Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hey, Wait: I'm the Big Mouth.

Poor Chris Christie.

After five years of berating people on YouTube, telling teachers, members of the armed services and other assorted citizens of New Jersey who just want their voices to be heard to essentially shut up, and after creating this persona of a man who tells the facts as they are (not just as he sees them, but as the ARE), and furiously trying to cash in every available political, economic and questionable chip at his disposal, this guy can't even poll 5% of registered Republican voters ahead of next month's National Night Out Against Crime GOP Presidential Debate.

And he's not even the loudest guy in the room. Donald Trump has taken care of that. And he's still polling near or at the top of the Republican field despite having little, if any, chance at winning any of the primaries. Of course, many have said the same thing about Christie. The main difference is that Governor Christie also has a record he's trying to run on, while Trump will make his headlines, fulminate on FOX come 8/6, then go back to making piles of money in real estate.

Meanwhile, the good governor will run on...what? The stagnant New Jersey economy? Remember that Christie thought he could buff his conservative bona-fides by cutting income taxes only to be met head-on by an economy that was still shedding jobs and a citizenry that still needed social services he had cut during his first years in office. He's also trying to run on the idea that he hasn't raised taxes, but if you live in the Garden State and try to access government services, you know that fees have gone through the roof from everything from new license plates to getting state certification for public jobs.

Now he's being called to task for not approving the railroad tunnels that would have eased the congestion between New Jersey and New York, and in a week where train service was severely affected by the weather (the heat made the power lines sag, so the trains couldn't run), the state's media is again reminding voters what a terrible decision that was. Yes, the governor did say that the project might have cost taxpayers a lot of money, but he then took that same money and used it to fix the state's roads so he wouldn't have to raise the gas tax. Because Republicans cannot ever raise taxes. Even when it's a pretty good idea. Like when gas prices are low. Like now.

Christie's response? Absolutely laughable. He said that if he got elected president, he would push to have the tunnels built as long as all stakeholders paid an even share. Can you see the right wing GOP House approving such a measure? Neither can I. The hypocrisy is thick around here.

And if you thought Bridgegate was the only scandal in Trenton, here comes another one. It seems that a whistleblower has won his case that will force the government to unseal secret grand jury testimony alleging that Christie quashed an investigation into some of his political buddies. It's really a small town issue, but the governor has made it into a potentially problematic case for his campaign. I'm sure the other 86 people running for the GOP nomination will remind voters of Christie's clouds.

If he's in the debates in August, and I'm assuming he will qualify, Christie thinks that policy will win the day. The reality is likely that he'll get a few questions, but most of the attention will go to Bush, Rubio, Walker, Paul and Trump. Christie will be able to tell us all about how we need to slash Social Security and Medicaid, but that won't separate him from the field.

He won't even be the biggest big mouth in the room.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Pendulum Swings Back to the Right

Remember the last couple of weeks of June, when the country seemed a bit more liberal after the Supreme Court had wondrously ruled in favor of marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act and housing? And then the Confederate flags came down?


It didn't happen overnight, but the country seems to have rebounded from that initial leftward-leaning stance and is now back in the throes of the Republican Party's Krazy Nominatin' Pizzazzle led by Donald Trump (still) and another thousand or so people who are hoping to be elected president in 2016.

Trump is not backing off his incendiary comments about John McCain's service during the Vietnam War, doubling down on the idea that there were many uncaptured American soldiers who fought bravely for years but nobody remembers them, and chastising McCain for not only getting captured but having the temerity to be held prisoner for a long time. Trump probably thinks that if McCain was such a he-man that he should have escaped or something, rather than been tortured for real and not just because he didn't get the skyscraper approval from the Brooklyn Borough Council. Presidential material for sure.  The real test will be in the next poll of Republican voters. If Trump holds his place near the top, then the party is in worse shape than it was four years ago. Slippage will mean that, Ted Cruz notwithstanding (he refuses to criticize Trump no matter what he says), the party faithful know a fool when they see him. Or hear him. Or spot the hair coming their way.

If that wasn't enough, it seems that support for marriage equality has slipped a bit since the end of June.  On top of that, Republicans in the House have offered new laws that would exempt those people with religious or moral opposition to marriage equality from having to follow the law. I'm sure that President Obama would veto the law, but this goes to show you that the Supreme Court can say what they want, but evidently that's not the last word. In the end, those people who oppose and act on their opposition to marriage equality will likely be marginalized or will lose business or might even continue to succeed financially. The bias in the United States is towards more equality, not less.

The political pendulum swung left last month and is coming back to the right. That's to be expected. How far to the right will determine how entertaining the political discussion will be between now and the first Republican debate on August 6.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The JV Get Their Minutes

Those of us who grew up in the era of summer reruns have had the most difficult time with both the new media and political environments. There just is no downtime anymore, what with 24-hour news cycles and the panicked reaction of the main television networks to phones, Netflix, YouTube and on-demand programming.

So it makes perfect sense that we will have a summer jammed to the gills with Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley. Not that these candidates don't have things to say, because they do. It's just that come the fall, they'll be off the headlines and back to being annoyances and debate fodder for the wealthier, more established name-brand candidates. It's not fair and it certainly isn't democratic, nor does it help the country when money determines your political life, but that's the way it is, and has always been.

The stark reality is that candidates need to run actual campaigns with strategies and staff, and that takes professionals who know what they're doing, donor lifelines, media access, and political experience under the heat and glare of the media spotlight. Right now, we're getting the free media show that only the second tier candidates can provide. Hillary Clinton is sharpening her economic message, ahead of Monday's speech, Jeb's reconnecting with the bluebloodlines inherent in the Bush family, dining with Mitt at the Walker Point compound, and Scott Walker is wowing them with his approachable personality, but not with his smarts. 

