Sunday, July 31, 2016

Post-Conventions Hoopla

Despite the fact that both parties have had their contrived celebrations, you know that campaigns haven't revved up because Chris Christie is still in New Jersey. He will be the bellwether for Donald Trump, even more so that his VP pick Mike Pence, because Trump trusts Christie more and he wants an attack dog like Christie, who seems to have no moral gyroscope, out on the trail in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Those are the three states that Trump must win, assuming of course that he also wins all of the states that Mitt Romney won in 2012. That's not a given since recent polls in Georgia and Missouri have Hillary Clinton within a point or two in both states. Starting August 1, the polls will actually mean something, but it looks like Hillary got more of a bounce out of Philadelphia than Trump did out of Cleveland.

The conventional wisdom is that this will be one of the nastiest presidential campaigns in recent memory, but since my recent memory goes back to the 1980s, I don't think this one will wow us with its tone. Yes, Donald Trump will drive the mood of the campaign since he and his most fervent followers are purportedly more angry than either Hillary's, or Bernie's flock. But let's see if either camp can come up with a singular, or doubular, campaign ad that defines nastiness in the way that the Daisy or Willie Horton spots did in their day. Trump is more likely to get nasty using twitter, which thankfully constrains him to 140 characters, while Hillary has amassed a significantly fuller chest of cash, which she will use to buy TV spots, even as the data says that fewer people are watching commercial TV.

The Olympics will blunt some of the anger until September, unless the US gets jobbed out of a medal a la men's basketball in 1972, or if the Zika virus jumps an evolutionary step and gets transmitted through Russian hackers, in which case we'll have a full-blown epidemic on our hands.

Donald Trump has his work cut out for him and it looks like he's trying to make it harder for himself by attacking Khizr Khan's account of the death of his son, and questioning why Ms. Khan didn't speak. That one was easy, and Trump seriously blew it by not appearing presidential, which is much more important at this stage of the race than trying to attract more racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic voters. I'm hoping there's an upper limit on that demographic. Trump's other problem is that he continues to lose Republican support, even as he makes gains among disaffected Democrats who don't like Clinton. Trump insiders continue to say that Trump is a nice guy in private, but it's difficult to believe that given that he hasn't shown any of those traits on the campaign trail.

Hillary addressed the trust issue in her speech in Philadelphia, but attitudes towards her are pretty well set among the electorate. Her hope is that enough Bernie voters back her and enough moderate Republicans either vote for her, stay home or vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.

As we enter August, it's Hillary's to lose. I don't think she will.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Can This Get Any Worse?

Sure it can. After all, the real campaign hasn't even begun.

What transpired in Cleveland last week was, according to the old rules, a Republican Convention that saw a disunited party listen to plagiarism, a trashing of due process, and a dystopian (hey--everyone's using this word, right?) vision of society that was proposed by Rudy Giuliani and seconded by the nominee himself. There were plenty of empty seats and a lot of yelling and chanting. In every other election cycle, or if this occurs in Philadelphia where the Democrats will meet this week, the news would be grave and embarrassing.

But this year, not so much, because clearly, the Trump-led GOP is incapable of self-reflection or admission of mistakes. Plagiarize? So what. Talk about not supporting NATO allies if they can't pay their way? Sound foreign policy. Continue the fantasy that a wall will solve our immigration and economic problems? Of course Congress will approve and Mexico will pay for it. Yes, Donald Trump has tapped into the anger of the moment, and it's not pretty. I'm sure that the polls will show him leading the race by Monday.

It won't last.

Say what you want about the Democrats and how much people mistrust Hillary Clinton. They will put on a better show in Philadelphia and they have the stars to prove it. Will their convention sway voters? Not just yet, but this week will be the start. Then we'll watch the Olympics and take a break for most of August.

When we return the race will be different. Trump has done an excellent job using free media so far, but a presidential election is different. He will need money, but many GOP donors will sit this one out and focus on Senate and House races that can be salvaged. Then there's the all-important get-out-the-vote machine. A unified party couldn't get its supporters out in 2008 or 2012, and they will find it difficult to get their voters out in 2016. Meanwhile, the Democrats will have access to President Obama's GOTV apparatus and they will be relentless in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania because that's where this election will be decided. Trump needs to win all three. He won't.

