Curtis Bashaw — and all NJ Republicans — face a Trump-laden obstacle course | Stile

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

CAPE MAY — Curtis Bashaw, one of New Jersey's Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, steered his black Suburban SUV through his Victorian-styled resort, serving, for a moment, as an enthusiastic tour guide of his portfolio of business and hospitality properties.

He ambled by the beachfront bar where he expanded and installed fire pits, the refurbished rooming house that will house 180 seasonal employees, and of course, Congress Hall, the 200-year-old hotel that Bashaw and his company restored to Gilded Age grandeur.

“It’s federal-Victorian. It’s a funny amalgamation," the 63-year-old hotelier and developer said, referring to the architectural style of the lemon-yellow landmark, propped up on steep white columns that sets the hotel apart from the more ornate Victorian hotels that define the resort community.

“It’s a simpler building," he said.

But there is nothing simple or easy for Bashaw’s long-shot bid for the Senate in blue-leaning Jersey. Like any New Jersey Republican who hails from its more centrist tradition, Bashaw is forced to navigate in the shadow of Donald Trump, another hotelier-turned-political-outsider whose glittering casino empire collapsed in bankruptcy just 50 miles up the Jersey Shore coast.

Trump, who launched his first bid for president in 2016 as the successful businessman outsider who pledged to shake up Washington, D.C., is now seeking a comeback, espousing a MAGA extremism that views compromise and the GOP establishment with contempt.

Curtis Bashaw, one of New Jersey's Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate.
Curtis Bashaw, one of New Jersey's Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate.

Bashaw, who would be New Jersey’s first openly gay Senator if elected, is also casting himself as a political outsider with the skill and savvy to shake up Washington. But Bashaw said he is guided by pragmatism — and is willing to work with anyone who can make things work, including Democrats. He was appointed as executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in 2004 by former Gov. Jim McGreevey.

“In my opinion, our country has relied on bipartisanship to function effectively, and I support bipartisan efforts," he said.

Trump builds an obstacle course for New Jersey Republicans, including Bashaw

The return and resilience of the MAGA King — whose incendiary brand of politics has widely been rejected by Jersey voters in statewide races — has turned Bashaw’s bid into a political obstacle course.

It has forced him to tilt enough to the party base in the primary as he faces an unabashed pro-MAGA rival in Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner, without harming his appeal in a general election race in the fall.

It has forced him, for example, to endorse Trump, even though his background suggests that he could be classified as a Republican Trump avoider. In 2016, Bashaw backed then-Gov. Chris Christie’s bid for president and then contributed to Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

Last September, Bashaw also donated to Christie’s second Never-Trump campaign for president that ended in January. Christie’s central message was that Trump needed to be stopped from reclaiming the Oval Office. Bashaw has also given campaign contributions to Democrats, including Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Rep. Donald Norcross, D-Camden.

“Bashaw spent the better part of the last eight years opposing Trump at every turn," Serrano Glassner said in a statement after Bashaw publicly declaring that he endorsed Trump. “We can’t trust him.”

Bashaw downplays the criticism, saying that he made his support for Trump known as he traveled this winter and early spring racking up the endorsements in 14 county parties — an institutional scorecard that has made him the frontrunner in the Republican race for the Senate nomination.

Curtis Bashaw, one of New Jersey's Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate.
Curtis Bashaw, one of New Jersey's Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate.

“I said consistently the whole time I feel that President Trump was vindicated on the border, on the economy, on China, on energy independence … and that Republicans need to come together and unite and that I was supporting the ticket from the top to the bottom,” Bashaw said.

He also said that the donation to Christie wasn’t an endorsement of the campaign so much as a courtesy contribution made during a visit to Cape May.

“It wasn’t a massive political statement," Bashaw said. And, he says that he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020.

Yet, when Bashaw withdrew from a one-on-one debate with Serrano Glassner on the New Jersey Globe earlier this month, he faced criticism that he ducked the event to avoid facing difficult about Trump. He denied it, but said he thought it better to avoid a nasty intra-party fight at a time when Democrats are unifying around U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, D-Burlington, now that First Lady Tammy Murphy abandoned her quest for the nomination.

"It's crazy for us to have a bloody primary when the Democrats have already consolidated,'' he said.

The Republican minefield Bashaw must navigate

Yet, the campaign team Bashaw has rolled out suggests a strategic design to maintain a balanced outreach to opposing factions of the party.

