ICYMI: Jack Ciattarelli Follows Trump to the Far-Right
Yesterday, Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran outlined how Jack Ciattarelli has “turned hard right” since Donald Trump’s presidency, including extreme positions like cutting income taxes on the wealthy, ending LGBTQ+ curriculum in schools, and abolishing existing requirements for schoolchildren to get any vaccinations for dangerous diseases like the mumps, and more.
“Ciattarelli’s challenge is to straddle an ideological divide that has become too wide to straddle,” wrote Moran with the Star-Ledger. “In the Trump era, the party’s base wants fighters who are ready to bang heads over social issues like guns and gays and vaccine mandates.”
This comes as Ciattarelli recently got caught telling Trump’s base he needs “wiggle room” to hide hateful and unpopular policies from New Jersey families during the election.
Read more about Ciattarelli’s Trump-fueled extremism below:
For the last half century, New Jersey has had a split personality when it comes to politics. Democrats dominate in federal races, but Republicans have done well here at home, with GOP candidates for governor winning six of the last 10 races.
So, in theory, Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican candidate this year, has a chance to beat Gov. Phil Murphy, despite the lopsided polls. His challenge is to reach beyond the tiny GOP base – just 22 percent of all Jersey voters – and to win over Democrats and independents with appeals to the middle.
Ciattarelli is not following that playbook. I sat with him at a diner in Bridgewater Thursday for nearly two hours to hear him out and was struck by the stridency of his conservative views. Here are some highlights:
He would steeply cut income taxes on the wealthiest, lowering the top rate from its current 10.75 percent to no more than 7.6 percent. He favors “substantial” cuts in business taxes as well. “Every time you turn around, New Jersey is in your pocket,” Ciattarelli says. “I see these as fair tax cuts.”
He would rewrite the state’s formula for dispersing school aid, with steep cuts to poor urban districts like Newark. Increasing school aid to suburban districts is the centerpiece of his plan to contain property taxes. “We need a fairer and more equitable distribution of state aid,” he says. “The goal is to achieve equity without leaving anyone behind.”
He opposes mandates for Covid vaccines — and would even abolish the requirement that schoolchildren get vaccinations against childhood diseases like mumps. “I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell anyone they have to take a medicine,” he says.
He opposes most police reforms enacted after George Floyd’s murder, charging that Murphy has “disarmed” the police. No civilian review boards. No change in “qualified immunity” laws that protect abusive officers against civil lawsuits. And no public release of misconduct findings.
“These are personnel matters,” he says. “Any and all disciplinary matters must be discussed with the mayor and township committee to ensure these matters are handled properly.”
He wants to amend the state’s strict gun laws to allow more people in “certain professions” to carry concealed firearms. He suggested a realtor hosting an open house might qualify, or a truck driver, or even a journalist. “I think the realtor is a powerful example,” he says. “That’s a discussion worth having.”
He wants to roll back the LGBT curriculum in New Jersey, saying sexual orientation should not be discussed in the early grades. He would rewrite the sex education curriculum as well, saying discussion of explicit sexual acts like anal and oral sex should be delayed until high school. “Those are discussions to be had at home,” he says. “I’m in agreement with many parents on this.”
As I heard Ciattarelli spell out this agenda, my mind reeled back to 2017, when he first ran for governor. Back then, he was a centrist who supported increasing income taxes on the rich to address the fiscal crisis, while cutting pension and health benefits for public workers. He supported increasing the gas tax so we could rebuild our roadways. He called President Trump a “charlatan” back then, and said he refused to vote for him in 2016.
Since then, he’s changed his wardrobe to fit the times. He voted for Trump in 2020 and won’t rule out voting for him again in 2024. His tax cuts are enormous and tilted towards the wealthy. And he’s no longer serious about cutting spending, vowing that he won’t cut a scrap of pension and health benefits for cops, firefighters or teachers.
“Police chiefs tell me they’ve never seen fewer applicants, and that the caliber of candidates is not what it used to be,” he said. “It’s the same thing with teachers. We need to make these very attractive professions.”
Sure, that’s reasonable. But how do you pay for it? The 2017 version of Ciattarelli answered with specific tax hikes and concrete spending cuts. The 2021 version was stumped when I asked him the same question.
“The job of my cabinet is to get in there and evaluate things and say where we can do things better at less cost,” he said. “I have a hard time believing there aren’t things across the board in New Jersey where we can contract out to the private sector, and we’ll be looking to do that as best we can.”
Ciattarelli’s challenge is to straddle an ideological divide that has become too wide to straddle. Tom Kean, Christie Whitman, and Chris Christie could reach out to the middle without losing the Republican base, but that’s changed. In the Trump era, the party’s base wants fighters who are ready to bang heads over social issues like guns and gays and vaccine mandates, as Ciattarelli is doing.
“He can’t do what Republicans normally do after the primary – pivot to bread-and-butter stuff, the cost of living and taxes, and ignore the hot buttons,” says Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University poll. “Because the party has just been taken to a different place where it’s not just about issues, but about identity. You’re not talking about giving up a little on an issue. You’re asking them to turn backs on their view of who they think they are.”