Hillary's choice of Tim Kaine as her running mate is a good one. He's a foreign policy expert and a viable, tested leader. Will progressive Bernie voters come around to the ticket? I believe they will in enough numbers to elect her. They won't be happy about it, but look at th alternative. Plus, Elizabeth Warren and other liberals will make sure that all Democrats get the message that if they stay home, things will get a lot worse.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Penny Wise, Pence Foolish: Trump's Bad Pick

Get ready for one of the most interesting political weeks we've had in a long time. The Republicans will be meeting in Cleveland to anoint Donald Trump and his water carrier Mike Pence as the standard bearers of the party of Lincoln. Never mind that they couldn't be trusted to wash Honest Abe's skivvies correctly, much less run the country.

There are a number of pundits who have applauded Trump's VP pick as pragmatic, as a sign that he is playing to win, and as proof that he is going to run a diligent campaign. Hogwash. This pick is a sop to the right wing of the party in an attempt to unify what will not be unified this year. Choosing Mike Pence says to the rest of the country that the Republicans are going to run a campaign based on fear of immigrants, denial of climate change, discrimination of every letter in the LGBTQ community, Islamophobia, tax cuts for the wealthy, extreme anti-choice laws and a slogan, America First, that hearkens back to our isolationist past that almost kept the United States from helping Great Britain and France during the dark days of the late 1930s. In short, it's a terrible pick for a party that wants to be more inclusive, relevant and tolerant.

The worst part of the decision, politically at least, is that it will do nothing for the ticket. Indiana will vote Republican in November and Pence doesn't bring anything exciting or different or newsworthy. He's safe, and maybe that's what the GOP wants given that Trump is decidedly dangerous, but it's too safe a pick. Weren't there any innovative GOP governors or women or people of color in the party willing to run with Trump? Perhaps not. Or maybe there are too many smart righties who see the coming Trump electoral disaster and don't want to be on that train. In any case, Pence will not really bring anyone new to the party and might even dissuade some moderates from supporting the ticket.

Still, Pence has to be seen as a better pick that Chris Christie, who shamelessly grovelled (can you grovel with dignity?) for the vice presidency. So desperate is Christie to get out of New Jersey that he was politicking for the job even after word leaked that Pence was going to be the pick. It's been a spectacular free-fall for Governor Christie since he won reelection on the heels of doing very little except talking after Sandy devastated the state in 2012. After all, many New Jerseyans are still trying to rebuild their homes or, worse, have lost their houses, savings, lawsuits, dignity and trust in the state after contractors and legislators fleeced them over the past four years.

Christie is even going so far as attempting to bribe the suburban school districts with state money, at the expense of urban schools, and is playing a dangerous game of chicken with the state's roads and bridges by tying a 23 cent rise in the gas tax to a one percent cut in the sales tax. The former is needed; the latter will starve the state of needed revenue to pay for other things. The best Christie can hope for is for Trump to win (shudder, throw up a little bit in my mouth) and to be given the Attorney General's position. Of course, he'll have to survive the trial of the GW Bridge conspirators in the fall, and given his run of terrible luck I don't see that working out well.

Of course, all of these contretemps are coming on the heels of some devastating national and international events: shootings in the US, an attempted coup in Turkey, another terrorist attack in France, and the British vote to leave Europe. Trump's answers for these problems show an utter lack of understanding about how a statesperson is supposed to act. He's simultaneously proposed that America pull back its commitment to international agreements but to declare war on the Islamic State. He wants to torture suspected terrorists, close the borders to Muslims and watch American Muslims more closely. Add Pence to the mix and you get more limits on women's health choices, opposition to marriage equality, and religious loopholes to allow discrimination against anyone who looks and feels different than the Biblical definition of a person. This is not a recipe for putting together a majority coalition that will win in November.

