J. Garfield Demarco, the long-retired Burlington County GOP patriarch, isn’t surprised that his cousin, Kellyanne Conway, is a political superstar.
But Demarco, 78, is a bit taken aback by Conway’s Sunday talk show campaign against Mitt Romney’s possible appointment as secretary of state – an effort that’s reportedly infuriated Donald Trump, the man she helped get elected president.
“I haven’t spoken to Kellyanne about any of this brouhaha, but it’s a little surprising to me how combative she has become on this one issue,” Demarco tells me by phone from his Hammonton home.
“I’ve known her all her life and she is for the most part extremely diplomatic. She knows how to avoid these unpleasant [disagreements],” he says. “From everything I’ve seen of her, she’s a straight shooter. What you see is what you get. She’s not going to double-deal you.
“Of course, she is ideologically committed, and very, very conservative, very religious. I would describe her as part of the religious right. And it could be -- I’m just speculating -- that she doesn’t find Romney compatible with many of her views.
“But I’d be very surprised if Kellyanne did this on her own, without some guidance from above,” adds Demarco. “She’s too much of a team player. She might not have been given a green light on this, but she obviously [has been] encouraged to be herself.”
He expects Conway will survive the storm.
“I think Kellyanne is so capable that she will do well no matter what happens. I really do feel that way,” Demarco says. “I’m sure she’s analyzed everything very, very carefully… [even if] she is off the reservation to a degree, she has so many friends and associates in the party and beyond that I think she’ll do well.”
Demarco, whose name was synonymous with Republican politics in South Jersey for decades, says he “can’t stand Trump.”
But he and his large extended family are quite proud of Conway.
“Here she is, a South Jersey girl, and there’s no question that she’s very, very capable, and very, very articulate. And certainly, you have to praise these qualities, even if you don’t agree with her on every point.”
Although he hasn’t seen Conway “in a little while,” he remembers many family dinners at her home in Atco, Camden County, where his “precocious” cousin was raised by her mother and aunts.
Later, Demarco would bring his longtime partner, who is now his husband, to dinners at Conway’s family home.
“Kellyanne has met Billy, she knows Billy, and I never detected one bit of homophobia from her,” Demarco says. “Never.”