By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog
Senator Mike Doherty of Northwest Jersey, the sole Garden State legislator to endorse Donald Trump for president, made a little noise this week in Republican circles by claiming that the NJ GOP could’ve avoided losing Assembly seats – or even picked up seats – by vocally opposing a gas tax hike.
No argument here regarding the gas tax. He’s 100% right when he says the party leadership should not have endorsed (or accepted might be more accurate) a hike, Save Jerseyans.
No doubt about it. In fact, I made this obvious point myself on two separate post-election programs: bold contrasts win elections. Voters need to be presented with a choice at a pressure point; deciding between “tax a lot” and “tax you less” or, in the Election 2015 case, a straight up gas tax hike and a trade off (repealing the estate tax), doesn’t help drive asses to the polls.
There’s nevertheless real danger, in my humble opinion, in over-simplifying last Tuesday’s Democrat butt-kicking. It’s tempting to do but doing so doesn’t get us any closer to accepting an even more grisly reality:
The New Jersey Republican Party is barely a living, breathing entity in 2015.
Messaging is only one symptom of the NJ GOP’s epic back slide into its pre-2009 form which was a Game of Thrones-esque confederation of regional power brokers and operatives lacking a genuine statewide reach and infrastructure let alone a unified, appealing, growth-oriented conservative message. “Winter” was always coming! And we didn’t do anything to prepare. Now morale is in the toilet.
Other challenges/symptoms include, but are by no means limited to:
(1) A governor who, frankly, gave up on party building after legislative redistricting went south in 2011;
(2) The rise of Super PACs, a phenomenon which the GOP hasn’t even attempted to match; and
(3) Stale party-organizing and GOTV strategies at the county and local levels that haven’t kept pace with changes in tactics and technology.
So there’s plenty of blame to go around! Including, I might add, legislators in safe red districts who don’t venture outside of those districts regularly enough to help their colleagues.
I could go on, and on, and on. You know this.
Again, we’ve talked about these things for years here at Save Jersey. I’m not saying anything new, or controversial, or certainly not novel. It’s only ‘Monday Morning Quaterbacking’ if you waited to say it after the game was over. That’s not us. Senator Doherty hasn’t been silent either. He knows the problem runs much deeper than our party’s gas tax messaging. We’re also generalizing; I can think of a number of places where New Jersey Republicans won last Tuesday because they’re on the ball.
By the same token, I’m not sure anyone seriously believes dismal GOP turnout in LD11 hinged on the gas tax issue alone. Right? For example, you don’t get 13% turnout in GOP-strong Colts Neck because 4 of 4 Republicans didn’t hear enough about gas taxes! I’m not saying it didn’t play a big role, but we’ve got a party to rebuild from the ground up, folks, and while a conditional veto would be nice, you and I shouldn’t count on one. Giving Garden State voters a better alternative to the Democrats (the gas in our political tank, if you prefer) is impossible without first building a vehicle capable of delivering that message. We don’t have one as of this writing.