Sunday, May 31, 2015

The New Kansas-Nebraska Acts

It's been an interesting week in the conservative heartland. Nebraska legislators overturned the governor's veto and abolished the death penalty, while in Kansas, the state legislature is thinking about raising taxes  because, well, that old conservative orthodoxy that says you can cut taxes and spur economic growth doesn't seem to be working. Even would-be conservatives like Governor Chris Christie are paying the price for slow growth, and Christie still wants to cut taxes.

But there's more. In a new Gallup survey, the number of people who consider themselves socially liberal has caught up to those who say they are socially conservative, a large jump from previous polls. Couple this with the news that younger Evangelical Christians are more socially progressive than their elders and you have the beginnings of the swing back to the middle this country so desperately needs.

The fever, it seems, might be breaking after all.

This was inevitable, as social and political shifts have been occurring approximately every 30 years. What began in the 1980s as a swing to the right, with Ronald Reagan's presidency, and gained momentum and roots with the conservative takeover of the Republican Party during the 1990s and early aughts, has evidently peaked and is now poised for a slow decline that will gain speed as a new generation of voters, who tend to be more progressive, participates in greater numbers. I certainly remember moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats in the 1960s and 70s, and I look for them to return sometime soon.

The main problem for the Republicans is that this new attitude might not save them for the 2016 presidential race. Social conservatives who vote in large numbers tend to be older than the new progressives, and they turn out for primaries. That's why somewhat more moderate candidates, such as George Pataki and Chris Christie will find it difficult to gain traction, but that movement away from the far right will also doom Rick Santorum and Rick Perry. Rand Paul could benefit, but my sense is that he's ahead of the GOP curve. By 2024, he could be the mainstream nominee.

What we are seeing is the beginning of a new alignment that will take a couple of election cycles to define itself. How each party reacts to this is key, but the benefits to the country will be real.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Afraid of Rubio? They All Scare Me.

Ooohhh! Scary!!! Yes, The New York Times reported last week that many Democrats are most afraid of a presidential match-up between Hillary and...Marco Rubio.


And why? Because...he has a story! Scary!!! And he's good looking. And he's a good speaker. And he's Hispanic and his father came here from Cuba and he won big time races in Florida. And he was once friends with Jeb Bush who might or might not have promised not to run for president in 2016, which would have opened a spot for Rubio but Jeb evidently doubled back on that maybe promise and now Marco's really really really scary angry.


So why am I so, you know, cool about this whole thing? One reason is that once GOP primary voters wake up they'll realize that Rubio represents everything the Republicans oppose in...Obama. Scary!!!

One term Senator. Check
Makes a good speech. Check
In his 40s. Check
Supports an immigration overhaul that, scary, would lead to a path to legal status. Check
Not a lot of foreign policy experience. Check

Another reason is that the GOP base wants a bona-fide conservative with a record of tax cutting, union-busting and border fence building and that's not Rubio.

But aside from that, Democrats should not be singularly afraid of any one candidate. They should be quaking in their boots at the thought of any of the announced or near-announced candidates becoming president. All of them have pledged tax breaks for the wealthy and lower taxes for corporations. They've all pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no credible plan to replace it, keep health care costs down, or to continue to cover those who have already signed up for care. Each one would either strongly advocate for, or at least tolerate, religious objection laws for marriage equality and contraception coverage.

They would all mandate government interference in women's reproductive health issues. They oppose higher minimum wages and believe that public workers pensions are negotiable or expendable. And none of them has any credible plan for world order other than genuflecting in front of Benjamin Netanyahu and calling for American troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Not to mention climate change denial and the unwavering support of the NRA.

That's a frightening collection of misguided and misbegotten policies that were derided in the 1980s as outlandish pipe dreams, the subjects of journal articles in the 1990s, adopted as the GOP platform in the aughts and now, as mainstream political thought in the teens.

Making any of them a reality? Scary.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Foreign Policy Election

First it was Jeb Bush. Now it's Marco Rubio. For other Republicans, it's all about Hillary Clinton and Benghazi. Meanwhile, Scott Walker has tripped over his own feet while discussing the world and Chris Christie, who has something to say about everything, has little to say yet on foreign affairs.

Why is this important? Because 2016 is shaping up to be a foreign policy election. Yes, there will be talk about taxing the wealthy, cutting taxes to the wealthy, what to do about entitlements and the middle class, abortion, immigration and health care, but right now, the world seems to be blowing up and countries are looking to the United States to help fix what ails them.

