As we head into tonights State of the Union address, I figured I would call the New Jersey politician who was the first major Republican to back Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
No, not Chris Christie. The then-governor got on the Trump bandwagon late - and then only after the wheels had fallen off his own.
Im talking about Mike Doherty. The arch-conservative state senator from Warren County came out in favor of The Donald more than a year before the 2016 election.
I got his Voicemail, so I left this message: "Im writing about the State of the Union. I imagine you got a front-row seat in response for your loyalty. Gimme a call."
"Were you being sarcastic?" Doherty asked when he called back.
I was indeed. The Donald never rewarded Doherty for his backing.
But it turned out Doherty did get a ticket to the gallery for tonights speech. It came from none other than U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, a Republican from a nearby Congressional district who perhaps wants to protect his right flank in this years election.
Doherty, a West Point grad who served in Germany during the Cold War, said that foreign policy was a chief reason he backed the Donald over Christie and other mainstream Republicans like former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Doherty said those two had similar views to those of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton when it came to the key question at that moment, which was how to address Russian leader Vladimir Putins role in the Syrian civil war.
"We had guys like Christie saying he was going to get in Putins face and shoot down his fighter jets," said Doherty.
Trump, by comparison, said he was going to cooperate with Putin against ISIS, said Doherty. Thats worked out well so far, he said.
"I think more and more Americans are waking up to the fact that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton were on the same team and it was against the interests of most Americans," he said.
I agree. But that view remains unpopular with both party establishments.
The Democratic establishment wanted Clinton to be giving tonights speech. The Republican establishment wanted Bush.
Either way, the American public would have had to choose a president more because of his or her surname than because of any innate political talent.
I will leave the political autopsy of Clinton to the Bernie Sanders crowd. But when it comes to Bush, I saw it up close - and it wasnt pretty.
Like the other GOP presidential hopefuls, Bush would speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference at a venue inside the Beltway.
There is perhaps no easier task for a Republican than to get the CPAC crowd worked into a frenzy. Yet I watched one year as Bush lugged a loose-leaf binder to the lectern and proceeded to try and talk over the dinner conversation.
He offered nothing in the way of new ideas, just the same sort of establishment views that failed so miserably for his brother. His speech bombed.
When I mentioned that to Doherty, he brought up a similar event that Trump attended in Somerset County during the campaign.
The Donald told the organizers, Dinners is not being served until after I speak," Doherty recalled.
Trump proceeded to knock em dead, Doherty said.
A small thing? Of course, but of such small things are electoral victories made.
If Bush had been the GOP nominee, Doherty said, then Clinton almost certainly would have won the presidency.
"If you look at the states Trump won that he had to win, he won Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan," he said. "Jeb Bush in no way shape or form would have appealed to those voters who were looking for some sort of economic lifeline."
True enough. But Bush doesnt seem to know how to fade out gracefully. He was quoted recently in USA Today warning his fellow Republicans that Trump could cost them control in this years Congressional elections because of "his incredible view that the world revolves around him."
Well, it does now. Hes the president.
Dohertys of the opinion that the Donalds doing a great job.
"The economic news is great under Trump. We see a record rise in the stock market. We saw CEOs from all around the world eager to meet him at Davos," he said. "The media puts the blinders on as if none of this is occurring."
You may disagree. Lots of Americans do, particularly here in New Jersey.
Dont worry, said Doherty.
"Ill be applauding loud enough to make up for you."
PLUS: Yet another reason why conservatives should be glad Bush was not the nominee is the extremely boring book on immigration he co-authored. Both he and Hillary had the annoying habit of presenting their ideas to the public as if they had received them on tablets from on high.
It never seemed to occur to either than voters are capable of having their own views on topics like immigration.
When Trump insists on an end to chain migration and the visa lottery for unskilled workers, he is just voicing the opinion of common people with common sense.