Tom Kean Jr. should break his silence on GOP authoritarian extremism | Opinion

March 15, 2022 2:50 pm

Former state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (Courtesy of New Jersey Senate Democrats)

I have been most emphatic in my criticism of former state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. on his failure to repudiate Republican authoritarian extremism. Yet Kean, the leading Republican candidate in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, now has a unique opportunity to abandon his silence at minimal political cost.

This opportunity was created by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP House leader and a man with a well-deserved reputation of being an accommodationist of GOP neo-fascism. If Kean takes advantage of the opportunity provided by McCarthy and proceeds to unequivocally repudiate Republican authoritarian extremism, he will restore his moral standing as a GOP leader in the fight for democracy and against racism.

McCarthy’s long overdue act of repudiation of GOP extremism was his condemnation of the Feb. 26 America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) in Orlando. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul A. Gosar of Arizona, leading lights of the neo-fascist wing of the GOP, spoke to this gathering, organized by white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes.

Fuentes asked the crowd there to “give a round of applause for Russia” and responded, “Absolutely,” as attendees chanted, “Putin! Putin!”

McCarthy called it “appalling and wrong” for Greene and Gosar to attend the event. And the GOP’s leader in the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, was unequivocal in his condemnation. Without identifying Greene and Gosar by name, he stated, “There’s no place in the Republican Party for white supremacists or anti-Semitism.”

Kean is no Trumpist, nor a foe of democracy, nor a supporter of authoritarian Republicanism. He obviously, however, is cowed by the possible reaction of his opponents in June’s primary regarding any criticisms he may make of the GOP neo-fascist wing.

Accordingly, Kean has maintained a practice of silence on the most extremist Republican authoritarian statements, best exemplified by his recent failure to comment on the Republican National Committee resolution seeking to protect individuals engaged in the Trumpian seditious conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election. The resolution described these traitorous lawbreakers as participants in “legitimate political discourse.”

The latest incident involving Greene and Gosar is an inflection point for the Kean campaign in two respects.

First, McCarthy — by his denunciation of AFPAC, Greene, and Gosar — has given Kean all the political cover he needs to protect him from the GOP’s right wing. Kean would lose no support from the national Republican establishment nor even the Trumpist keepers of the flame if he followed McCarthy’s lead and repudiated AFPAC, Greene, and Gosar. Yet I have yet to see Kean do anything to take advantage of the propitious opportunity provided by McCarthy.

The second aspect of this Kean campaign inflection point was Greene’s antisemitic outburst the day after the conference.  She derided her critics as “the Pharisees in the Republican Party,” referring to an ancient group of Jewish leaders whom Jesus called hypocrites.

It is disheartening that Kean has been silent in the face of Greene’s anti-Jewish hatred. Of all the political families in American history, few have been better friends of the world’s Jewry than the Keans. Both the late Rep. Robert Kean and his son, former Gov. Tom Kean Sr., have been national leaders in such causes as the admission into America of Eastern European Jewish refugees from the Holocaust; the creation, survival, and security of the state of Israel; the establishment of Holocaust education programs in the public schools of New Jersey; and support for the civil liberties of Jewish refusenik dissenters in the former Soviet Union.

There is still time before the June primary for Tom Kean Jr. to abandon his politics of appeasement of the neo-fascist authoritarian Republican wing, a faction that threatens the future of both the GOP and American democracy. Such continuing appeasement would constitute a renunciation of the Kean pro-democracy, pro-tolerance traditions incorporated in his father’s book, The Politics of Inclusion.  An abdication of the virtues of the politics of inclusion is too high a price for Kean to pay in pursuit of his ambitions.

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Alan Steinberg
Alan Steinberg

Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.