President Obama has wisely not gotten us involved in a foreign adventure despite calls by the hawkish neocon crowd over on the right to send troops to Syria. And Lebanon. And Iraq. And other places. Which sounds like the good-old-fashioned response that George W. Bush followed and that was a terrible mistake. And it all sounds heroic and noble until the body bags start coming back and the soldiers return with severe damage to their bodies and minds.

What 2016 presents for the country is an opportunity to be creative with our foreign policy. The Cold War has been over for more than 20 years, but the mentality remains, this time with China as the Soviets and North Korea as the Cubans. ISIS is a tremendous threat to Middle East stability, but they are alienating other countries in the region, who are showing more of a propensity to fight on their own. We can support our friends, but right now there is little reason for us to get more soldiers involved.

It will be interesting to see where the debate goes from here. Rand Paul has been championing a more isolationist foreign policy as a basic belief. Hillary Clinton certainly has the experience, but she hasn't enunciated a specific policy yet. Can Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Rick Perry, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders come up with credible ideas? Perhaps, but I've come to a conclusion that's even more true now than it was in 2004.

We should have elected John Kerry as president when we had the chance.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Christie: It's Not My Fault. Elect Me President

It's one thing when you have something to run on. It's quite another when you have to run away from your record. That's the position Governor Christie finds himself in on the eve of his long-awaited announcement that he will run for president. Most candidates have a signature issue or can point to improving conditions in their state. What can Christie run on?

  • There's no New Jersey economic miracle.
  • His attorneys argued in court that the one significant legislative achievement of his term, a state workers pension and benefits reform bill, was, in fact, unconstitutional, which will require another round of pension cuts and significantly higher health care premiums for state workers.
  • Property taxes continue to rise.
  • Funding for education has been cut.
  • Businesses and the very wealthy continue to enjoy the governor's protection from tax hikes while middle class workers have seen their wages stagnate ot erode further.
  • He created an atmosphere of fear and contempt in his administration and hired aides who shared his vengeful attitude, which resulted in the Bridgegate scandal that is still rocking the Statehouse.
But you know what? None of this Governor Christie's fault. How do I know? Because he said so.

On the economy, Christie is taking credit for slowly improving conditions in the state, where  unemployment still lags behind the national rate. What he isn't saying is that job growth during his tenure is 48th nationally, ahead of only Mississippi and New Mexico. His reaction?
"We inherited a wrecked ship," he said, "and we've now made it sea-worthy."
Arguable, but the bigger issue is where the Governor is steering that ship. Right now it's going in circles and is perilously close to the rocks. The truth is that after more than 5 years, Christie's economic plan is dead in the water. The state budget chief said as much in 2013 and Christie mocked him as a fiscal Dr. Kevorkian. And thankfully, the Democratic Legislature killed his proposed tax cut. That really would have sunk the ship. Christie now wants to take his fiscal genius to a national level. For anybody making under $100,000, that would be real suicide.

His proposed national economic plan, just released, calls for the highest tax rate to be cut from 39.6% to 28%. That's an enormous tax break for the wealthy that will redistribute more income to the upper class and require cuts to the programs that most Americans want and that many desperately need.

As for hiring the best and brightest for his administration, the governor is now saying that he can't be held responsible for what his aides did on his behalf. Says he:
"I obviously spent time thinking about that, because it's an obvious question," the governor said. "But no, I really don't think so. I think, unfortunately, there are going to be times when people that work for me do things that are completely out of character."

"I'm accountable for what happened because I'm the governor," he added. "But you can't be responsible for the bad acts of some people who wind up in your employ."
The buck, obviously, stops...there, but never here.

My Ouija Board just spelled out, "I am not a crook."

Governor Christie has spent a good deal of time during his term in office criticizing people who don't recognize that he's telling us the truth on taxes, on pensions, on the role of government and, mostly, on being responsible for our future. His hypocrisy knows no bounds.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dear GOP: My Apologies. I Was Wrong.

After writing about the crash of the conservative movement not once, not twice, not even three but four times, I must admit that the right wing hold on the GOP has not really lessened. In fact, if the roster of declared and rumored presidential candidates is any guide, the conservatives have outdone themselves and are going to run even farther to the right than they did in 2008 and 2012.

And Rick Perry and Chris Christie haven't even announced their bids yet.

