Sunday, August 30, 2015

The August Election

OK, I'll play along.

According to the polls, the guesses, the conventional wisdom, the money and the low-down, scandal-mongering, hyper-partisan, yellow-dog press, we now know who's going to win that all-important August 2015 presidential election. I'm sure you know that this election is a rather unusual one in American politics because it doesn't take place in every state and candidates can say the most outrageous things and still be considered Oval Office material.

We all know that Donald Trump is going to be our next president because he'll defeat Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton and Jeb! Bush all at one time because he can speak the loudest and say the meanest things out of all of them. Then again, Hillary is beating Donald in the latest national polls and the money race, so she'll likely be our next Chief Executive. Except that she's got an e-mail scandal hanging over her and Benghazi! nipping at her heels like a small yippee dog. No worries, though: when you have a FOX contributor on your side, especially one that advised your husband, you're going to be fine.

Jeb! is having trouble keeping up his fundraising pace and three money people have just left his campaign so he might as well fold up the tent and go live with his brother down in Texas.  Chris Christie is teetering on the edge of being excluded from the varsity debate in September, but he's 7th in money-raising which means that there are a few very wealthy people who really have nothing to do with their millions than put it on a guy who has nothing to run on. Perhaps his immigration policy, now known as "When Your Fruit Picker Absolutely, Positively Has to Leave Overnight" might gain him some valuable Tea Party votes.

Scott Walker is going to win this election because apparently he can say that he's going to defeat ISIS and can harangue Democrats all in the same speech. Not bad for a guy who dropped out of college when he could see the light of graduation in front of him or who said that his foreign policy chops were on display when he faced down some protesters on the statehouse steps in Madison.  Makes you think he'll get nominated, then withdraw from the race in October because, well, Wisconsin needs him more.

This, of course, is all silly conjecture because the real winner of the August election is John Kasich, the moderate Governor of Ohio who manages to say pretty much what every other Republican candidate says but he says it with a nice Ohio accent so he doesn't sound too threatening.

But wait! Who's that gaining major ground on the other wealthier candidates? Why, it's Carly Fiorina! The wonder executive who managed to almost destroy one of Silicon Valley's most venerable companies. She's, well, she's polling in some high single digits and clearly has momentum as we enter the all-important August 31 period of the race. In fact, she's hoping to make the adult table debate next month but CNN is playing funny with the numbers so we might have to listen to Chris Christie pick a fight with someone again. Maybe he could yell at Ben Carson just to remind people that Ben's still in the race. Carson is currently in second place in the Iowa polls, so clearly he's running away with the election and will be the nation's second African-American president. I do so like consistency.

Sun glasses on campers because who's just entered the room and will be moving his stuff the shortest distance out of everyone? It's Vice-President Joe Biden--the savior of the Democrats. The anti-Hillary. The politician-superhero whose special power is to actually work with members of both parties to get something done. Too old? Balderdash; only Republicans can be too old to be president. Joe will win and take his oath of office at Rehoboth Beach on Monday afternoon when there's no traffic.

Of course, I'm only kidding about those people winning the presidency. The real victor will be Marco Rubio. The young guy. The guy who supports an actual immigration bill. The one who wants to re-isolate Cuba because recognizing the Castros really upsets his dad. The one who would be really tough on China. Until the Chinese market exploded. They're not so tough after all, right Marco?

Is anybody else running for president? Of course, and they're all going to win, except for Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Martin O'Neill and George Pataki, who still insists that he is a candidate.

I'm so glad I was able to clear everything up for you because this has been a close election and gee I'm pleased that it's all going to be over by the middle of the week.

Isn't it?

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

And On Your Left...

With so much of the interesting political maneuvering happening on the right, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that there will be Democratic debates in the fall, and they could be just as interesting as the Republican candidate-a-thons.

While Hillary Clinton still leads in every match-up with one or the other GOP candidate, she's being pressed by Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. Bernie's doing his best to electrify the base with his talk about tighter government control of banks and higher wages and corporate child care centers and things that the US should already have but doesn't because the right believes that Americans feel better by earning these things individually and that if you can't afford them then it's your fault. Sucker. And now Joe Biden is thinking about a run. He would most likely be a very good president if he could get beyond the verbal improvisations that have haunted him in campaigns past. Yes, there are other candidates running--Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee--but they are having a difficult time breaking through a national media that can only handle a few at a time.

