Twelve Republican members of the New Jersey General Assembly, all speaking on the condition of anonymity, have expressed frustration with Jon Bramnick’s performance as Minority Leader but acknowledged that they will likely support him for another term if he wins re-election to his own seat next month.
“It’s probably time for Jon to go,” one Republican lawmaker told the New Jersey Globe. “But it’s not like we have anyone better.”
No Republican lawmakers were ready to say that Bramnick could lose his leadership post.
Bramnick has found himself in an unusually difficult campaign to hold his own 21st district Assembly seat, and some of his colleagues feel as though resources that might have bolstered or expanded the already slim 26-member Republican caucus are instead going to the Minority Leader’s own campaign.
Some legislators expressed irritation that Bramnick has not included his running mate, Minority Whip Nancy Munoz, in most of his television ads and direct mailings.
Munoz, who nearly lost her seat in 2017, may have a tougher time winning re-election than Bramnick in a district that has tilted Democratic over the last few years.
“If Nancy loses, that’s on him,” a Republican legislator said. “She doesn’t deserve that.”
Some legislators have told the Globe that Bramnick’s greatest weakness as a Minority Leader is what might save him in his own district: his criticism of President Donald Trump and his proselytizing of bi-partisanship and civility.
“We don’t need a civil, bi-partisan leader,” one Republican legislator said. “We want someone who is going to beat the crap out of (Gov. Phil) Murphy and the Democrats. We need a bomb-thrower and that’s just not Jon.”
Several Republican lawmakers said they are often infuriated with Bramnick’s anti-Trump rhetoric.
“He needs to just shut up about Trump,” another legislator told the Globe. “Republicans don’t want to hear that.”
Some GOP legislators pointed to a part of the legislature that is ideologically conservative and charged that Bramnick takes them for granted.
“He wants to play Mister Moderate and that’s fine, but his caucus is made up of conservative Republicans,” said a legislator. “It doesn’t work for many of us when Bramnick goes soft on guns and values. I get that he’s got to get re-elected, but come on.”
Frustrating for the Republicans, a legislator said, is the absence of an alternative.
A few weeks ago, some Republicans began openly discussing the prospects of a leadership succession plan if the Minority Leader loses.
Bramnick got wind of it and had one of this top aides begin calling members. He shut that down.
One GOP legislator said he was concerned that Bramnick might take another term as leader and then jump to fill a State Senate vacancy, if Tom Kean Jr. wins his race for Congress next year.
Should that happen, it would leave Assembly Republicans with a newly-installed Minority Leader just as legislative redistricting begins – a point that frustrated some other lawmakers when the topic was raised to them.
If Bramnick and Munoz lose, Republicans will need to move quickly to determine what happens next. Leadership elections are scheduled for the Thursday after the election, although that could be postponed if the caucus isn’t prepared to decide.
The number two member of the Assembly GOP leadership team became vacant last week when Minority Conference Leader Anthony M. Bucco resigned to take a seat in the State Senate.
Bucco is still seeking re-election to the Assembly. If he wins, Republicans won’t replace him until after the Legislature reorganizes on January 14.
It’s not immediately clear if Bucco will participate in the leadership vote. Technically, he’s an Assemblyman-elect until he declines to take the oath next year.
Either way, there are legislators already posturing for his Conference Leader job.
If Bramnick wins and Munoz does not, the Minority Whip position will also be up for grabs.
Additionally, Assembly Deputy Minority Leader Amy Handlin and Republican Parliamentarian Michael Patrick Carroll are not seeking re-election.
Also complicating the calendar: this is the first legislative leadership election under New Jersey’s new vote-by-mail law. With VBMs still being accepted until close of business on Thursday, it’s entirely possible that some races may not be decided at the time of the leadership election.
There is a scenario where the outcome of Bramnick’s own race is still not final by the time Republicans gather next week to choose its leaders.
Democrats have a similar problem. While Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin is not expected to have an opponent in his bid for a second term, he might need to decide if Democrats in races still too close to call will be able to participate in the leadership contest.
The name mentioned most often by Republican lawmakers to succeed Bramnick is Assemblyman John DiMaio, a Warren County Republican who is currently the Minority Budget Officer.
Several Republicans acknowledged that DiMaio could emerge as the leader but stressed that there are other candidates who would win the support of the caucus as well.
“This is going to be a package,” a GOP legislator said, referring to the Minority Leader, Conference Leader, Whip and Budget Officer posts. “Nobody has the votes yet and this thing will get decided based on a slate of people who together combine to bring in more than half the caucus.”
Still, several Republicans told the Globe that they are pleased with Bramnick’s job performance and hope he stays around for a while.
“Jon Bramnick is great,” a Republican legislator told the Globe. “The people on the sidelines throwing mud could never be leaders.”