No, Jack Ciattarelli is not an anti-Trump moderate.
New Jersey Republicans nominated former state legislator Jack Ciattarelli for governor on Tuesday. But while some framed this as a victory for centrism and the anti-Trump wing of the GOP, his record shows just the opposite.
Ciattarelli, who served three terms in New Jersey's state assembly, was critical of Donald Trump in 2016 but has since become a strong defender.
In March, he told a podcast host:
Trump's policies worked. If you didn't like his personality, let me give you five or six policies, and I'll go through it with you. He played hardball with China, won the war on ISIS, solved Middle East by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, took care of border security, the economy, and he transformed the federal bench to conservative judges, which is healthy for America.
He has also embraced most of the right-wing views that dominate the Republican Party orthodoxy and Trump's agenda.
Ciattarelli voted against marriage equality in 2012, when the Legislature considered it.
In January, he opposed his state's decision to include LGBTQ people in the state education curriculum.
"What concerns me greatly about what the Murphy administration, he and his wife have done to the public school curriculum in New Jersey is it begs the question in my mind when did I abdicate parenting," he complained at a campaign event.
"But I think the new LGBTQ curriculum goes too far,” he added.
Ciattarelli opposes the Reproductive Freedom Act, a currently pending state bill to codify abortion rights, calling it an "extremist approach won't sit well with middle-of-the-road New Jerseyans."
However, a recent poll found about two-thirds of voters in the state back the legislation and 80% of New Jersey voters believe abortion decisions should be made without political interference.
In January, Ciattarelli said he does not "believe tax dollars should be used for abortions or for agencies that necessarily advocate for abortions." All 28 Democratic women in the state Legislature released a statement slamming him for wanting to defund family planning and women's health care.
Though New Jersey has had almost no instances of voter fraud, Ciattarelli has falsely claimed "voting reform" and strict voter ID laws are needed to ensure public trust in the system.
Embracing Trump's lies that the 2020 election was rigged, he said in a January press release:
A peaceful transition of power is of critical importance to the future stability of our democracy, but so is our citizenry having faith and trust in our election system. Right now, whether some people like it or not, that is not the case. Therefore, it is incumbent upon true leaders in both parties to recognize that and do something about it.
He said photo ID requirements, voter roll purges, and other policy changes were needed "so voters can feel confidence that their vote – and the votes of their neighbors – are legal and secure, and that the results of the election are valid."
As a legislator, Ciattarelli opposed popular gun violence prevention efforts including expanded background checks, restrictions on high-capacity magazines, and restrictions on assault weapons.
In his unsuccessful 2017 gubernatorial campaign, he called for preemption laws to prohibit local governments from passing any gun restrictions that were tougher than the state's laws and vowed to veto any new restrictions on gun access.
In April, he said New Jersey "should repeal certain laws that have made legal firearms obsolete."
Blaming 'both sides' for white supremacist violence
After a white supremacist killed 22 people in a mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart in 2019, Ciattarelli reportedly suggested that "both sides" were to blame. He blamed "identity politics, which gives rise to intolerance and racism."
Ciattarelli's embrace of Trump and Trumpism might be a tough sell in the November general election. President Joe Biden won New Jersey by a 57% to 41% majority last year and Democratic incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy remains quite popular in the state.
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll, released Tuesday, found 52% of registered voters support Murphy's reelection, while just 26% say they will vote for Ciattarelli.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.