This has given rise to a mob mentality that is difficult to track, even with a scorecard. Each of the candidates in South Carolina on Saturday bent frontwards and backwards to call President Obama a failed leader and each promised to repeal the ACA, keep taxes low and to reign in the programs that struggling Americans need and want. This does not seem like a winning formula, but there you have it.

Governor Christie didn't do himself any favors by repeating that he was grateful for the help Obama gave to New Jersey in the days after Hurricane Sandy and defended the hug that many mathematics-challenged Republicans say cost Mitt Romney the election. Earth to GOP: Romney was going to lose in 2012 no mater how many times you crunch and unskew the numbers. And it's pretty insulting to voters to imply that one hug would change their votes.

Christie even pushed back the timing of his expected announcement to run for president until late June or early July because he needs the state legislature to pass a budget that asks middle and working class state workers to pay even more for their pensions and health benefits. The Democrats in Trenton want a millionaire's tax. If Christie gives in to that, he's really toast with Republican voters. If he doesn't give in, he won't get the reform he needs to run on. I'm not sure I agree that this will derail his bid, because he wants very badly to be president. It just might mean that he'll have to wait until Hillary the next president is done with her their term.

As for the other candidates, Marco Rubio is getting some favorable press while Jeb Bush and Scott Walker raise money, which is something Rubio might not have to do quite so feverishly. Carly Fiorina can't really run on her business acumen and Ben Carson can only compare so many things to slavery. My guess is that the party honchos will try their best to winnow down the list more quickly than they did in 2012 and cut down on the number of embarrassing debates.

The big problem for the Republicans, though, is that their message is still a mess. Marriage equality will most likely be settled by the end of June and cutting taxes for the wealthy is a losing proposition. Then there's denying the science of climate change, cutting entitlement programs and allowing religion a more prominent role in politics. Many people do agree with these positions, but not enough in a general election to win the 270 needed to take the election.

Will the GOP learn the lesson? So far, they are showing that they have not.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

That Confounded Bridge

Let the media frenzy begin. 

The most anticipated day in recent New Jersey political history came and went on Friday with the announcement of legal actions in the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal. Governor Christie was not indicted and indeed, there was precious little information that tied him directly to the scandal, but the effects on his ability to run the state and probably for president will be profound. How much? That depends.

Conservative columnist George Will said today that the fallout will not be too bad, mainly because of the lack of evidence against the governor. he also said that the national media will move on to other stories and if they get bored they can always try to spin Christie as a comeback tale.

Nationally, the reaction has been mixed. Iowa Republicans, who tend to be more conservative than many, don't like Christie because he's too liberal for them and because he hugged President Obama during the 2012 campaign when Obama visited New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. In New Hampshire, Christie is seen as a more viable candidate because he's doing the things that get you support there including meeting with small groups of people and shaking hands outside of businesses. Add in the fact that the scandal really doesn't resonate outside of the state and you have a less imposing barrier for the governor to hurdle (an interesting visual).

In New Jersey, the focus is sharper. The state's economy still lags behind the nation's recovery and the governor's public worker pension and benefits proposal is going nowhere in the Democratic-controlled legislature. Add in the fact that at least three legislators are probably going to run for governor in 2017 and it's clear that a deal such as Christie made with the other side in 2011 is not going to take shape this year. He's also not all that popular in the state. After winning a landslide victory in 2013, it's been downhill for Christie's approval numbers, which now show a majority of residents disapproving of the job he's doing. So even without the traffic jam, Christie will have a hard time convincing national voters to allow him to take the country in the same direction he's taken New Jersey.

The Newark Star-Ledger has bluntly called for Christie to stop entertaining a presidential run and do the work in New Jersey that he was elected to do. I believe that most residents would agree with that. His prospects have dimmed considerably and even with a late May or early June announcement, he'd be behind Jeb Bush and Scott Walker in the money and endorsement race. The reality is that Christie might even have to wait until July to announce because the next fiscal year's budget is where he needs victories on taxes, pensions, healthcare and entitlements that at this point he is unlikely to get.

That will leave him with an agenda focused on Social Security reform, which has been bashed in the press, a sputtering economy, volatile, insulting Internet videos, and zero foreign policy experience in a world that's on the verge of a major explosion. This is hardly the environment for a thin-skinned, ill-tempered, secretive candidate with serious management and hiring issues to succeed. Nor is it what we need as a country at this point ion our history.

I would never count Christie out completely, but I would say that things are not looking up for him at the moment.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest