Home>Congress>Stomping Grounds: January 6, Elon Musk, Concealed Carry Law and Tom Kean, Jr.

Stomping Grounds: January 6, Elon Musk, Concealed Carry Law and Tom Kean, Jr.

By David Wildstein, December 23 2022 9:00 am

New Jerseyans aren’t always civil, but it’s still possible for a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican to have a rational and pleasant conversation about politics in the state.  Dan Bryan is a former senior advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy and now the owner of his own public affairs firm, and Alex Wilkes is an attorney and former executive director of America Rising PAC who advises Republican candidates in New Jersey and across the nation.  Dan and Alex are both experienced strategists who are currently in the room where high level decisions are made.  They will get together every week with New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein to discuss politics and issues.

Question: The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol voted this week to refer former President Trump to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation and possible prosecution for seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.  Did the committee get this right or wrong?

Dan: They got it right. It is mind boggling that it is taking this long for authorities to charge President Trump for his actions to subvert democracy after losing the 2020 election. No one is above the law, and the only way to ensure what happened on January 6th never happens again is to see to it that justice is served to President Trump and his pathetic, delusional enablers.

It was good to see New Jersey Republicans almost uniformly denounce the former President after January 6th, but we can’t forget those that dipped their toes in election denialism beforehand to further their own political ambitions. Perennial failed candidate Jack Ciattarelli attended an election denial rally just days before January 6th, telling the crowd he hoped things “go our way.” He paid a political price for that last year, and he’ll do so again if he decides to run his string of failed gubernatorial campaigns to three in 2025.

Alex: The January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol was undoubtedly a dark day in our history – and one for which I believe the highly partisan Select Committee, unfortunately, produced only more questions than answers.

In my opinion, you can both believe that the former President bears moral responsibility for fomenting the awful rage and violence that took place that day and also hold that the threshold for holding any president criminally responsible should be a high one.

With respect to the criminal investigation, I hope that the Special Prosecutor is able to bring a more sober conclusion to this matter than the made-for-prime time show we saw in Congress. With no adversarial members from the opposition, the Committee was easily dismissed and not covered by conservative media for its latent bias.

What we so sorely needed was a truly bipartisan investigation led by statesmen, as the 9-11 Commission was once ably led by former Governor Tom Kean. With 2 years to go until the next presidential election, we still do not have answers about the massive security failure that took place during a critical part of our democratic process that endangered the presidential line of succession and the stability of our republic. Where are the answers?

Question: A poll of roughly 17.5 million Twitter users voted by a 57%-43% margin to fire Elon Musk as CEO, and Musk said he’d abide by those results.  The bottom line is Twitter has become chaotic.  Will recent events affect the advice you give your clients on how to use Twitter and other social media platforms to communicate with voters?

Alex: I have always considered Twitter to be an insiders’ game, meaning that I believe candidates and causes should have a presence, but not invest too much time in creating a digital cult of personality (there are already too many cringeworthy try-hards). 75% of Americans never tweet, so in the absence of normal people, Twitter has become a place where the loudest, most vicious voices rise to the top.

I do, however, believe what we’re witnessing now is not chaos, but a badly needed shake up. Before Musk’s takeover, Twitter had become a boring, Orwellian zombie. Musk’s release of the “Twitter Files,” revealing a disturbing, subservient relationship the platform had with the country’s intelligence agencies (something that should concern everyone) has brought renewed interest to the site, along with his punchy public opinion polls. As more users tune in to see what’s next, I think it is possible for it to become a place where public officials and candidates can genuinely dialogue.

In the meantime, I always like to remind people that the draft feature on Twitter is your friend. I have a folder full of tweets written in the heat of the moment that I’m glad I didn’t end up sending!

Dan: Alex is right when she says Twitter is an insiders’ game. It’s the least used of the major social media channels, and the ability to target is far greater on Facebook. But Twitter has become an important tool for politicians, government officials, journalists, and constituents to engage in a continual dialogue. Twitter is never better than during a major event like the Super Bowl, the World Cup, election night, or throughout any big breaking news. No other social media site can compare. For that reason, I hope they pull out of the nosedive they’re in, drop the far-right conspiracy theories (no one knows or cares what the “Twitter Files” are), and focus on making an objective, inclusive user-friendly product.

But Musk’s obsession with being the main character on Twitter is not only destroying the product, it’s destroying Musk. His $44b purchase will never make financial sense – Twitter wasn’t making a profit before, and now they’ll have to pay down $1b in debt on an annual basis. And Tesla’s stock is down over 70% in 2022, something that would have been unthinkable a year ago. The best thing that can happen for Twitter and Tesla is for Musk and his massive ego to take a back seat.

Question: The New Jersey Senate passed a bill this week that places strict limits on concealed carry gun permits, a bill which Gov. Murphy has indicated he will sign.  Is this constitutional?  More generally, how should Democratic legislators behave on issues where they disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court?

Dan: The bill is clearly constitutional. Don’t take my word for it — take the word of Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh, who both stated in their opinions that it is settled law that there are sensitive places where firearms can be prohibited. Every Republican who voted against this commonsense bill voted for guns to be allowed in our daycares, in our hospitals, in our libraries, and in our polling places. Those are radical right-wing views that may be common in states like Mississippi or Alabama but should be shocking and appalling to New Jerseyans across the political spectrum.

And it’s deeply ironic that the Republicans who voted against this bill claim to care about public safety and our police officers. How do they think allowing concealed weapons to proliferate throughout our state makes their jobs any easier or safer? The data is clear: the more guns we put on the streets, the higher the incidence of gun violence in that community, and the greater the danger to our men and women in blue.

Now, with this Supreme Court, there’s always the possibility that what is constitutional under current law will be struck down in the future, with a right-wing majority intent on rolling back decades of progress. But the Governor and Democratic legislators were absolutely right to pass a commonsense law that both respects the Bruen decision and does everything possible consistent with that decision to protect our residents from the scourge of gun violence.

Alex: Phil Murphy and Democrats in the legislature passed a law that they knew would draw a legal challenge based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bruen for one reason: Murphy wants his chance to grandstand on the steps of the Supreme Court for his future failed presidential campaign. Instead of carefully crafting a law that would have not run afoul of constitutional protections (though I may have ultimately disagreed with it), Murphy decided he needed to earn another progressive challenge coin by showing that he too can bravely stand up to original jurisprudence.

Who gets hurt when Phil Murphy governs according to his presidential aspirations? Legal gun owners. Black gun owners, in particular, seeking to protect themselves in underserved neighborhoods have an earful for our showboating Governor.

Question: The new 118th Congress will take office in two weeks, with Tom Kean, Jr. as the new congressman from New Jersey’s 7th district.  What should be doing to hold on to his seat in 2024 and how should Democrats act during the early day of his congressional career.  

Alex: I think that the best way for Congressman-elect Kean to keep the trust of his district – and something we already see him doing – is by returning to the basics: providing stellar constituent services and acting as a true steward of the people he represents. That’s how he has spent his career in the legislature, and I have no doubt that he will take that same service-minded approach to Washington. I think Tom Malinowski, by contrast, was truly a Washington guy who liked spending his time and energy on the MSNBC primetime-Foggy Bottom lecture circuit.  Tom Kean will make the needs and wants of his constituents – and not himself – the star of the show.

Dan: Tom Kean will be in an incredibly difficult position from the second he’s sworn in. Normally, a weak incumbent in a moderate district would get passes from taking unpopular votes now and then. But because of the razor thin GOP majority in the House, he’ll have to toe the extremist GOP party line in DC, all while trying to maintain his image as a moderate Republican back home. His district will be a prime target for the DCCC in 2024, which means he can’t take a break from fundraising or from campaigning. His life is now a 24/7 operation, always looking toward the next election.

So the best thing Congressman-elect Kean can do is find bipartisan issues that are popular in his district, like the Gateway project or eliminating the SALT cap, and make them his life’s mission. And he should take a cue from another moderate Congressman in a tough district, Josh Gottheimer, who has been able to stay strong on issues important to his district all while avoiding anything that would allow his opponents to paint him as far left.


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