“If Trump came into this room I’d tell him: ‘The people here are the United States of America!’”
Those were the defiant words of Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee for New Jersey governor, speaking on Sunday to a packed room of Jersey’s Muslim American leaders—only hours before Trump announced his revised “Muslim ban.”
While Trump and his GOP are pitting Americans against one another, Murphy is doing just the opposite. And Murphy has made it clear that he has every intention of taking on Trump and his un-American agenda if elected. “In the time of Trump, we’re going to need governors with a steel backbone, and I will be that governor for New Jersey,” Murphy explained last Saturday at a town hall in Montclair, New Jersey, that I moderated and that aired as a special on my SiriusXM radio show.
Ironically, Murphy has a few things in common with the man he plans to fiercely battle if elected the 56th governor of the Garden State. Both Murphy and Trump hold degrees from Wharton Business School. Both were successful in business and neither held elected office before their recent runs. But that’s where any similarities end.
Murphy was born into a working-class family, not the lap of luxury like Trump. In fact, Murphy’s father never graduated high school and his mother worked as a secretary. Murphy, a man who always has a smile on his face and makes people feel at ease within seconds of meeting him, put himself through college at Harvard by working part time and relying on student loans before heading to Wharton for grad school. But by far the most striking difference between the two is that Murphy is fighting to protect American values of tolerance and pluralism while Trump is hell bent on destroying them.
At Sunday’s Muslim leadership event which featured an audience of Muslim-American elected officials and community leaders, Murphy recounted that after Trump’s first Muslim ban was announced in January he headed to Newark airport to stand with protesters opposing it. He spoke of working with many of the Muslim leaders in that room to help those impacted by the “travel ban” and to counter the anti-Muslim bigotry Trump’s order was ginning up.
And in sharp contrast to Trump, Murphy sees diversity as a very positive thing, bragging often that Jersey “is the most diverse state in the nation.” Murphy slammed Trump’s recent decision to end DACA and vowed to protect the Dreamers. He also plans to create an Office of Immigrant Protection to provide legal services to any Jersey resident—including green card holders and refugees—facing detention and potential deportation whose “rights are being denied by federal overreach.” He spoke of meeting with representatives from the Sikh community who have been suffering hate crimes, standing up for the LGBT community, and the list goes on of communities that Murphy has vowed to stand with in the time of Trump.
But Murphy’s campaign is not just about resisting Trump as he seeks to win the governorship left open because Trump’s BFF Chris Christie is prevented by term limits from running again. Murphy, who served as the DNC’s finance chair under Howard Dean and was appointed by President Obama to serve as ambassador to Germany, is championing a truly progressive agenda.
A central theme of Murphy’s campaign is helping New Jersey’s lower and middle-income families. “This is a middle-class state, we built this state for the middle class up, and in many cases… the middle class, unfortunately in this administration, has been left behind and hollowed out,” Murphy stated at the town hall. The loud cheers from the crowd made it clear that point resonated with Jersey residents in attendance.
Murphy, who has a sizable lead of roughly 20 points in recent polls over his GOP opponent, Christie’s Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, plans to help New Jersey’s economy with a series of programs. He plans on creating a public bank that will invest in New Jersey’s infrastructure and small businesses. He has vowed to raise the state’s minimum wage, now at $8.44 an hour, up to $15 an hour overtime. Murphy also detailed a series of incentives to attract businesses to move to New Jersey. And just last week he rolled out a plan for free community college for New Jersey residents. Given that Murphy will very likely have a Democratic legislature to work with as governor, his ideas are more than just aspirational promises—each has a good chance of becoming policy.
Murphy ended his speech Sunday with a line that resonates now more than ever given Trump’s policies: “Those who fail to vote embolden the voices of intolerance.” That phrase should be posted at every Democratic campaign office across the nation between now and the midterm election in November 2018.
But well before the 2018 midterms, the people of New Jersey have a chance on Nov. 7 to send a message to Trump and the rest of the nation by turning a red governorship a beautiful and bright shade of blue. And with a win, Murphy also can send message to national Democratic leaders that in order to win in the time of Trump, they can neither be solely anti-Trump, nor can they advocate a timid vision. They must champion a bold, progressive vision that inspires people. And Murphy is doing just that.