2016 and who replaced him that same year as transition team leader, Mike Pence.

More on Don Quixote Christie in a forthcoming column by me on the annoying tendency of New Jersey political media to give a prospective rerun of Christie for the White House much more credibility and legitimacy than it merits.

Alan Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

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Senate Dems Ram Budget out of Committee Without Transparency

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The state Senate Budget Committee passed a $50.6 billion budget Monday night, which features an additional heavy infusion of federal funds ($24 billion); and includes $2 billion in property tax relief, $4.2 billion toward the debt avoidance, $6 billion in surplus, and many last-minute line items totaling billions.

“It’s a significant investment of one-time unprecedented federal dollars,” said state Senator Paul  Sarlo (D-36), chair of the budget committee.

Republicans didn’t like the bill, and to a person, voted against moving it out of committee, which the democrats control.

“There are 200 line items that we’re going to go through,” said state Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13). “We’ve only had this document for under 20 minutes. We would give back a lot more of this money. In reality, the ANCHOR program is not substantial.”

The GOP senator from Monmouth County highlighted the lack of transparency in the process around a proposed $5 billion in special projects funding.

“There was no competitive nature to this,” O’Scanlon complained.

“When you think about the number of opportunities that were missed in this budget,” added senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-24), who lamented what he described as the structural groundwork for what he anticipates will be the largest tax hike in state history.

The Republican leader praised Sarlo for navigating complicated issues in the budget, however, “It’s something that is the full legislature’s responsibility.”

“The legislature was kept out of the process for the better part of two years,” said state Senator Mike Testa (R-1).

“Our citizens are hurting out there right now,” added state Senator Sam Thompson (R-12), moments before joining his Republican colleagues in expressing a “no” vote. “There’s so much more we could have done. We really haven’t seen the budget.”

State Senate President Nick Scutari (D-22).

 

On the other side of the Statehouse, the Assembly Budget Committee likewise passed the budget bill along party lines, with Republicans opposing.

Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) issued a statement:

“I am pleased with the work of the Budget Committee led by Chairwoman [Eliana] Pintor Marin today. We have advanced a budget bill that will deliver for the working and middle-class people and families of our state.

“Our planned investments build meaningfully on the Governor’s proposal and months of public input to support New Jersey communities now and into the future. Representing a steadfast commitment to fiscal responsibility and answering the call for greater affordability with historic tax relief, I will be proud to put this bill up for a vote in the Assembly.

“I thank the Governor and Senate President for their partnership and equal commitment to producing a strong and fair budget that speaks to what New Jerseyans need and value.”

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Post – Roe v. Wade reversal: While GOP will capture control of the US House of Representatives, Democrats will retain control of the US Senate

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In the spring of 1992, James Carville, then the political strategist for the ultimately successful presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, hung a sign in his office, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  The message:  The state of the economy is the most significant and decisive issue in a federal presidential campaign.  The ultimately victorious Clinton campaign would focus almost exclusively on the recessionary state of the Bush 41 economy.

Three years later, America’s leading political demographer, the late Ben Wattenberg, would author a book, Values Matter Most.  This classic on American politics vigorously disputed the Carville thesis that the Bush recession enabled Clinton to prevail in Campaign 1992.   Instead, Wattenberg attributed the Clinton 1992 victory to four values issues that attracted the support of Reagan Democrats, namely, crime, education, welfare, and affirmative action.

Since the publication of Values Matter Most, political professionals have intensely debated the question of whether economic or values issues are the more determinative of election outcomes.  The election of 2022 is likely to signify a split verdict in this debate.

The major economic issue in the 2022 federal campaign is the devastating inflation.  The electorate blames President Joe Biden and the Democrats for the inflation, although somewhat unfairly, in my view.

Perception becomes reality, however.   The issue of inflation will enable the Republicans to capture control of the US House of Representatives from the Democrats.

Yet during the last week, a values issue has emerged that is at least likely to be equally determinative of the 2022 federal elections as the economic issue of inflation.  That issue is the US Supreme Court, specifically their rulings of the past week on abortion choice (reversal of Roe v. Wade) and guns (declaring unconstitutional the New York statute limiting the carrying of guns in public).

These rulings are directly contrary to the values of the vast majority of the American electorate.  A Gallup poll taken before these two decisions reported confidence in the Supreme Court to be at a new 50-year low.

The electorate overwhelmingly will blame Republican presidents, particularly Trump, for appointing these justices and the Republican Party, whose Senators voted to confirm them.  To the vast majority of the American electorate, these decisions on guns and abortion choice are repulsive to their basic values.

And while American voters will elect a Republican House of Representatives because of the economic issue of inflation, they will simultaneously vote for a Democratic US Senate because of the values issue, the reactionary Supreme Court.

Now ultra-partisan Republican journalists and media personalities will contend that abortion has not been a voting issue in the past and is not likely to be in this election.  If the elimination of reproductive freedom in the past was not then a voting issue, it was because pro-choice voters never took seriously the possibility that Roe v. Wade could be reversed by a Republican appointed and confirmed Supreme Court.  Now that leading Republicans like former Vice President Mike Pence are calling for a Congressionally-enacted national ban on abortion, the prospect of an end of reproductive freedom in America is truly the Republican elephant in the room.

The elimination of reproductive freedom in America is now likely to be a top-tier issue in elections for years to come.  The possibility of this issue doing significant harm to the outlook for GOP candidates this November is being recognized privately by none other than Donald Trump himself, the man who made this situation a reality.

Yet the most compelling evidence for the likelihood of Democratic retention of US Senate control can be found by an examination of the electoral political math.

The Democrats and Republicans each have 50 US Senators.  The Democrats have control of the US Senate by virtue of the tie breaker, Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris.

In the forthcoming November elections, it is becoming most likely that Democrats will capture two seats currently held by Republicans: 1) the seat currently held by departing  Republican Senator Pat Toomey, with Democratic Candidate John Fetterman holding a lead over Republican Mehmet Oz in virtually all published polls ; and 2) Wisconsin incumbent Senator Ron Johnson, whose diminishing reelection chances were further damaged by allegations raised during the House Committee on January 6 that his chief of staff was complicit in the “fake elector” conspiracy.

The capture of these two seats by the Democrats would require the Republicans to wrest from the Democrats three seats in order to achieve Senate control.  There are only three vulnerable Democratic senators (Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona), and it is very unlikely that the Republicans will be able win all three of these seats.

In Georgia, former Georgia  football star Republican Herschel Walker appears to have a slight edge over incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, Jr., but in Nevada, incumbent Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has the advantage over Republican challenger Adam Laxalt. And in Arizona, incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Kelly has a lead over all prospective challengers https://www.newsweek.com/arizona-senate-race-polls-mark-kelly-blake-masters-mark-brnovich-jim-lamon-1712606?amp=1and is only considered vulnerable by virtue of the GOP registration advantage and the fact that they held the seat for so many years.

So the outlook is improving daily for the Democrats to retain US Senate control.  That will be very good news for Joe Biden regarding his ability to gain Senate confirmation of his appointees.  If he had a choice for the Democrats to only control one house of Congress, the Senate doubtless would be his selection.

Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

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Countdown To July 1st: Insider NJ’s Budget Special Edition (PDF)

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The final train wreckage of time will likely not reveal a New Jersey budget as that single offending piece of timber on the tracks. The self-sustaining culture of government, wherein elected officials who simultaneously hold public jobs ratify spending for the rest of us, will probably emerge in the aftermath of a full investigation – if there’s anyone left at that point to investigate – as at least a major culprit.

But according to Governor Phil Murphy, Democrats in Trenton are doing their level best to avert total disaster or to at least assist taxpayers beset by bills on average totaling $9,300 annually. In an ad released by his Stronger Fairer Forward PAC, the governor – standing in a Norman Rockwell neighborhood – gushes, “That [American] dream is out of reach for too many. That’s why we’re cutting taxes and making New Jersey more affordable.”

Making New Jersey more affordable.

It would be hard to find someone who actually believes that statement, even as Murphy, ever the effervescent Wall Street salesman, this week heads toward voting sessions in both the state Assembly and Senate, certain of lawmakers in his party passing the $48.9 billion behemoth that is this year’s state budget.

A strictly partisan divide has Democrats making a case that Murphy’s budget (the first on his watch without political foe Senate President Steve Sweeney obstructing him; more on that in a minute) imperfectly but adequately balances making the public payroll, setting aside some surplus cash, and giving individual lawmakers a chance to champion different special projects in their respective districts.

According to John Reitmeyer of NJ Spotlight: “Lawmakers last year tacked on $1.6 billion in new spending eight days before the state’s July 1 deadline for a new budget, with millions of that going to pet projects and other add-ons that are often referred to in the State House as ‘Christmas-tree items,’ a phrase that invokes the image of state largesse as a bounty of cheerful holiday gifts….

Download Insider NJ’s Budget Special Edition or view it below:

Budget Special Edition

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