Former Party Chairs Assess Trump’s Work So Far

NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron was one of many on the Walk to Washington.

Mary Alice Williams: Michael, what’s struck you so far?

Aron: Mary Alice, normally in a gubernatorial year, the talk on the train would be about the governor’s race, but not with Donald Trump in the White House. As David Cruz’s piece suggested, there was an awful lot of talk about Trump today. I’m joined now by two people who know a lot about New Jersey and national politics — Dale Florio, former Somerset County Republican chairman; Lou Magazzu, former Cumberland County Democratic chairman. Dale, Donald Trump today said that his White House is running like a fine-tuned machine. Is that a bit of an exaggeration?

Florio: Not according to Donald Trump and not for Donald Trump. I mean, people forget here in the nation’s capital, when you live in New Jersey, we’ve had a front-row seat to Donald Trump for how many years? So we know what he’s about. He’s a hard-nosed businessman. He’s trying to overlay it with politics now. So, you know, the Gen. [Michael] Flynn issue, that’s a bump in the road for him. The media just, it’s payback time. So that’s where the media is really focused on him.

Aron: The media’s paying him back for what?

Florio: For the disrespect they feel they got during the campaign.

Aron: Lou, you watched some of the president’s press conference today. You were telling me earlier that you were struck by it. How?

Magazzu: I saw a clip in my room and you’ve gone from no drama over Obama to all drama Trump. The change in tone has been dramatic. It seems to me that the president, instead of trying to bring the country together, continues to go after the group that he won in the primary and then the 46 percent of the electorate that he won in November. And I think he’s made a tremendous mistake. It’s not the press because it’s Sen. [John] McCain, it’s Sen. Lindsey Graham — certainly stalwarts of the national Republican Party — who are questioning what’s going on in this White House. And I think there is chaos and I think it shows a couple things. First of all, there is always a learning curve with a new White House. It happens all the time. But it’s more dramatic because I think Donald Trump, as a citizen first and now as a politician, wasn’t prepared that it’s not like running his business. It’s a different type of situation.

Florio: But this notion of bringing people together, that’ll happen. But he made a commitment and there were several things that he wanted to achieve that people are aghast that maybe he’s following up on them? Come on. I mean, the talking point that the goal here is to bring people together? The goal here is to lead. And I think what you’re seeing now, at least in these first 100 days, maybe for the first six months, is his following through on what he made in terms of campaign promises.

Aron: Dale is suggesting that he can right the ship as time moves forward. How do you see it?

Magazzu: I don’t think he even knows how to captain a ship. And the problem is he’s not focusing on the things he promised. And until he resolves two issues — the whole question of Russia and the involvement with Putin, what Flynn’s involvement was, to answer that question, what he knew about it, when he knew about it, whether his campaign was involved, he needs to dispose of that issue if he’s going to be able to govern effectively or or hope to govern effectively.

Florio: That’s a distraction. There are world wars because people don’t talk to each other. And whether he talked to somebody or whether people on his staff talked to people in Russia before or now after is immaterial.

Aron: But what if people on his campaign staff colluded with Russia during the campaign? And knew about the hacks and maybe coordinated in some fashion? Wouldn’t that be a serious breach?

Florio: There is no evidence to that. That’s pure speculation.

Aron: It’s been reported that the communication took place.

Florio: And as I said, there are world wars because we don’t have communication. So we can speculate all we want about what was discussed but until that time, I think it was good that he was talking to people. Or that his staff people were talking to people in Russia. Even the Obama people admitted that they had conversations with ambassadors from various countries as a matter of, “Hey, we might be the next president.” So until we understand what was discussed, it’s pure speculation.

Magazzu: Let’s be clear. Mike Pence within the last two weeks went on national television and said that Gen. Flynn had no contact and then they had to back that away. He had to then resign. And that was just two weeks ago. The facts are going to continue to unfold and until the president is truthful and open as to what happened, there’s going to be a continued cloud over the administration.

Florio: The Washington class just needs to get over it and move on. If they want to do investigations, be it Republican and Democrat, that’s fine. I would just hope the president moves on and continues to do the things that he said he would do in the campaign.

Aron: Can this president survive?

Magazzu: I think certainly he can survive. I just wish that the national Republican leadership would care as much about Vladimir Putin as he did about Benghazi.

Aron: All right, Lou Magazzu, Dale Florio thank you both very much. That’s it from the ballroom here in Washington D.C. where New Jerseyans will hear speeches tonight from Gov. Christie, our two U.S. senators and the Dean of the Congressional Delegation Chris Smith.