The disastrous 2015 legislative elections are behind us. Now the NJGOP, and especially those Republican members of the Legislature who expect to be candidates in 2017, are in the process of positioning themselves for the elections two years from now -- when both chambers will be up, as well as the Governor.
The first question to consider is whether or not to run as members of the party of government or to run against the Trenton establishment. Republican legislators do have an option, for while a Republican Governor has held power for the last six years, the Democrats have controlled the Legislature for more than twice as long. Since 2002, and under four Governors, the Democrats have run the legislative process in Trenton.
If polls are anything to go by, it might serve the GOP well if its legislators were to put away their "party of Governor Chris Christie" slogans and replace them with an up-to-date "outsider" populist perspective.
Take these numbers for example: In 1958, 77 percent of the American public "trusted government always or most of the time." The Pew Center tests that question regularly, and when tested this year, that 77 percent had declined to 19 percent. As late as the first term of President George W. Bush, that number had stood at 60 percent. So the decline has been as sharp as it's been rapid. That decline just happens to mirror the period during which the Democrats have run the Legislature in Trenton.
Trust in government is greater among Democrats, but at 26 percent, still nothing to brag about. For those with no party affiliation/independents it is 16 percent and for Republicans it is 11 percent.
In a study titled, Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government, released by the Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics & Policy on November 23, 2015, only 20 percent of the American public believes that government programs are well run. 74 percent believe that "most elected officials put their own interests before those of the country." And 55 percent believe that "ordinary Americans would do a better job of solving national problems."
Only 25 percent of the American public views the federal government positively, with 33 percent viewing large corporations positively. Just 25 percent view the news media favorably, and for the entertainment industry, that rises to 32 percent.
Labor unions are viewed positively by 45 percent, churches & religious institutions by 61 percent, and small businesses by 82 percent.
Back when Bill Clinton was President, Americans were evenly split on whether or not there was a great difference between the two major political parties. Today, 45 percent believe there is a "great deal" of difference between the two parties, with 32 percent saying there is a 'fair amount" of difference, and 19 percent saying "hardly any" difference.
Only 18 percent of Americans report they are "basically content" with their government. 57 percent report they are "frustrated", with another 22 percent describing themselves as "angry".
On government competence to deliver, only 2 percent report that government programs are being run in an "excellent" fashion vs. 33 percent who say they are being run in a "poor" way. 18 percent report "good" vs. 44 percent who report "only fair".
More Americans now describe their government as an "enemy" -- 9 percent -- than as a "friend" -- 8 percent. On the government's management of key issues, it appears to let down both Republicans and Democrats, with just 28 percent saying that it manages the immigration system well, 36 percent saying that it helps people get out of poverty, and 48 percent saying that it ensures a basic income for seniors.
The choice for 2017 is being discussed now. Will the NJGOP and its legislative candidates -- incumbents as well as prospects -- choose to position themselves as anti-establishment outsiders or the party of government?