U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez isn’t buying Bob Hugin’s claim that he was not familiar with President Donald Trump’s attacks on late U.S. Sen. John McCain.
“It is beyond belief, as most of the things he says are beyond belief. Everybody knew. You couldn’t ride in your car going to an event, listening to the radio, you couldn’t turn on the TV, look at your twitter account or anything else and not understand that president Trump had disdain for the late Sen. John McCain,” Menendez said after an unrelated press conference on Friday, adding later: “To say you didn’t know that was happening? Come on. It’s because you don’t want to criticize President Trump.”
When he was asked on Monday whether he took issue with Trump’s past criticisms of McCain, which included a strike at the latter over his time as a prisoner of war during U.S. Military action in Vietnam, Hugin punted, claiming he was unfamiliar with the Trump’s statements on the matter.
In his deflection, Hugin, who has made his time as part of the U.S. Marine Corps. a central tenet of his campaign, spoke highly of McCain, for whom a replacement has yet to be named by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
Hugin has walked a fine line when it comes to the White House since before winning the Republican nomination in June.
Though he served as Trump’s New Jersey finance chair and was a delegate for the then-candidate in 2016, he has continually distanced himself from the president and his policies since then.
At an unrelated press conference last week, Hugin again declined to say whether he’d like for Trump to come to the state and campaign for him, even as he espoused support for environmental policies, like a ban on offshore drilling in the state, opposed by the Trump administration.
Distancing himself from the president is likely a smart move, as only 33% of New Jersey residents viewed Trump favorably in a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, but it’s not clear how that distance will hold up if Menendez’s campaign begins airing ads to tie Hugin to the president, and it’s likely the senator’s campaign will begin doing so between now and November.
But, if he moves to head off that attack, he risks alienating the Republican base he’s won over since becoming the party’s nominee in June.
Put simply, he’s stuck between Trump and a hard place.