Thursday, October 29, 2015

More Bold Predictions: This Debate Changed Everything

October 28 is a very special day in my life. It was 43 years ago that I became a man and realized the meaning of that old, old adage, "That's the first time I stood up in front of people, bored them, and they gave me money afterwards." Mazel tov indeed.

So it was with a nostalgic eye that I sat down and watched Episode 3 of the Far Right Follies, otherwise known as the GOP presidential debate. It was a rough affair for the moderators and included some captivating moments, such as when Ted Cruz took all of his time to call out the CNBC network and accuse the Democrats of being Communists or when Marco Rubio rhetorically punched Jeb! Bush (a guy with glasses on) or when Chris Christie almost knocked over his podium trying to tell us that Congress has stolen our Social Security.

The result?

Well, that thudding sound you heard later Wednesday night was the sound of four campaigns hitting Loser's Gulch: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Jeb! That's right folks; it looks like none of these four will ever be elected president. Now, I will hedge a bit and say that Jeb could bounce back, but I find that rather unlikely. It's also possible that many of Trump's supporters could find their way to Christie, but the net effect of that would be the good Guv'nor polling at 3% instead of 1%. Then again, Christie always wanted to be in the 1%, didn't he?

Trump, Carson and Fiorina are done because they didn't so enough to rouse their campaigns beyond the protest votes that are the cornerstones of their combined millions. Carson is in the best position to stick around, but his past comments about guns and the Holocaust and Muslims will make him radioactive to the larger Republican, and general, population.

As for Jeb!, my view is that his performance on Wednesday now makes it easier for the Republican establishment, which was never crazy about his candidacy, to finally break free of their Bush III concerns. Put more succinctly, the GOP doesn't need him anymore. They have Marco. And Ted. And even Johnny the K. from oHIo.

Jeb's answers and his demeanor were underwhelming at best, and he hasn't really seemed presidential since he entered the race. He might be the smart one, but there's something to be said for the son who wanted so badly to both please and punish his father that he sold his soul to the reborn and allied himself with Karl Rove. Jeb's timing is just as bad as Chris Christie. Their electoral opportunities have passed them by and they might be the only ones who didn't get the text.

The realignment of the GOP field will take a little time to adjust, but by the holidays the lineup should look radically different, if not in numbers, then at least in the polls. I expect the GOP primary electorate to shift themselves to candidates who have some experience in governance even as they call for the actual end of governance itself. Marco Rubio is now the favorite, followed by Ted Cruz.; Trump and Carson will fade. Bush will crash.

As for the national election, this realignment will make Hillary Clinton the favorite until further notice. She will be able to unite the Democratic Party around her by the end of March and can then spend time honing her general election message and raising obscene amounts of cash in the hopes that she gets elected, replaces a conservative justice and gets the Citizens United case reversed. Then she can raise modestly obscene amounts of cash for her next run.

Ain't democracy great? Amen.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Atop the GOP Polls But Destined to Lose

Silly me. I thought that the most excellent gnarly GOP crash occurred in the election of 2012, but this year's scrum is shaping up to be the Hurricane Patricia of political wipeouts (and by the by, if a Republican was president they would never allow a Mexican hurricane to come to the United States). After all, Mitt lost the last election because he appeared to be too rich, too quick to dismiss those on government programs as takers, and too oblivious to see that asking people to self-deport was one of the all-time losingest phrases a politician has even uttered.

Ahh, but this year's GOP crop is a real bumper. It's not enough to say that you'll throw out all of the undocumented immigrants and their children. Now you get to the top of the polls by "suggesting that a Muslim should never be president and that the Holocaust could have been prevented if the Jewish people in Germany were armed." 

And people say that Americans don't understand history.

Even better, some conservatives wanted to drop Advanced Placement US History courses because there weren't enough conservative voices in the curriculum and that teachers only taught what is bad about America. Cooler heads in Oklahoma prevailed, but still. Ben Carson's view of history fits right in with the skewed, distorted vision the far right has about America. They want to arm the country and glorify weapons, which is  a characteristic of militaristic regimes, but they call Barack Obama a fascist for issuing executive orders on...the care...immigration...gun control. I think the best way to experience how the right wing sees this country is to stand on one's head until all of the blood rushes to it, and then stand up very quickly.

