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In a close New Jersey 2020 presidential campaign, would the NJGOP have participated in Trump’s fake campaign platform?

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The information released before last weekend about the planning and incitement of Donald Trump and his White House staff regarding the January 6, 2021 riot was shocking enough. Even more chilling were Friday’s revelations about the collusion between the Trump campaign and Republican officials in five states to line up “fake voters” for the 2020 election.

This new information, by itself, if further corroborated, could represent the worst political crime narrative in American history not just by the President, but by his entire political party. This was an undeniable attempt at voter fraud and stealing an election in plain sight.

To put the Trump anti-democracy scandals in perspective, it is necessary at this point to compare them to the Watergate scandal that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency. The Watergate scandal involved virtually no Republican members of the US House or Senate, no staffers on the Republican National Committee, and only President Nixon himself and some members of Nixon’s Committee on the President’s Re-election (CREEP) and his White House staff.

In contrast, the combined criminality of the January 6 riot planners plus the fake campaign conspirators indict the entire Republican Party, from the grassroots to the state houses, Capitol Hill and the White House.

The outcome of the presidential elections in all five of these bogus voting states, namely Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia, was extremely close. And that begs the question: Would the New Jersey Republican Party have backed the phony manifesto if New Jersey’s 2020 presidential election was also a close one?

This question can never be answered with certainty. A 2020 and 2021 review of the record of pathetic allegiance to Trump, Trumpism, and his criminal accomplices by the New Jersey Republican State Committee, his gubernatorial nominee, Jack Ciattarelli, and his new acquisition to his congressional delegation, Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R -2), overwhelmingly suggests that the New Jersey Republican Party would have been happily inclined to join this Trumpian parade of elections and steal dreadful things.

Consider the following.

In 2021, the New Jersey Republican State Committee enthusiastically joined Republicans national efforts to suppress the African American vote.

In 2020, Jack Ciattarelli, the 2021 Republican nominee for gubernatorial New Jersey, attended a Stop the Steal rally, a gathering whose stated intent was to support the Big Lie. Ciattarelli also refused to blame the Trumpists for the January 6 uprising. Instead, he engaged in crude sophistry, blaming both political parties equally.

In 2021, the aforementioned Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew voted twice to disallow certified electoral voting in two battleground states, even as Chris Smith, the other member of the New Jersey Republican House of Representatives whom I’ve previously hailed as a brave profile, disavowed himself join efforts to unlawfully reverse the election.

So who is in the current leadership of the New Jersey Republican Party who, when pressured to go along with the “fake electoral college” scheme, would have confronted the authoritarian Trumpist GOP national leadership and yelled, “Stop! We will no longer join your shameful, illegal efforts to undermine democracy and steal the election!”

Under New Jersey’s Republican leadership in 2020, only former Assembly Republican minority leader Jon Bramnick demonstrated a willingness and ability to speak the truth to the national Trumpist GOP leadership. I’m sure he would have been a profile in spunk and acted in accordance with the highest ethics of his profession as a lawyer and said a resounding “damn no” to the authoritarian Trumpist goons who pressured him with the to cooperate with the “Fake Electors” program .

I can’t think of anyone other than Jon Bramnick. The current Republican leadership in New Jersey, which I’m sure would have rejected pressure from the Trumpists to get involved in the fake electors program. The current authoritarian war on democracy of the national Trumpist GOP leadership, together with the despondent submission of the NJGOP leadership to the wishes of the national Trumpists, stands in sharp contrast to the pro-democracy patriotism of the national and Republican leadership of New Jersey during and after the Watergate era .

When the House Judiciary Committee held impeachment hearings in July 1974, Charles Sandman, a Republican congressman from the same district now represented by Jeff Van Drew, was one of Nixon’s staunchest supporters on the committee. But in sharp contrast to Van Drew, Sandman placed loyalty to his country and the rule of law above personal loyalty to Nixon. Immediately after the release of the “Smoking Gun” tape on the first weekend of August 1974, which proved Nixon’s culpability in the Watergate cover-up, Sandman changed his position and called for Nixon’s resignation. So did eminent Republican Senators Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania. They were also joined by New Jersey Republican Senator Clifford Case to endorse Nixon’s departure.

After Nixon left the presidency, his successor as president, Republican Gerald Ford, a good and great man, succeeded in fulfilling his mission and bringing a sense of healing to America. This is in sharp contrast to authoritarian Republican thug Kevin McCarthy, likely the next House Speaker, who is already threatening retaliation by denying seats on key committees to Democrats who have been investigating Trump.

The current ongoing Trumpist Republican decadence is not just a mortal survival problem for the GOP. It is a problem for American democracy itself, which needs two competing parties, both of which above all retain full legitimacy.

There are four tests of legitimacy for a political party in a democracy: 1) compliance with the rule of law; 2) recognition of civil liberties; 3) acceptance of electoral defeats; and 4) condemnation of violence.

The Watergate-era Republican Party never lost its legitimacy, either nationally or at the New Jersey state level. The Trump-era Republican Party failed all four legitimacy tests through its involvement in the January 6 riot, its efforts by Congress to refuse to certify electoral votes, and the fake electoral college scheme. The New Jersey Republican Party has lost legitimacy because it does not live up to its high standards of independence and ethics set during the Watergate era, but instead condones and actually participates in all of the wrongdoing and wrongdoing of the Trumpist National Party.

The loss of legitimacy of the national Republican Party is a tragedy for American democracy, especially as the GOP shows no desire to heal itself. The need for a new center-right third party that can compete with and eventually replace the current Republican Party is greater than ever.

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

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