In little more than a week Republicans from throughout New Jersey will gather in Atlantic City for a conclave aimed at energizing the party and preparing it for the contests ahead. The event carries the rather heavy title "Statewide Leadership Summit" and this is the second annual edition for the state GOP.
To say that the New Jersey Republican Party needs a jolt of energy right now would be a gross understatement.
In fact, in my lifetime I have never seen my home state's GOP at such a dismally low ebb.
It's safe to say that not since the period from 1953 to 1981 (when Democrats occupied the Governor's Office for 24 of 28 years) have things looked this bad for the Republicans. Just this past November the Democrats pulled off a near clean-sweep of congressional races in the state leaving only one Republican congressperson in the entire delegation.
It's a sad situation. Very sad.
But hey -- it's never been easy being a Republican in New Jersey.
To begin with, we've pretty much always been two states. And there was a time when the south was more conservative and that helped to somewhat offset the more liberal tendencies of the north. Of course, it only went so far because the north has always had a huge population advantage. But now, you can forget about all that because the New Yorkification of the morth has been matched by the Philadelphiazation of the south, or so it would seem. And the spillover on both ends has been nothing less than toxic.
Then there's the media, or lack thereof.
We've never really had a statewide newspaper or a statewide commercial TV channel or the kind of integrated onsite media that really covered the state in a credible way. Consequently, New Jerseyans have never possessed a real sense of self -- a definitive identity. We're so focused on events beyond our borders that most of the time we barely know what's going on in our own state and we don't seem to mind this one bit. In fact, in New Jersey if you show very much interest in internal matters such as the state budget or a state supreme court ruling or even a proposed state law you're usually looked upon as somewhat odd.
And, let's face it -- entrenched politicians and other vested Garden State interests like it this way. They don't want you meddling in their affairs or attempting to play in their very lucrative, incestuous little sandbox.
But now the hour is late, not just for New Jersey Republicans but for all of us -- for the entire state. New Jersey is mired in debt. A tax and spend mentality and wasteful, onerous government policies chase businesses away and make New Jersey unaffordable for many. People are now fleeing in record numbers. Beyond that, among those who are supposed to be leading us, one of our US Senators is obviously and brazenly corrupt and the other has such delusions of grandeur that he thinks he can be president by traveling around the country engaging in histrionics when he isn't pretending to be Spartacus. And, on top of all that, our Governor stumbled into messy scandals only days after taking office and appears to be in way over his head. No, this isn't Virginia or California or New York. This is New Jersey!
All of this would seem to be tailor-made for the GOP, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it?
Then, why haven't Republicans managed to capitalize on this? Why haven't they profited from it? Why do they seem to be sinking instead?
Can't you see the answer?
It's right in front of you!
It's because New Jersey Republicans are still mostly acting like it's 1981 or 1993 when a brahmin like Tom Kean or Christie Whitman would come along to vanquish their misfortune.
It's because the state GOP is still relying on the same old gang of insiders and well-heeled bankrollers and smug pollsters and professional consultants and shifty pol whisperers to comfort them and assure them that everything will be just fine.
It's because they're still thinking inside the box.
It's because they can't seem to get beyond gritting their teeth and clutching their pearls and sipping their martinis and drowning without making any waves.
It's because they haven't learned the lessons of 2016 -- ya can't chart a new path with the same old compass. Ya gotta throw away the old instruments. Ya gotta shake things up. Ya gotta take a chance. Ya gotta break all the rules. Ya gotta listen to your gut, if need be. Ya gotta follow your instincts, if you can still find them.
With all this in mind, here are five things the New Jersey GOP can do right now to begin to turn the corner:
1) Chuck the professional consultants and enablers.
Hey, NJGOP -- it seems you've been using the same band of insiders and consultants to try to win campaigns over and over and over. It's obvious that they haven't served you very well. It's time to show them the door. What you need is a totally new team -- maybe even people who've never even worked on political campaigns before, but people who understand group dynamics or team building or the power of influencers or the intricacies of social media or whatever. You need to find those people and you need to find them now. And you need to put them to work for the party. Some of them may be young and hungry and cost you far less than what you've been paying up till now. Some may be not so hungry but still anxious to work on something new -- something outside their usual realm. Find them. Put them to work!
2) Get angry.
And I mean really angry -- the kind of angry that triggers risk-taking. Because you'e not gonna win without grabbing onto the trapeze bar with all the daring of an aerialist. And it won't be enough to get angry but you've gotta get other people angry too -- lots of people. "Angry" is a word and a feeling that too many Republicans have apparently been too afraid of for far too long. But it's healthy because anger produces action and unless you get people to act, all is lost. Anybody remember the taxpayer revolt of the Florio years with the big rally of apoplectic everyday citizens massed in front of the statehouse? That's the kind of anger we need now. Organize an angry army. Nurture it from the ground up and use every modern device and technique to energize it.
3) Rally round an outsider -- or outsiders.
The same old brahmins won't save you this time, NJGOP. Nah, that won't do. The time has come to offer the people a complete outsider at the top of the ticket and at various places down ballot as well. Remember: an outsider doesn't have to be an unknown. In fact, he or she can be a well-known name. And of course it helps if the person is reasonably well-liked as well. But the key would be someone who's never held office before and never really been involved in politics before. It doesn't really matter what walk of life the person comes from but it helps if the person has a reputation for being independent, self-made and not tied to the same old pecking order. Give us a fresh face -- a brash, unexpected, propulsive candidate who will disrupt the old order. Because New Jersey needs to be grabbed by the lapels and shaken into action!
4) Defy the media.
When in hell have the media really been of any help to Republicans anyway? When? You know they're not on your side so stop trying to snuggle up to them because it won't do any good anyway. Besides, pretending to be friends with the media is a sham and a sham like that robs you of any credibility you might have had with the public. What's more, when all is said and done the media are simply not as powerful as they make themselves out to be. Big Media has been deconstructed and the resultant diffusion renders it far less potent than it once was. Make your appeal directly to the people using old (person-to-person retail) and new (cyber) approaches to reach your audience.
5) Get rid of wimps and traitors.
Banish those who would embrace a Republicanism that merely offers the public the choice of "the same but less." And ditch those who might run for the exits or, worse yet, run into the arms of the other party the first time things get dicey. We've had enough of 'em! There's no room in this fight for anyone who's even suspected of anything less than total loyalty, total commitment. And this includes people at the highest level as well -- in fact, maybe that's even one of the best places to start ferreting out the weak-kneed or traitorous among us. It's hard enough to be a Republican in this state without having to watch your back while defending what's left of our Grand Old Party.
One more thing: We've got New Jersey Young Republicans, New Jersey Teenage Republicans, New Jersey College Republicans. Let's empower them; really gain from their energy and ideas; put them in the vanguard and begin to reap the benefits.
Bottom line: The Republican Party of New Jersey must toss its moldy, tweedy old cloak of timidity and arm itself for nothing less than guerrilla warfare, because that's what it will take to slay the gluttonous, progressive piranha that's threatening to devour our state.
This is the moment. There's nowhere to go but up. Let's do it!