This election season, the only certainty is surprise. Gov. Chris Christie’s surprise was to board the Trump bandwagon. With roughly half the primaries behind us and Trump out ahead, does Christie have the political clout to make Republican county chairs fall in line? Here’s Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.
Aron: I’m here with Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango, chairman of the County Chairmen’s Association, or chair of the chairs as they call it. You had a meeting of the Republican county chairs in New Brunswick last night. The governor has called for all of you to join him and endorse Donald Trump. What did you decide at the meeting?
Arango: Well, there was an interesting meeting where we had 18 out of the 21 counties there. Everybody was extremely sided with the governor running for president. Three weeks ago he’s not running for president. Two weeks ago he endorsed Donald Trump and we’re very excited for the governor. He’s the leader of the state and he’s the leader of the Republican Party. What we’re doing now is basically reorganizing the situation in each county and we have different meetings. We have to readjust the organization because we really were with Chris Christie, but also there were people with Cruz, people that were with Rubio, people that were with Kasich, so what we want to do is present the best united effort for the governor.
Aron: You want to try to unite behind Trump but there’s no guarantee that you can do that. Each chairman is going to now go back to his county organization.
Arango: All the chairmen have the best position to help the governor here.
Aron: So you’re all going to endorse Trump?
Arango: We’re not saying that yet. What we’re saying is we want to make sure that the municipal chairs and the people who were with Christie, that they come back to Christie. That they make sure that everybody is now for example for Rubio that we ask those people to be with us if people that are with Cruz, with the situation with Cruz on March 15 doesn’t work, we bring those people with us. So we’re better off, why if at the end of the day we don’t have the election until June.
Aron: You’re from Hudson County and you told me on the phone that’s the second largest concentration of Cuban-Americans in the country outside of Miami so there’s a lot of support for Cruz and Rubio. Are you going to take that group and switch it over to Trump?
Arango: The Cubans, a lot of Cuban-Americans are extreme Republicans. Even though right now we have a situation where we have a historical moment, we have a historical moment no matter which way you see this. Since 1918 we didn’t have a governor running for president in the state of New Jersey. We have, the first time we have two Hispanics running for president.
Aron: Who’s more popular in Hudson — Cruz or Rubio?
Arango: I think Rubio is more popular than Cruz, but that doesn’t mean if Rubio’s not there Cruz is going to be popular because that’s the last [Hispanic].
Aron: So given all of these Cuban-Americans in Hudson, can you go for Trump? Can you depart from Rubio and Cruz?
Arango: My job right now is I’m the chairman of Hudson County and I have to make sure that I am fair with the Republicans in Hudson because there’s people that support Trump in Hudson County too. We can’t just be everybody’s with the Cubans. We have people with Trump and we have people with Kasich. I have to be fair in what I do.
Aron: You’re up for reelection as county chairman in June.
Arango: We all are. Not all, I think, but the majority are for reelection this year and then they have to come with the county committee and the structure that they have.
Aron: So it’s a delicate balancing act that you have to do.
Arango: We don’t want to hurt the governor but we want to make sure that us, who are very close to the governor, don’t get hurt.
Aron: And he has a lot of leverage with you all, appointing jobs and contracts.
Arango: It’s not about that. It’s about doing the right thing for everybody. It’s about making sure that the party has a good, solid situation. It’s making sure that the Republican Chairmen Association has a fair share here.
Aron: In other words it’s going to take you a month to come together behind the governor.
Arango: …We all were excited with the governor.
Aron: You were all for him.
Arango: It’s interesting and it’s a historical moment because we have two Hispanics running in the Republican Party. If you see the Republican Party is the party of inclusion, if you see who we have as candidates in the Democratic Party that has two people that, you know, I don’t know if they’re in touch with the reality of today. And then you have Donald Trump that is an interesting character because he broke all the molds on political science.
Aron: You met last night before the results in Michigan and Mississippi and Hawaii. Do those results change anything? Is Trump inevitable?
Arango: Trump looks very strong but it’s only 80 votes here or there in delegates right now. The key is going to be what happens in Florida and what happens with Kasich.
Aron: One last question. April 4 is a deadline for you all. You have to put delegate slates up on the ballot.
Arango: We are working intensively to make sure that the county organizations have the congressional candidates and in some counties they have freeholder races, they have sheriff races, they have county officers. We have to file the county committee and we have to file the delegates for the convention. In New Jersey my understanding is you win, and you win all the delegates. I don’t believe even if you’re running with Cruz or Rubio and Donald Trump wins the election in New Jersey everybody’s a delegate for Donald Trump.
Aron: Thanks for shedding some light on it.
Arango: Thank you very much.