State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Vineland, co-chair of Trump’s 2020 campaign for New Jersey, is serving as his campaign chairman and is vouching for his capacity as a job creator. Michael DuHaime, the veteran campaign consultant for Christie’s two runs for governor and a vocal Never Trumper, is serving as an adviser.

The minefield realities of the race also explains Bashaw’s careful needle-threading on issues.

On abortion, an issue that looms as the Democrats' key to victory and is surely a defining issue of the fall contest, Bashaw says he opposes a national ban on abortion. He also espouses a Libertarian view on abortion, saying, “I don't think people want government telling them what to do in their homes and with their families and in these key personal decisions.”

He also says he agrees with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization Supreme Court decision in 2022, which eliminated the constitutional protection for abortion, and permitted each state and Congress to adopt their own laws regarding the practice. In a recent video, Trump also embraced the Dobbs ruling.

Bashaw believes Dobbs will allow a more democratic consideration of the issue to flourish.

“Democracy is playing itself out," he said, and referred to Kansas, where a backlash over Dobbs led voters to reject a constitutional amendment declaring that Kansas does not guarantee a right to an abortion.

Bashaw’s remarks, however, came hours before another ruling spawned by the Dobbs decision — the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a 160-year-old law that bans all abortions except when the mother’s life is in danger.

Asked to square that ruling with his own belief that government should stay out of personal decisions, he said through a statement: “I always believe that government closest to the people is the most representative of the people. … The people of Arizona will ultimately have the power to decide the outcome on a ballot initiative this fall.”

On immigration, Bashaw says the crisis at the southern border has emerged as a national security threat and a humanitarian debacle, but declined to comment on whether the recent bipartisan deal crafted in the Senate — and torpedoed by Trump’s loyalists — was a sufficient response to the problem. Bashaw said he wasn’t informed of the bill’s details other than to say he generally endorsed bipartisan efforts.

Still, Bashaw steers clear of Trump’s dystopian, racist characterizations of migrants as violent criminals.

“I think America has always been the land of immigrants," he said, striking a more moderate tone. “We need to have a policy that is appropriate for our country so that we can fill job vacancies that exist all over America (and) that we can support our social services.”

On the need to shore up Social Security, which will face an operating deficit by 2034, Bashaw is not opposed to the idea of generating more revenue by raising the level of taxable income beyond the current $168,000 level. But he is also willing to consider the full retirement age above 67, but only for newcomers to the system.

“I think that needs to be looked at in the future with much younger people," he said.

Charlie Stile: Could the end of the NJ county line doom county political machines? Some wonder

What about the NJ county line?

Because of the institutional advantage of being awarded the preferential ballot line in most counties, Bashaw has the clear advantage in more counties where a combined 60% of all New Jersey Republican primary voters live. At one point, he referred to Kim, who is the frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination, as “my opponent.”

“He's never had to make a payroll in his life," he said of Kim. “He has no idea the responsibility every two weeks to get a chunk of money from buying, selling and getting it into a bank account so those (employees) can make their car payment, their mortgage payment.”

But that horizon has been muddled by an ongoing legal battle over the fate of the county line ballot, which was the target of a lawsuit brought by Kim in February.

A federal district court judge in Trenton, deeming it likely to be struck down as unconstitutional, ordered county clerks to replace the line ballot — where endorsed candidates are bracketed together on the same column — with a block format where all candidates vying for same office are grouped together. The ruling is being appealed.

U.S. District Court Judge Zahid Quraishi also clarified that the ruling only applied to the Democrats, leaving the old line system intact for the Republicans and retaining the advantage for Bashaw. At least for now.

A separate lawsuit brought in state court by long-shot GOP candidates in Burlington County is also calling for the line format to be replaced with a block design. A decision by Superior Court Judge John Harrington to throw out the line could also potentially throw away Bashaw’s advantage and redraw the dynamics of the primary.

Bashaw maintains confidence and cites his experience in turning around long-shot, doomed-to-decay old properties like Congress Hall or the nearby Virginia Hotel as the calling card that will appeal to voters eager for progress.

“This didn't get done without somebody being me being tenacious, scrappy, a fighter," he said at Congress Hall. “I'm motivated by key principles and values. But I'm not a pushover and I believe that there's a hunger in the electorate that wants people from outside.”

Charlie Stile is a veteran New Jersey political columnist. For unlimited access to his unique insights into New Jersey’s political power structure and his powerful watchdog work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.


This article originally appeared on Curtis Bashaw and NJ Republicans face major obstacle: Trump