In a twist, this election could see the Democrats painted as the older party, with Hillary, Bernie and Joe all much older than their Republican counterparts. In addition, there's a bit of a rift going through the left as the Warren-Sanders far left wing battles with the establishment, more centrist views of the Hillary, and perhaps Biden, wing. There's been so much attention over the past few years about the yawning divide on the right, that a leftish split is certainly news and could be a potential problem unless the party unites in time for the convention, and that's pretty much what I would expect to happen.

Hillary's e-mails are making people nervous and the right will shout Benghazi whenever they get the chance, but on the main issues she seems to have most of the country on her side. Her recent confrontation with Black Lives Matter activists shows her to be empathetic and realistic, and her contrasting views with Republicans on marriage equality, gender equality, wages, climate change, education and foreign policy experience show her to be a more forward-looking candidate than any of the Republicans who only seem to be able to run negative campaigns.

Democrats need to be careful about being overconfident based on the Obama electoral map, with Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Colorado possibly presenting some serious challenges. Overall, though, demographics do provide the party with an advantage the Republicans will find difficult to overcome.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bold Predictions: How This Nomination Thing Will End

Yes, I have better things to do, but I think it's important that I let you all know how this Republican presidential nomination thing ends so we can move on from Donald Trump and into more consequential matters.

According to the latest CNN/ORC poll (scroll down to page 7), Trump is leading the pack 'o candidates with 24% support of the poll's respondents. The usual suspects follow, although we do have a new rising star in Carly Fiorina who went from 1% support in the July poll to 5% in August's.


What this simply means is that one quarter of respondents support Trump. Add up the others' scores and you have most respondents supporting someone other than Trump. Plus, Trump's negative ratings outpace his positives by about 30 percentage points. What this also means is that the Republican Party is still in the grips of an extremist bunch who say things like "I support Trump because he tells the truth."

No, he does not.

He says things that are provocative and media-friendly, and he says them loudly. He has no plan for the country and says that his strength is that he goes into negotiations with flexibility and tries to get the best deal possible. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the Republican Party has not operated that way for the past 6 years, so I'll need some clarification as to whether the Tea Party is willing to back Donald knowing that he'll actually try to bargain with the Democrats. Or the so-called moderates in the GOP.

What Donald Trump has done is to alienate the one group that the GOP absolutely needs to win a national election, Hispanics, and has disrespected the other group that the GOP needs more support from, and that's women. And the longer Trump stays in the race and has a megaphone, the more he will do damage to the party. Which is good for Democrats. And the latest issue, that of changing the Fourteenth Amendment to disallow the children of undocumented immigrants to have birthright citizenship, is a losing one for the right. So naturally, half the field supports the change.

What's happening now in the Republican process will have a major effect on the race, and if you want to know what will happen, then please pay attention. The vast majority of the GOP field will make it to the Iowa Caucuses, and each one will get their moment in the media spotlight. Then they'll say or do something Republicany and fall by the wayside. Trump will not win Iowa. After that, the lowest performing five candidates will drop out. After New Hampshire, another five will go, including NJ Governor Chris Christie, because he won't win them and he won't have enough money to conduct a campaign across enough of the remaining states.

By this point, only the most well-funded candidates will still be in the race: Jeb, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, and perhaps, Trump. They will then duke it out over the next month or so, and by the end of April at the latest, the GOP will have its candidate, and my guess is that it will be Kasich. He will then choose Marco Rubio to be his running mate at the convention.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton will win the nomination and choose a Hispanic-American as her running mate.

After that, we'll see, but you read it here first.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Education Roars Back

It's August and the Back to School sales are ramping up in earnest, at least here in the nor'east. The sales started in July for the more southerly US climes, but that's because they're already back in the classrooms. In any event, it's time once again to be thinking about education, and the issue is now near the top in this presidential election.

One of the more popular articles making its way around electronica is this one  that essentially summarizes the findings of John Hattie, an educational researcher who's written a slew of books on best practices. He suggests that achievement standards, focusing on smaller class sizes, and pouring more money into the educational system are not the answers and have little effect on student performance. He also questions school choice as a viable public policy.  Of course, politicians on the right and left will pick and choose what they want from his message, with Democrats wanting more money and Republicans wanting more accountability, as if the two were completely opposite.

Educational access, attainment and benefits have been tied to the relative wealth of families and communities for the better part of United States history, so it should be no surprise to anyone that we are presently confronted with a system that's as fractured as our income gap. Schools in wealthy communities tend to perform better than those in less wealthy and poor communities and the willingness of politicians to spend money where it should be spent (key concept) lends itself to schools where teachers can teach and students have every opportunity to learn.

Most of the Republican candidates for president support the free-market, pro-corporate model for schools, and the results have been disappointing at best to demoralizing at worst. Governors Scott Walker (falling in the polls) and Chris Christie (can you fall below zero in you polls?), have done more to demonize public school teachers than the other candidates and promise to do the same to the rest of the country if they are elected. Jeb Bush supports the Common Core standards, which really isn't going to endear him to any particularly large constituency, but he's also against public unions. The other candidates want local and state standards, which have not worked in the past and will not help student performance in the future.

The Democrats want more money for universal pre-school and aid to schools in poor and depressed areas of the country. Hillary Clinton has also recently unveiled a higher education policy that focuses on student debt.  She would probably never get $350 billion over ten years from a Republican Congress, but her plan would put pressure on the right to relieve millions of students from crushing loans that are sapping their economic prospects. The Republican candidates have joined her in trying to address the debt issue, but right now the best we can say about them is that they're market-oriented, including Marco Rubio's plan to have wealthy investors essentially buy an interest in your future earnings in return for their investment in your education. I wonder if he's also going to provide students with a free saddle so that your investor can sit on your back.

Given the years of blame and economic hardship that teachers have had to endure, it's no wonder that there's a shortage. And given the attitude that many national and state leaders have about teachers, it's no wonder that qualified students are looking at other fields of endeavor.  The truth is that we pay a great deal of lip service to wanting a highly qualified, well-trained teaching staff at every school, but the best and brightest are not stupid; they see what's going on in education and are increasingly turned off to it. And since we don't have the best and brightest going into government, the solutions will be doubly difficult to come by.

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

And Now, Back to Your Corners

It was a busy week of sparring on both sides of the political aisle, and in the end, probably not much has changed, which helps some candidates and hurts others. Do remember that it is August and much of what has and will be said will fly away in the wind or get beaten down to nothingness in the heat and humidity. But we do have the beginnings of the campaign outline, for better and worse.

On the Republican side, the first debate, and don't forget about those who didn't poll well enough to have Megyn Kelly embarrass them, told us a good deal about the coming shape of the GOP race. It will not be kind to women's health.  Every one of the candidates, even moderates like George Pataki (nothing about him later), promised to be as dismissive, condescending, mean, uncompromising and punitive on women's reproductive rights as they possibly could. If the choice is between a women's life or a fetus's, women lose. Planned Parenthood? Gone. Exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother? Sorry--keep the child despite the circumstances.

In 2012, each Republican candidate said they would not raise taxes even to save the economy. Oh, for the good old days of GOP rationality. Unanimous agreement that women are second-class citizens takes their extremism to a new and disturbing level.

Then of course there was the talk of immigration and how high the wall should go before we say, "That's good." Listening to the candidates I thought that perhaps they considered the CBS program, "Under the Dome" to be a documentary worth investigating. What creeps into their comments, though, is the idea that all immigrants are suspect and that anyone, although we're really talking about Hispanics, should be questioned if they have an  accent. But I don't expect that the police would be worried about someone with an eastern European lilt to their voice.

As to which candidates helped themselves? Jeb, Marco Rubio and John Kasich stood out for both their answers and their demeanor. Ben Carson and Chris Christie did not do poorly, but they are not really part of the post-debate conversation, which only hurts them because they needed a good showing to overcome the "can't win" label.

On the left, Hillary Clinton was seen as the big winner from the GOP debate because she was the target of many of their comments, especially the ones most offensive to those who are liberal and/or support women's reproductive rights. Or marriage equality. Or the environment. This is allowing Clinton to move farther to the left on those issues and income inequality. That's fine for the base, but she's going to have to appeal to more moderates in the general election so she can't be seen as too  extreme on the other side of the spectrum. And the GOP is going to make a big deal about the e-mails she had on her private account. And Benghazi. But I don't think these will be major problems for her.

Bernie Sanders has been packing in the crowds and is slowly creeping up in the polls, but he has his own problems with many in the African-American community. I don't doubt for a minute that Sanders will address these concerns satisfactorily, but the last thing Democrats need is an internal split akin to what the Tea Party has done to the right. The left's strength has been in its unity, which is a fairly new concept for Democrats. They need to make sure they stay that way.

And I didn't even know.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest   

Thursday, August 6, 2015

It's Opening Day! The GOP Breaks Training.

That's right folks. Tonight's GOP Presidential Debate marks the opening of the 2016 election season, taking over from the Iowa Straw Poll that is now canceled forever. It was bound to happen. Television is no match for some wealthy people eating steak and then moving around a tent to show their support for their candidate. Of course, Iowans will do pretty much the same thing this winter, but they'll be bundled up and in schools. Or living rooms. Without steak. Now I feel bad for Iowans.

Anyway. Tonight's debate.

The participants are set, with FOX having whittled a field of 17 Republican candidates down to 10 using a poll average that might or might not be very fair. Chris Christie is in, and must have let out quite a breath of relief in the process because his campaign was dependent upon his being in the limelight at all times so he could yell at the people that Donald Trump overlooks. John Kasich of Ohio, who only announced his bid in the past two weeks, also jumped into the fray, and he has the added advantage of actually being from...Ohio. Which the GOP needs desperately in order to win in 2016. That's where the Republican Convention will be held next year. It's where any nominee will have to set up shop and not leave. And hope Lebron and the Cavs can win the NBA title next June.

The other frontrunners will also be present, including Jeb, Marco. Scott, Rand, Ted, Mike and Donald Trump as this cycle's first candidate with a "moment." Remember in 2012 where each candidate had their time atop the polls until they imploded in gaffes or scandals? The exact same thing is happening now and Trump is the first to get lit. The national press is full of stories asking if Trump really could be the nominee. He can't be He won't be. Yes, it says a great deal about the present state of the party that he's atop the polls, but it won't last. If he's still in front on Halloween, I will rethink this. But he won't be. Move on.

The biggest beneficiaries once Trump blows up will be Christie and Walker, since they are the second choice of many of Trump's supporters. That's why both of them will continue in the race and why Christie, despite many saying that his campaign is destined to fail, need to face reality. He might not win, but he ain't going away anytime soon. Neither is Walker, despite being an intellectual lightweight. Smart politician, but he's going to have to win on personality and personally, I don't see that happening.

My take on the debate is that it's really Marco Rubio's to win or lose. He has great presence, he's young, he's energetic, and he's from Florida. If he can outshine, or at least hold his own with Jeb, then he will go a long way towards becoming a heavyweight candidate. Rand Paul can also surge if he stands out with his answers. Trump will bloviate; it's up to the rest of the field to essentially ignore him and to get their message out as succinctly as possible. No candidate will get more than 10 minutes of airtime during the debate, so looking and acting presidential is going to be the key. It will be interesting to see who comes up with the best lines, because policy is going to be in short supply. If you want a primer, this one is good.

As for those who didn't make the cut, all is not lost. It's still August and there's time to recover, but money will be sparse for the likes of Jindal, Perry and Graham. This is not a sprint, but it's a fast walk and you can fall behind quickly. Even Christie will need an infusion of money to keep him going after New Hampshire. It does not bode well for him to put all of his resources into that race. After that comes South Carolina, where he'll lose and then a whole bunch of tests in various states across the country. Will he, and the others, have enough to set up campaigns there? That's why the debate is crucial.

For political junkies, this is the first taste. There's more to come. Why do you think they call it dope?

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Acting Stupidly Would be an Improvement

Remember the halcyon days of 2009, when the country was embroiled in the first racial controversy of the brand new Obama presidency? You know, when the Cambridge, Massachusetts police thought that the world-renowned Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested for essentially breaking into his own house because the front door was stuck? 

Those were the good old days when it was possible to accuse the president of playing the race card (as if racism was ever a gentlemanly card game), when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 still had some teeth, and when accusing the policeman of "acting stupidly" made Obama the butt of jokes and the target of righteous anger because he didn't support law enforcement. The best thing we can say about that epsiode?

At least nobody was shot dead.

Little did the country know that the innocuous "Beer Summit" would be the last time that civility entered the conversation. Conservatives, and even a few liberals, thought that Obama had breached the wall of silence too quickly in his term. That he had to tread lightly and be careful because as the nation's first African-American president, he had to stay above the fray and not remind polite society that we have a bit of a complicated history when it comes to race. And guns. And law enforcement behavior. Seems quaint, yes?

I believe that police officers, perhaps more than any other public service job, have the most difficult environment in which to work. The police have to be correct almost 100% of the time. I support effective, proactive, respectful, sometimes forceful police work. Recent events have shown, however, that many police officers, and the criminal justice systems in towns and cities across this country, have not been held accountable for their actions or have lied about what's actually happened at traffic stops and crime scenes. This must stop.

I'm hoping that the Republican candidates in this week's debates will address the issue and that we'll hear more from the Democrats as well. But this needs to be done rather quickly because the real issue is trust. Right now, that level is dangerously low.

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