I know it's rather gauche to put Chris Christie in with the varsity because most major publications and even dyed-in-the-wool Morris County, New Jersey Republicans are writing him off (no link; just a conversation I had with said woolen GOPer), but I'm not going to get on that train just yet. It's true that he's got the trifecta when it comes to negatives--a scandal, no record and a lousy personality--but the man does fight and with a frontrunner named Bush, this year is going to be a bit unpredictable on the right side of the spectrum.

Which brings me back to Donald and Bernie. Trump is blowing hot air and getting media traction for it, but it's attention for all the wrong reasons. He's got nothing to run on and no policy except outrage. As a matter of fact, he even makes Christie's YouTube rants look like Bill Buckley on Firing Line (I'm trying to win the Most Obscure Reference award today. DraftKings has a daily game, you know). He'll be off the radar by the time the first GOP debate comes around and I would be surprised if he's even in it. Of course, if he is, then his campaign will really end there because people will see him for what he is.

Bernie Sanders is the anti-Trump; he has an actual message for the country and the far left is drinking it up because Hillary won't dare say the same things on the campaign trail. Sanders is playing to large crowds, but again, he needs to raise money and run ads. He also needs to appeal to a larger portion of the Democratic electorate. Hillary will eventually need to fold in some of Sanders' ideas if she hopes to keep the faithful in her corner, but I just don't see him being a force past Iowa or New Hampshire. If anything, Clinton will be expected to win those races handily, so if Sanders is close then that will be the narrative. But a loss is a loss and money doesn't follow losses.

Still, we should enjoy the summer fun because once the campaign turns serious, there's no turning back.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Most Important Election of Them All

Well, yes and no. Aren't all presidential elections the most important election in history? It certainly feels that way, especially if you listen to the media buzz that emanates every four years. The future of the country is at stake. The direction of our foreign and domestic policies will be set by the voters in this election.

So it shall be in 2016, but this time there is some truth to the hype. We've just witnessed a few Supreme Court decisions that have profoundly changed the country's political and social landscape. We are still suffering from the after-effects of the Great Recession. Race has roared back as a flashpoint issue. The world situation is critical (as it always seems to be). And by the end of this month, we'll likely have over 20 people who'd like to run this government formally declare their intention to do so. Impressive. Or foolish.

Right now I would say that the edge in the race has to go to the Democrats, if for no other reason than they have a clear front-runner in Hillary Clinton and control of the electoral college map. The Republicans are far more split than the left and the remnants of the Tea Party are forcing some of the more moderate candidates to run farther to the right than they'd like. Of course, Bernie Sanders might have that impact on Clinton, forcing her to the left, but she has the advantage of being a known quantity for the past two decades. In addition, more of the Republican candidates are nationally known than are Martin O'Malley and Jim Webb, which means that it will be more difficult for their messages to find daylight.

The Republicans will have the burden to show that they can run the country more effectively than President Obama has during his term. The problem is that more Americans favor the Democratic position on most major issues. Most of the GOP candidates have come out against the court's marriage equality ruling and want to enact religious freedom laws to protect those people who oppose that decision. These laws might be popular in certain states, but when Indiana tried to enact such a law in March, it met with intense opposition from the business community, the NCAA, and other groups who are committed to a diverse educational and workplace environment. Plus, moderates favor marriage equality, and the GOP will need those voters in key states if it wants to win next November. Rolling back the major civil rights issue of our day will likely be a self-inflicted wound from which the Republican Party will not likely recover.

The same is true, to a lesser extent, on the issues of health care and immigration. The American public is still split on whether the ACA is good policy, but most people want the law to be fixed, not repealed. That the Supreme Court saved the law will provide fundraising fodder for the right, but the GOP cannot afford to take health insurance away from those who already have it under the exchanges. They have floated a fix, but it would repeal the personal mandate, and that would cause havoc because those premiums are  keeping the law afloat. And the health care industry is changing so rapidly because of the law that companies and hospitals would probably oppose anything that cuts into their profits or practices. Remember that the ACA was based on conservative principles. The GOP should recognize that. If they can't find a way to fix the law, they might find that public opinion turns more to the left, and towards a public health care system that's the dream of most Democrats.

Donald Trump notwithstanding, the Republicans have a big problem when it comes to immigration. Any candidate that echoes Mitt Romney's "self deportation" policy in 2016 will lose badly. Marco Rubio supports an immigration plan that is more progressive than the other candidates and he's paying for it by losing support among conservatives. One of the candidates is going to have to convince the faithful that a new immigration law is in the best interests of the party and the country. That candidate will then have chance at winning the general election.

The Democrats have their own problems because they can't run too far away from President Obama, but they can't be too close either. Americans like the idea of more forceful environment action, but don't like executive orders. They want higher wages and less income inequality, but don't want higher taxes or government regulation of the economy. And I suspect that most people don't want the government to punish banks, as Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have advocated.

The Republicans need to present a more positive message to the country about what they're going to do if elected, not continue to be against everything that the Democrats are for. They have to realize, as the Democrats did in the 1980s, that their policies are not connecting with enough voters for them to win a national election. This election, though, like most, will be fought on economic and security grounds. Again, the GOP is on the defensive as they are seen as the protectors of the wealthy and against spending on infrastructure, public education, and health issues. An arch conservative, like an arch liberal, will not win in 2016. Pragmatism and a vision to move us forward will.

Because this is the most important election of them all.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest