Why I, a Staunch Republican, Am Voting for Phil Murphy for Governor | Opinion

I am, by any objective measure, a conservative Republican. Since I came of voting age, I had not voted for a Democrat in any statewide or national race—even when it was not much of a race, as it frequently isn't where I have lived, in New York and New Jersey. For someone who believes what I do, this makes perfect sense; my ideology is diametrically opposed to the policies the Democrats stand for and espouse.

So I was surprised to find myself over the past few months occupying an unlikely role: I have been spending many waking hours doing my best to convince the people of my community to vote to re-elect our Governor, Democrat Phil Murphy.

It's not that I am not one of those former conservatives who deserted my party in everything but identification in a tantrum-like reaction to the Trump presidency. Though I did not vote for the former president in 2016, having too many disagreements with him on policy and concerns about how he would govern, I enthusiastically supported him in 2020.

Indeed, I voted for Trump for many of the same reasons why I now support my Democrat governor. It can be boiled down to one word: gratitude. Both my religious and my conservative principles themselves are guiding me to vote for Murphy because in Judaism, the value of gratitude is so fundamental that our tradition teaches us that at the time of creation, the earth itself could not give forth produce until Adam was created to express gratitude to G-d for it.

But gratitude is not only a Jewish value. As conservative thought leader Professor Robert P. George points out, gratitude is essential to being an American. An immigrant's "feelings of gratitude to America for the liberty, security, and opportunity our nation affords him" George writes, is the "key ingredient" to their becoming patriots.

I feel so grateful to Murphy for what he's done for me and my community that it trumps my very Republican affiliation. I know this is a radical proposition. Few things seem to trump party identification these days, when it comes to deciding what candidate to vote for. Our political parties are locked into a never-ending cycle of self-definition via-negativa, standing for very little except for what they are against: the other guys.

It's a sad state of affairs not to stand for anything but only to stand against, and recently I have tried to try to combat it with a thought experiment: Name one thing your candidate could say or do which would cause you to either abandon him or her or vote for their opponent, I would ask friends. Or what could your candidate's opponent do to earn your support? If you can't name anything, I have news for you: You aren't voting for a candidate, nor do you care about policies or values. You are simply voting for a political party.

These days, we have become so rigid about party identification that it often feels like for most Americans, it's the only value they won't comprise. In fact, it really ought to be the only thing we are open to compromise about.

In fact, my gratitude toward Phil Murphy has a lot to do with his decision to abandon party identification when it came to the Democrats' disastrous pandemic policies. Over a year ago, when the second wave of COVID-19 was not yet a reality, communities like mine began seeing an uptick of COVID cases, foreshadowing what the winter would eventually look like across the country. In some states, like neighboring New York, the Governor reacted by closing off Jewish neighborhoods, targeting Jewish schools and synagogues for closures. They blitzed these areas with inspectors, issuing summonses to anyone who even looked like they were afoul of these arbitrary (and ultimately meaningless) regulations.

Governor Murphy resisted that. Instead of dictating to us what we should be doing, he worked with us to keep synagogues and private schools open safely, by instituting a testing protocol in the place of closures. It worked so well that the Governor would later roll out this same protocol in other areas which saw flare-ups before the entire state was swamped by the second wave.

It would have been easy for Murphy to adopt the New York model; after all, everyone else in his party was doing it. Moreover, our little neck of the woods is famously Trump country; there were potentially no votes in it for treating us like human beings. But Murphy didn't follow the trend because he, too, was looking for ways to break out of the us-vs-them binary.

Phil Murphy New Jersey poll
New polling results released Thursday by Stockton University suggested New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy was ahead of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli by 9 points ahead of the state’s November 2 election. Above, Murphy speaks about President Joe Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better Agenda at the NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex on October 25, 2021 in Kearny, New Jersey. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

And it would betray all my religious and conservative beliefs not to do everything in my power to see he was rewarded for it.

It isn't just about my self-interest and incentivizing our politicians to approach things in a way that works for us that should be driving people like me to reward Murphy with my vote, although if we don't, it certainly makes it harder for people like him to do things like that. It's that it's a fundamentally religious value to show gratitude for one who has done you a good turn.

Governor Murphy not only protected our way of life, not only didn't impose needless restrictions on our religious liberty, but he bucked the trend among Democrats of singling out Jews and signaling the canard to our neighbors that we were uniquely purveyors of the plague. He put aside party identification to protect his constituents' lives and way of life.

And he refused the closed-minded collectivism which animates so much of our politics these days, the us-vs-them mindset which disincentivizes politicians from working together or with their constituents from the opposing party who don't vote their way. Everyone seems to have become a variation of the infamous James Baker quote about anyone who "didn't vote for us anyway."

So how to break out of this? I still like my thought experiment: If we could only identify where and how exactly electeds from the other party can win us over, we could create the wrinkle in the matrix which can break us out of this seemingly never-ending political death spiral we are in.

That is why I, despite all my deep and fundamental disagreements with my Governor on all sorts of issues, am still proud to cast my vote for him this Election Day. I am more than proud; I am grateful.

Eli Steinberg lives in New Jersey with his wife and five children. They are not responsible for his opinions, which he has been putting into words over the last decade, and which have been published across Jewish and general media. You can tweet the hottest of your takes at him @HaMeturgeman.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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