Bill Palatucci was clear in his answer: “Embarrassing and disappointing — and a real problem for the party going forward,” he said.
The question wasn’t as obvious.
Even though Friday marks two years since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, Palatucci wasn’t talking about that infamous day, but, rather, his party’s inability to elect a speaker of the House this week.
U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the acknowledged frontrunner, has failed to get enough support in 11 votes over the past three days — held back by five defiant members (who have managed to get up to 15 more Republicans to join their cause).
Right now, it’s a stalemate. And it’s the reason why Palatucci, who went down to Washington, D.C., earlier this week to support and celebrate the swearing-in of Tom Kean Jr., as the state’s third Republican congressman, came back with a sense that the Republican Party is still in disarray — still dealing with its biggest issue.
“I lay all of this at the feet of Donald Trump,” he said. “He’s blowing hot and cold about supporting McCarthy. But, to me, the seeds of this disaster were sown long ago. He has given credence to incredibility to these MAGA Republicans who don’t want to get anything done.”
Put another way?
“It’s our own Greek tragedy,” he said. “Donald Trump’s words and actions leading up to Jan. 6, including Jan. 6, and since that terrible day are responsible for the chaos that we’re witnessing today in Washington, D.C.”
Palatucci, a partner at McCarter & English, said the next steps should be obvious.
“I’ve said for a long time that Donald Trump needs to figure out how to be constructive and not destructive,” he said. “But it’s clear he either doesn’t know how to do that or doesn’t want to do that.
“The party has got to then make its own decision to move beyond him.”
Palatucci said he is sensing more of such a willingness. He points to former governors who have spoken out: Doug Ducey in Arizona, Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas — and Chris Christie in New Jersey. He points to former key Trump cabinet officials: Mike Pompeo (secretary of state) and Nikki Haley (U.N. ambassador).
Palatucci points to current Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
“More and more leaders have been coming forward to distance himself from Trump,” he said. “We need more people to say, enough is enough.”
Palatucci, the Republican national committeeman from New Jersey, said the issues in Washington are impacting him and those in the same position in other states.
“It really worries me,” he said. “Part of my message to the national Republicans is that we have these very important legislative races this year — and, when you look threatening, or incompetent, as you have the last couple of days, it makes our job here so much harder.”
The good news, the ugly episode that is the election of a speaker pales in comparison to the events of Jan. 6, Palatucci said.
“I think the chaos of yesterday and today will ultimately pass,” he said. “The difference between the last couple of days and Jan. 6 is evident: This is how you deal with the Constitution.
“It’s not with a riot, it’s not with an armed insurrection, you stand on the floor of the U.S. Congress, and you battle it out with your wits and your votes. And that’s the way it should be.”
Palatucci points to another event this week: The announcement of funding to fix the Brent Spence Bridge, a key connector of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
“President (Joe) Biden and Sen. (Mitch) McConnell and members of both parties were there,” he said. “That’s the way the political world is supposed to work. Nobody gets exactly what they want, but we act in the best interests of the country.”
If only that could happen in Washington, D.C. — within his own party.
Palatucci isn’t giving up hope. And he doesn’t agree with suggestions that Republican leaders need to confront McCarthy and let him know it’s time to step aside for the good of the party.
“I hope that people walk down the aisle to the five renegades — the five knuckleheads — and tell them: ‘This is ridiculous. There are 200 of us on the other side here and you need to work with us. You’ve been given a lot of what you’ve asked for. And now, for the good of the party, good in the country, agree to support Kevin.’
“This has been embarrassing for the party, but I don’t put it in the same category as Jan. 6. While it hasn’t happened in a long time, there’s been plenty of fights like this over the speakership in the history of the U.S. Congress, and, so, we’re having that history lesson here.”
One Palatucci feels the Republicans need to turn the page on.