The last time New Jersey voters sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate, Nixon was in the White House and “The Godfather” was in movie theaters. For a short while, at least on paper, Congressman Tom MacArthur seemed an attractive candidate to try and break this 45-year streak.
In 2014, the former insurance executive and mayor of Randolph, moved from Morris County down to South Jersey, plopped down $5 million of his own cash and garnered an open House seat. With an amiable personality and political ties throughout the state, MacArthur proved unafraid to dig deep into his piggy bank. With a seeming-centrist streak, he was sitting pretty and setting a nice table for a statewide run.
However, over the span of the past two months, MacArthur effectively torpedoed any shot for higher office with three sweeping, out-of-the-mainstream moves. First, he backed Trump’s racist travel ban. Then, he co-sponsored legislation bestowing other states’ residents the right to conceal and carry weapons here in New Jersey. And now he’s the lone Jersey representative supporting TrumpCare, which is mind-boggling on several levels.
In January, MacArthur was one of only nine Republicans nationwide to vote against a budget resolution aimed at greasing the Affordable Care Act’s repeal. New Jersey congressmen Rodney Frelinghuysen, Leonard Lance, Frank LoBiondo and Chris Smith all voted for it. But last week, sensing grave harm to constituents, these representatives simply couldn’t bring themselves to support TrumpCare, which started badly and just got worse. Passage would gut Medicaid and strip insurance from 24 million Americans — including 500,000 New Jerseyans. LoBiondo said, “It’s not as good as or better than what we currently have.” Frelinghuysen called TrumpCare “unacceptable, as it would place significant new costs and barriers to care.”
According to NJ Policy Perspective’s analysis of Census data and Medicaid statistics, TrumpCare would cause a 74 percent increase of uninsured in our five Republican congressional districts alone. Percentage-wise, MacArthur’s constituents suffer the most — with 32,809 projected to lose insurance by 2020. That’s an eye-popping 94 percent uninsured spike. And this calculation came before amendments hardened the bill by cutting required benefits. Nonetheless, with such damning information causing congressional colleagues to come to their senses, MacArthur head-scratchingly switched support to TrumpCare.
This comes on the heels of his embracing bigotry by backing Trump’s racist travel ban. MacArthur didn’t merely give vague lip-service about dangerous times demanding vigilance, but rather “applauded him for acting.” This isn’t just ignorant — as the measure makes America markedly less secure. It’s also immoral. Trump’s Muslim prohibition splits families and stops children from life-saving surgeries. History will view it as dark a stain on America’s story as Jim Crow and Japanese internment camps. MacArthur claims it wouldn’t ban Muslims. But everyone knows full-well its intention, including the courts striking it down.
As if carrying Trump’s water wasn’t enough, MacArthur is also doing the NRA’s bidding. He sponsored gun lobby legislation forcing New Jersey into recognizing concealed carry permits from states with significantly shoddier safety standards. Garden State gun-related deaths are half the national average, largely due to strict laws governing concealed weapons. But if MacArthur’s measure passes, even people mentally ill or on no-fly-lists would be allowed.
Perhaps it isn’t shocking that the moderate tag was a farce and MacArthur has thrown in with extremist ilk. Being the only member of our congressional delegation to attend the Trump Republican National Convention should have been a hint. Today, it must be lonely out on that ledge — not just outside New Jersey’s mainstream, but the state GOP’s as well.
The kindest thing to say about MacArthur’s constituent relations is they aren’t up to snuff. In person and online, his staff mocks, dismisses and even spews curses and vulgarities at those who dissent or disagree on policy. Like their boss, MacArthur personnel push “paid protester” fake news about “preventing local constituents from interacting with their congressman.” After claiming “events are being hijacked by groups outside-the-district” MacArthur eventually relented. With scant notice, he held one small, out-of-the-way public meeting. But the way he’s brushed off folks’ legitimate fears and concerns doesn’t bode well for any ability to interact with real people outside his bubble.
MacArthur’s trifecta of malfeasance and malice — health care, guns and racism — takes a special level of incompetence. Marry these bad decisions with dreadful constituent outreach, poor communication and even worse ability to navigate political tea leaves, and MacArthur proved he isn’t ready for prime-time. In short order, his series of unforced errors didn’t solely provide a disservice to the state. It quickly proved any higher office attempt would be a moribund endeavor.
Joshua Henne, of Shrewsbury, is a Democratic strategist and can be found on Twitter at @JoshuaHenne.