The GOP can talk all it wants about unity and vision, but exactly the opposite is going to happen in Cleveland and beyond.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 10, 2016

We Need to Calm Down

If we need anything now, it's to stop talking and let the investigations into the tragedies of the past week move forward. After all, in the overwhelming number of big news stories, the early information is usually the least reliable, but that's the information that becomes the narrative. Then when we get contradictory evidence, it's much more difficult to alter our thinking and change our views because it doesn't reinforce the narrative.

So let's calm down and stop talking across each other. We should mourn, grieve, cry, reflect, breathe, consider, reconsider, and learn. This country is divided enough and social media isn't helping. As a matter of fact, it's hurting us right now. My conservative friends are full of bile and contempt for President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Black Lives Matter. My liberal friends have turned up the hate, if that's even possible, on Donald Trump, the NRA and racist police officers.

Please stop.

This is our collective problem and we all share the blame for creating a society that has no patience for different perspectives. I abhor racism and justice denied, but I also detest making scapegoats out of police officers and people who legally carry firearms. I despise what Donald Trump and his supporters have said about women, Hispanic groups and African-Americans, but I also loathe the dismissal of Hillary Clinton's email server and her misjudgement and rationalizations for setting one up at her house.


In the absence of someone who can bind up the nation's wounds or appeal to a vast majority of Americans, we will need to get through this ourselves, so we'll need to be a little more rational about this. The first step is to reach out to people you know who don't share your political philosophy and to engage them in discussion without calling them an idiot or a Neanderthal or a mouth-breather. When you talk to them, describe what you feel and ask questions, as opposed to labeling and accusing them of being part of the problem. We are all part of the problem, and to deny that is to deny reality. Neither side has a monopoly on the truth.

Try it now while we wait for information that might make today's news headlines obsolete and wrong. This is too important to let emotions rule the day.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Christie: Terrible as Governor But Qualified for VP

I sort of forgot that Chris Christie was still the Governor of New Jersey and an active politician until this week, so quiet was he on policy and bombast.

But now he's back.

His first foray was to emerge with a set of checks made out to suburban school district students for $6,599 each.  This was his way of solving the school funding problem that has vexed governors for the better part of 40 years. Christie's solution was, in essence, to tell the students who live in New Jersey's cities to either go to a Charter School, move, get different parents, or suck it up and try to learn in a class with 34 other students because Christie's plan would mean a bunch of school closures.

To the suburban districts, the message was much less harsh: Your property taxes will go down and you can continue to have fine schools. What I really like is that the amount of aid isn't a round number. In fact, I think if Christie had consulted Donald Trump, the price would have been $6,599.99. The pennies add so much class.

And speaking of Christie and Trump, the other information that emerged this week is that the Governor is being vetted for the Vice-Presidency. Yes, I'm still scared of ISIS, but this potential pairing comes in a close second (and tied, by the way, with the thought of Newt Gingrich being VP). Christie has evidently been giving Trump political advice ahead of the GOP's Cleveland Convention, weighing in on the recent firing of Trump's campaign manager and moderating Trump's speeches so they include more substance and less invective. OK, that last one isn't working out too well, but Christie is taking his job as manager of Trump's transition very seriously.

Which brings us to this weekend's crisis in New Jersey over the Transportation Trust Fund which, I am told, is out of money because the Legislature hasn't raised the gas tax to fund it. Of course, it's really Christie's problem because instead of agreeing to the gas tax increase in return for an end to the inheritance tax, which Christie has been running on forever, he tried to make a different deal to agree to the gas tax, but lower the sales tax by 1%. That would create a huge hole in the state budget. When the state Senate balked at the deal (both Republicans and Democrats opposed it), Christie threatened to shut down road projects over the weekend. Which would throw a bunch of people out of work. And seriously compromise driver safety. And make him less popular than he already is.

In years past, even though I didn't agree with much of what the Republican politicians wanted to do, I could at least see their arguments and follow their thinking. Not this year. The party's done blowed itself up. And Chris Christie has his hand on the dynamite plunger.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest