Two independent conservative Assembly candidates running in the 21st district are slamming one of President Donald Trump’s campaign advisors for endorsing Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) for re-election.
Steven Rogers, a former GOP gubernatorial candidate and a member of Trump’s campaign advisory board, endorsed Bramnick this week.
Former Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks and controversial former Union County Democratic Chairman Harry P. Pappas allege that Bramnick has been bashing Trump so he can appeal to Democrats and independents as a candidate for governor in 2021.
“The motivation behind this blatant flip-flop is suspect at best,” said Marks.
Marks, who held local office as a Republican, said that Rogers attended an April 30 meeting at the Union County Republican headquarters where six Republican officials “attempted to cajole Harry and me out of the race.”
Marks said that Bramnick, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield), Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit), Union County GOP Chairman Glenn Mortimer and Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci were in attendance.
The New Jersey Globe has independently verified that the meeting took place.
Republicans are concerned that Marks and Pappas could siphon off enough votes to let Democrats Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman win the general election in a district that has 4,374 more Democrats than Republicans and where Munoz just narrowly won re-election two years ago.
According to Marks, he and Pappas agreed to drop out of the race if Bramnick and Munoz issued a public statement endorsing the full Republican tickets in 2019 and 2020, including Trump.
“Everyone in that room, including Rodgers, cautioned against Bramnick and Munoz publicly supporting the President,” Marks said.
Pappas questioned whether Rogers is working for Trump or trying to get Bramnick elected governor.
“It seems to me that Rodgers is covering all bases with his feet firmly planted on both sides of the street,” Pappas said. “Are you working for Jon Bramnick in a possible gubernatorial run, or maybe you’re just working for yourself?”
Rogers, one of the first New Jersey Republicans to endorse Trump for president in 2016, called the statement “laughable.”
Rogers revealed that he had already met with Marks prior to the larger April 30 meeting, but that the former mayor had requested that Pappas not be told of the meeting.
“That meeting was initiated by me. I told him that the purpose of my meeting him was to ask him not run at this time because we need to strengthen the NJGOP for the 2020 presidential election,” Rogers told the New Jersey Globe. “I did not bring up Jon Bramnick, he did.”
Rogers maintains that Marks told him that the motivation behind their candidacies was Bramnick’s criticism of Trump.
“After hearing him out, I concluded that he and Pappas were using the MAGA route for one purpose only, as a personal vendetta to hurt Jon Bramnick by portraying him as anti-Trump in an attempt to draw Trump supporters in their district away from Bramnick and to them,” Rogers said. “I made it clear that Jon Bramnick may have differences of opinion on some polices the president is advancing, but he is not anti-Trump. I informed Martin that Bramnick was at the 2016 RNC in Ohio supporting the GOP and the president. He did not know that.”
Some of Bramnick’s previous statements about Trump have been critical, something that Rogers acknowledged.
“I did tell Martin that I was not happy with Bramnick’s statements about President Trump and after discussing this issue with him (Bramnick), I was convinced that moving forward he would focus all of his attention on state issues,” said Rogers. “I also told Martin that expressing differences of opinion about policies does not mean Bramnick is anti-anything.”
Rogers, who was named by Steinhardt last year as an advisor to the New Jersey Republican State Committee for MAGA, says the state party clearly backs Trump for re-election.
“I thought I was getting through because Martin took the liberty to say some things about his running mate that I will not discuss publicly. But as he kept talking, I realized that the road he and Pappas are taking have nothing to do with the president or anything of substance,” Rogers said. “Their misguided aim is to use MAGA, not to build our party and help POTUS, but to destroy a solid man (Bramnick) and at the same time help the Democrats win.”