Don’t Give Booker a Pass
Why are Republicans so soft on “Cory”?
By Eliana Johnson, National Review Online
Cory Booker may be the most puzzling man in the Senate. We don’t know where he lives. We don’t know whom, if anyone, he lives with. And he’s been caught in lie after lie about his heroics. Yet, this enigma of a man has emerged as the king of odd-couple bromance, using selfies and Instagram posts to burnish his stardom even as he appears surprisingly vulnerable in his upcoming bid for reelection.
But Booker is less popular in New Jersey than he is in Washington. He is polling below 50 percent in his matchup against Bell, a policy wonk and virtual unknown in the state who has received little support from the national party. Though he was expected to breeze to reelection, a Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday has Booker ahead by just ten points, 47 to 37 percent.
Many of Booker’s fiercest ideological opponents, however, are riding the Booker juggernaut rather than going in for the kill. Cory Booker can be beaten, at least the polls suggest so. So why are they so eager to cozy up to him, so hesitant to take him on?
Take Rand Paul, with whom Booker appeared last week on PBS, CNN, and MSNBC. They were touting their proposal for reforming the country’s criminal-justice system. Paul was one of the few Republican stars who campaigned energetically against Booker last year, but at a cocktail party hosted by Politico’s Mike Allen, they discussed the origins of their “bromance” and joked about co-starring in a reality show. This is the same Rand Paul who has knocked leaders of his own party for being insufficiently conservative, but there he was, arm-in-arm with a man who represents the blue-state liberalism he spends most of his time denouncing.
New Jersey’s junior senator is popular in Washington. His Republican opponent, former Reagan official Jeff Bell, even got a chilly reception from Ted Cruz, according to a source who attended the meeting the two had – the same Ted Cruz who precipitated the confrontation over the government shutdown last year. Cruz, according to the source, grilled the staunchly conservative Bell about why he hasn’t raised more money and asked him, pointedly, “How do you think you can win?” (Cruz’s office describes the conversation as a “fairly standard” one that it has with lots of candidates, and it is true that the latest Federal Election Commission filings show that Booker has nearly $3.5 million cash on hand while Bell has $0.) Cruz was spotted breaking bread with Booker in March, and Booker later gushed about their “great intellectual discussion.”Booker has spent much of his nine months in office charming his colleagues, partly by photographing himself with them. He’s in the midst of a campaign to take selifies with each of his fellow senators. In the pictures he’s posted to his Instagram account, he’s praised Senate majority leader Harry Reid as a “profoundly kind, caring, compassionate, and decent man” and South Dakota Republican John Thune as a “valued colleague and friend who challenges me on issues in constructive ways.” You get the idea.
It’s Booker’s second statewide race in a year, and it’s the second time polls have shown him unexpectedly vulnerable. “It’s been surprising both times,” says John Weingart, associate director of Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. Last year, Booker was expected to trounce long-shot candidate Steve Lonegan in October’s special election, but after national media began for the first time to scrutinize his record, he stumbled on the campaign trail.
The New Jersey Republican party didn’t put up much of a fight. “The refusal to expose Cory Booker is frustrating,” says a Republican operative who has worked on campaigns both nationally and in New Jersey. “In 2013 the state GOP appeared to be on lockdown, refusing to go after both Cory Booker and Bob Menendez.” Even without that sort of institutional opposition, Booker saw a 30-point lead narrow to an 11-point win on Election Day.