Palatucci, N.J.’s top RNC official, faces his toughest challenge

How do you sell Republican Party after president was complicit in storming of Capitol?

As he drove the final 50 miles or so of his 14-hour trek to Amelia Island, Georgia — site of the winter meetings of the Republican National Committee — Bill Palatucci very well knew that his political reality had changed dramatically since he left New Jersey the day before.

Calls, texts and reports of our nation’s capital under siege Wednesday in what only could be described as an act of sedition by domestic terrorists made that clear.

Palatucci, the Republican National Committeeman from New Jersey, has been clear on his stance on the 2020 presidential election since Nov. 4. He feels President Donald Trump lost. And he reiterated that in an afternoon tweet Wednesday, when he criticized Trump’s video release to his supporters as not being nearly enough — and once again called on the Republican president to concede defeat and agree to a peaceful transition of power.

The party needs to move on, Palatucci told ROI-NJ — just a bit before he arrived at an event where debating the day’s events figured to be the only topic of discussion in a lively opening night.

Bill Palatucci. (File photo)

“We’re going to have to talk about the future of the party and how we repair this damage,” he said — acknowledging it won’t be as easy as one might think.

The Republican Party, he concedes, is in danger of splitting into warring camps over Trump.

“I don’t think that’s a fear, it’s a reality,” he said. “There are going to be representatives here of very red states. And people like me, who are in blue states. And people who are from purple states.

“There are going to be very big fans of the president here, but, luckily, we have very cordial relations. And we’ll have very spirited debates. But we have to try and talk about how we go forward.”

Then, Palatucci will face a tougher task: Bringing that message back to New Jersey.

It’s been an uphill battle for years in the Garden State — where Republicans long have done better than their share of the electorate. But this will be a test. And Palatucci knows the first question will be about Trump.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I already deal with that every day. It’s difficult. So, I’m trying to be very loud about my displeasure about what I saw today.”

To be clear, Palatucci is far from a never-Trumper. He can quickly rattle off a number of things Trump accomplished in office.

“The president has had some very substantial accomplishments — ones that he can be proud of,” he said. “The speed of the vaccination developments, the new NAFTA agreement between Canada and Mexico, some of the things he’s done the Middle East. But, he lost the election. And that simply is now a fact of life. And we’ve got to, for the good of the country, move forward.”

For Palatucci, that means finding a way to get past Wednesday and grow the party in the state.

“Events like today are so damaging to the country and our position around the world, let’s start there,” he said. “But, as a Republican, it’s very damaging to what we’re trying to do in the future. We’re trying to make the party acceptable to younger people in New Jersey and to that important group of suburban, college-educated women. Events like today, and the president’s conduct today, doesn’t help.”

Palatucci won’t give up the fight. And, while the party’s positions of power in New Jersey have been greatly reduced in the past three years, he sees reason for optimism.

“My priority last year was electing Tom Kean to Congress,” he said. “He came very close, but he couldn’t overcome President Trump losing Republican Morris County by more than 10,000 votes.”

Some of the other 160 or so RNC members at the meeting this week will tell a different story. Trump may have lost the election, but the Republican Party did extraordinarily well in many parts of the country.

“Despite the president’s loss, the party had a very successful national election,” Palatucci said. “We picked up 14 seats in the House. We flipped three state legislative chambers across the country. We picked up more than 150 state representatives in legislatures across the country. And we picked up a net-one Republican governor.

“The Senate is now 50-50, and we wanted to hold the White House, but all was not lost.”

That’s the vision he hopes to take back to New Jersey. He’ll have to sell it against the images of an armed insurrection carrying Trump flags, U.S. flags — and even Confederate flags. That’s a difficult challenge.

“My message is going to be that we have to move forward,” he said. “Despite the president’s protestations, he lost. He lost in the courts. He lost in the Electoral College. He lost at the U.S. Supreme Court. And, so, it’s time to accept that, get out of the way, and let us move forward.”