On Tuesday, June 5, nearly one million New Jersey voters will head to the polls to cast ballots in their political parties’ respective primary elections. Among the offices for which nominees will be selected, is the US Senate seat occupied by the disgraced incumbent Senator Bob Menendez. In spite of a corruption trial last year that ended in a mistrial, and despite a bipartisan censure of the senator issued last month by the Senate Ethics Committee, Menendez is running for reelection this year with the full support of the state and national Democratic Party machines. Moreover, the scandal-tarred politician is heavily favored to win both his primary race next month and the general election in November.
That said, there are Republicans who believe that Menendez is more vulnerable than his consistent double-digit polling lead would suggest. Among these Republicans are Bob Hugin, Brian Goldberg and Dana Wefer, each of whom is vying to win the Republican Party’s nod to face Menendez in the fall. Wefer, an activist, attorney and self-described “recovering Democrat,” will not be discussed herein, for the simple reason that she will not be appearing on the ballot in Ocean County.
Before I assess the matchup between Hugin and Goldberg, allow me to explain what this article is and what it is not. It is not an endorsement of either candidate – as a matter of fact, I personally view both candidates as severely flawed and have yet to decide whether I will be voting for either. In writing this piece, my goal is to provide informative, critical and brief analysis on the basis of which readers can formulate their own opinions with regard to what I see as a disheartening clash between two unappealing politician-wannabes, one of whom will face yet a third unworthy candidate in Menendez this November. With that upbeat introduction fresh in our minds, let’s get to it.
ROBERT J. “BOB” HUGIN
On paper, Hugin seems like an ideal candidate to face Menendez this November. Hugin, who is expected to effortlessly dispatch Goldberg and Wefer on June 5, sports a nearly-impeccable resume that includes attending Princeton University on a full scholarship, serving in the Marine Corps on active duty for the better part of a decade, a stint in business management at J.P. Morgan, and rising through the ranks at the pharmaceutical company Celgene – ultimately serving as its CEO and Chairman until his resignation late last year. The first in his family to attend college, Hugin rose from the middle class to the ranks of multi-millionaires through hard work and perseverance – the kind of story that could only happen in America.
Hugin’s impressive series of accomplishments, however laudable, is unrelated to politics or policy – which tend to be the main interests of the electorate when choosing whom to vote for. It stands to reason that in order to determine whether Bob Hugin is actually worthy of support, we would have to first ascertain what it is exactly that the GOP frontrunner stands for. And that’s where the waters start to look a little muddy.
A prominent Trump supporter during the 2016 election, the then-Celgene executive pumped over $200,000 of his personal cash into the effort to elect Trump that year. Since launching his campaign for Senate, however, nary a positive word has emerged from Hugin’s mouth in reference to the president. In fact, Hugin has at times been downright critical of Trump as he pivots towards November, recently referring to Trump’s rare budget-cutting efforts as “ridiculous” to the extent that they impact New Jersey residents and seemingly calling the president “too partisan.” Now, I’m no fan of Trump, but I’m also no fan of pandering flip-floppers – which is precisely what Hugin comes off as.
Additionally, Hugin’s central campaign theme is anything but a conservative one. Republicans frequently deride the Democratic Party for promising people more “free stuff” while failing to make tough but necessary budget-cutting decisions. (In reality, both parties engage in this unsavory practice with equal frequency, which is why our federal deficit exceeds $21,000,000,000,000 and continues to expand under full GOP control of Washington. But I digress.) Hugin, for whom pandering is apparently a second language, is promising to provide New Jerseyans with more free stuff from Washington if elected to the US Senate. The number one issue of his campaign, and the first item on the Issues page of his campaign website, is “getting New Jersey’s fair share” of federal dollars. The website goes on to elaborate that Hugin would “secure expanded investment [i.e. federal aid] in New Jersey’s priorities like transportation infrastructure, our military bases, higher education, healthcare, and beach replenishment.” If that sounds like a proposed liberal spending spree on the taxpayer dime, it’s because for the most part it is. Hugin has dropped the traditional pre-primary pretense of conservatism, taking his widely-predicted nomination for granted and skipping straight to patronizing New Jersey’s mostly left-wing electorate.
Bob Hugin is no conservative. However, if you are a Republican voter who wants Bob Menendez gone at all costs and are willing to support a subpar GOP nominee in order to make that happen, Hugin is probably your man. While it is unlikely that any Republican will defeat Menendez in November, Hugin is the only candidate who has the resources and resume to pose even the slightest sliver of a threat to the entrenched incumbent. As such, I would recommend supporting Hugin if electability is your chief concern.
BRIAN D. GOLDBERG
Brian Goldberg provides an interesting contrast to Bob Hugin, as he is simultaneously similar to and the polar opposite of the GOP frontrunner. Like Hugin, Goldberg has evolved in his impression of President Trump – but in the opposite direction. Initially a supporter of Marco Rubio during the 2016 Republican primary for president, Goldberg remained a Trump skeptic through Inauguration Day. Since Trump’s election, however, Goldberg has become increasingly supportive of the president, to the point where he identifies himself as a “MAGA Republican” on the primary ballot. Indeed, it sometimes seems as though Goldberg’s only real message is fealty to President Trump, which is likely the calculated product of political opportunism as he attempts to leverage the president’s base to his advantage in a low-turnout primary race.
So other than his suspiciously excessive adulation of the president, what policy proposals comprise Brian Goldberg’s electoral platform? Mr. Goldberg, a small businessman who previously ran for Senate in 2014, seems to be a fairly typical conservative on most issues. For instance, he says he supports lower taxes, less spending, and individual liberties. However, Goldberg’s persistent unwillingness to criticize President Trump in even the tamest manner occasionally places him in the awkward position of defending Trump’s conservative apostasies, including his opposition to free trade. While Goldberg strikes me as a genuine conservative (as opposed to Hugin), I have zero confidence that he has the spine to differ with Trump on any issue whatsoever. If his candidacy is any guide, Goldberg likely would not be an independent voice in the US Senate, but rather a parrot of Trump and a knee-jerk supporter of the president’s agenda – regardless of what it might be. Voters who are extremely pro-Trump may be just fine with that – or even prefer a Trumpian Senate nominee to a principled conservative one.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Republican primary voters – and, more broadly, all New Jerseyans – deserve better than either Bob Hugin or Brian Goldberg. Ultimately, the outcome of this primary is unlikely to have much of an impact on the outcome of the November race anyhow; regardless of who wins the GOP nod, Menendez will presumably win another term. However, the GOP Senate primary still matters – because as in any year, the top of the ticket defines the party’s message to a significant degree. I’m not here to tell Republican voters what that message should be. But if the information and analysis contained in this article can help guide readers through an informed decision-making process, then my objective has been accomplished.
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