In last night’s piece, I noted that while Bob Menendez’s D.C. dam was mostly holding, the story was dramatically different in New Jersey where virtually everyone in the state party establishment had already called on him to resign. Just in the last couple hours the D.C. dam appears to be giving way. Sens. Warren and Rosen and, most importantly, his New Jersey colleague Cory Booker have now each called on Menendez to step down. I’d be surprised if half his senate colleagues hadn’t followed suit by the end of the day.
As I wrote last night, at this point it almost doesn’t matter whether Menendez resigns. New Jersey is a machine politics state. You can win an election if you don’t come from the machine — either because you can spread around a lot of money (as former Gov. and Sen. Jon Corzine did) or because you have some unique political gifts. But if you’re a machine type politician who lacks a ride-or-die mass constituency and the machine abandons you, I think you’re toast. A primary challenge can likely drive Menendez from office. The only question is whether state Democrats can coalesce around a single challenger.
Amid the flood of WTFs and ‘He should resigns’ I’ve noticed a few people saying some version of, ‘Why are Democrats making such a big deal out of this when Trump or Jared or whoever else is so much worse? It’s another example of Democrats catering to newspaper editorial opinion and purity tests while no rules apply to Republicans.’
Let me offer a semi-hardboiled argument for why this is wrong.
Politics is a messy business because it is a public business. You can’t always accomplish big things and be pure at the same time. What’s most notable about the New Jersey Democrats complete abandonment of Menendez is that it’s not just the goo-goos in a few university towns or liberal redoubts. The machine guys have given him the heave-ho just as quickly. As I explained last night, that’s a big sign that Menendez is neither particularly liked nor feared. If New Jersey had a Republican governor and a 50-50 Senate was in the midst of passing the Inflation Reduction Act, the contending priorities would be a lot more complicated. But none of that is the case. New Jersey is a relatively safe Democratic state with a Democratic governor.
The additional factor here, which I’d imagine weighs heavily against him in D.C. and back home, is Menendez’s recidivism and recklessness. When I went to choose a photo asset for this post, I noticed that we don’t yet have photos of Menendez’s current alleged criminal associates. But we do have a few of his last sugar daddy, Salomon Melgen, the guy who got him indicted the first time a few years ago. Indeed, I remember covering Menendez’s first Senate run in 2006, after being appointed to fill out the term of Jon Corzine. Even then Tom Keane Jr. was running on Menendez’s purported corruption, years before he got indicted for anything. Under current law the Melgen case seemed significantly fuzzier than this one. That case ended in a mistrial in 2017 and only a few years later Menendez was doing this. He seems incorrigible. There’s a long list of New Jersey pols who’d be happy to do the senator’s job and keep their noses cleaner than this guy. People washing their hands of Menendez is really a no-brainer and that’s probably why so many people are doing it.