D’Agostino: Murphy Campaign’s Ciattarelli-Trump lie⁠—Governor’s Gaslighting Strategy Projects Anxious Election Day Concerns

Santino D'Agostino shares his thoughts on the upcoming election for New Jersey Governor between incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican nominee Jack Ciattarelli. Photo via ABC News.

Move over, Delta variant. We have a new public health emergency in town, so long as the Murphy campaign sticks around: mass gaslighting.

A surely well-rested Gov. Phil Murphy is kicking off the fall campaign season after last month’s nine-day long vacation at his 23-room mansion in Italy and a recent unannounced, overnight trip to the Hamptons with New Jersey-native Jon Bon Jovi—all while the Delta variant continues to spread.

My Job

In the meantime, Murphy’s Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli has been dropping television ads since mid-March. The first of which slammed the governor for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and most recently highlighted his handling of the Katie Brennan rape allegations. He also traveled to Israel to meet with Israeli business leaders and to show solidarity with the biblical holy land.

Jack Ciattarelli on Twitter: “Women are mistreated under Murphy. The Gov, First Lady, and his inner circle of powerful men willfully ignored Katie Brennan’s pleas for help at every turn as she sought to report her rape allegations & seek justice resulting from her harrowing experience on Murphy’s campaign.

A Monmouth University poll from last month showed Murphy holding a solid 16-point lead against Ciattarelli (52%-36%). It’s important to note that since then, Murphy has slacked off messaging while Ciattarelli spent the last six months driving his message home. In addition, President Joe Biden’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan could have turned voters off to state and local Democrats. 

It’s likely that Murphy’s lead has subsequently shrunk.

A more recent poll from Fabrizio, Lee & Associates finds Murphy and Ciattarelli in a statistical dead heat with Ciattarelli trailing Murphy by one point (46%-45%).

But the only poll that matters is the one taken on Nov. 2, and we have about one and a half months to go before then. In the interim, the two campaigns will continue to push their messages.

Chris Russell, the Ciattarelli campaign’s top adviser, tweeted this on Sept. 15:

Photo via Santino D’Agostino

This isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. In fact, there’s a strong case to be made that this is exactly what’s happening right before our eyes.

Let’s move back in time a bit, shall we?

Ciattarelli pulled off a landslide primary election victory against two right-wing, Trumpian Republicans back in June. He was the only Republican on the ballot willing to offer a nuanced perspective on the Trump presidency; able to recognize the desirable and the undesirable, unlike his opponents.

Murphy’s first attack ad of the cycle shows Ciattarelli at a “Stop the Steal” rally from last fall in Bedminster, NJ. Ciattarelli maintains that he didn’t know the purpose of the rally was to challenge the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and had he known, would not have attended. He has also maintained on multiple occasions that Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president of the United States.

Despite Ciattarelli’s demonstrated nuance, he is painted as a pro-insurrectionist, election results-denying, radical Trumpian—so, the exact same archetype he successfully sought to destroy in June.

The ad features a deceptively edited clip of Ciattarelli speaking at the rally: “Working hard to make sure things go our way.” Then comes footage of the insurrectionists at Capitol Hill. The editing strongly implies that he was talking about the former president’s effort to overturn the election results, but offers no sufficient context to draw a conclusion one way or the other.

Our Way

Murphy’s offensive strategy seems to be to conning New Jersey voters into believing that Ciattarelli is something he’s not and never was: a disciple-turned-martyr of former President Trump. Don’t fall for it.

Such a characterization is factually inaccurate in every sense of the phrase, but it’s the campaign’s only leg to stand on.

So, the question must be asked: If Murphy is as safe as he is projected to be, then why would he continue to spread a proven lie? Why not run with the rosy tone set on day one? 

Maybe perhaps Russell’s right: it was a facade.

Come on, we’ve all done what the governor’s doing. It’s human nature. 

We lie when we’re worried, and when we want to push the attention away from us because we have nothing to show—or something to hide—on our end.

If I were likely responsible for the deaths of over 8,000 nursing home patients and an alleged rapist received a 20% raise under my administration despite existing allegations, I’d probably feel compelled to lie too.

The Murphy Administration is a proven failure. They won’t tell you that, but put the pieces together: an incumbent governor with an alleged 16-point lead should be able to tout a successful four-year term throughout the fall campaign and comfortably win on Election Day, but that’s not what is happening. 

Instead, the Murphy campaign is smearing its opponent with provable lies and fabricated representations of the past. Don’t let them get away with insulting your intelligence in such a way. 

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