It all makes sense now.

I'll say this until it becomes a fact: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz will not be elected president in 2016. They will not. Will not. That's not wishful thinking; that's the truth. Even with a dysfunctional Republican Party, the citizens of the United States do not elect people with predominantly negative messages.

We do not support throwing out 11 million people from this country.
We do not want to arm every college student and elementary school teacher.
We do not want to ban abortions.
We do not deny that the climate is changing.
We do not want to give the wealthy even more tax breaks.
We do not support keeping wages so low that workers cannot meet basic necessities.

Yet that is exactly what even the candidates with government experience, such as Rubio, Bush, Kasich and Christie are saying. Each of these candidates will have a difficult time getting elected in 2016, much less one of those that are leading the polls today.

After every presidential election, the media takes itself to task for focusing on the horse race at the expense of the issues. That's exactly what they're doing now, and in the process they are giving outsize influence to the candidates who are saying the most outrageous things. In the end, they will fade. Count on it.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Never Caucus

Later this week the country will celebrate a milestone: the date that Marty McFly used to travel to the future in Back to the Future II, the second movie of the trilogy that represents the greatest expression of Reagan-era optimism that Hollywood has yet produced. If only the remaining GOP candidates would sit down and watch all three movies. Then again, they'd reject their sunny demeanor and hopeful message as liberal claptrap and probably only find succor in the fact that almost everyone in the future has a gun.

If anything, this past week's Democratic debate uncovered the starkest difference between the two parties, and it's almost the opposite of the 1980s. In this election, it looks like the Democrats will be the ones looking confidently forward, while the Republicans will continue to paint a distinctly negative picture of the country.

According to the right, we are being invaded by hordes of illegal immigrants who are sucking up our resources, taking our jobs and marrying our women. The EPA is bent on destroying free enterprise by covering us in regulations, and the president wants to take our guns. And those are the more moderate accusations. Meanwhile, the Democrats put forward a future that included a higher minimum wage, expanded child care and paid time off, health care and a narrowing of the gap between the wealthy and everyone else.

For those of us who remember the politics of the 1980s, it is a stark contrast. Reagan was the smiling optimist and the Democrats were the scowling pessimists warning the country about the threat of nuclear war. Of course, many of the Reagan-era policies did lead to significantly negative outcomes, such as the orgy of prison building that now houses more prisoners than any other country, and the wealth gap created by Reagan and Bush tax cuts, but other policies did clean up some of the entitlement messes and the economy took off and helped a large number of people.

Today, the Republican Party is not just the party of "no", it's the party of "never." They will never raise taxes. They will never acknowledge climate change. They will never recognize a women's right to an abortion. They will never acquiesce to gay marriages. They will never allow anyone who came to this country illegally any chance at either becoming a legal resident or a citizen. They will never talk to Putin or the Iranians. Never, never, never.

How incredibly dangerous.

Yet, they continue to say never in their debates and on the campaign trail, especially the three candidate who will never (I borrowed the word) be elected president, namely Trump, Fiorina and Carson. But even the candidates who do have a chance--Bush, Rubio, Paul and Christie (I'm telling you, do not count him out just yet)--are part of the never caucus.

The Democrats, by contrast, were a far more voluble on what is possible in this country. They spoke about how we can address the wage gap, address the changing climate and protect people's rights. Hillary still has problems with Benghazi and the e-mail issue, but recent Republican comments clearly show that their investigations are political, and that gave her the opening she needed at the debate to claim the high ground, at least for the moment.

Once the primaries are done and the nominees chosen, it will be more difficult for the Republican to move credibly to the political center and still maintain the far right's blessing than it will be for Clinton to appease Bernie Sanders' supporters and gain their votes in November. In a general election, most voters want an upbeat message about how the candidates will lead the country forward and solve its problems, not a general indictment of how terrible things are. The problem for the GOP is that the longer their message is carried by the unelectable three, the more difficult it will be for pragmatic voice to be heard.

If they can find one.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The GOP's Ryan Hope

Haven't we heard the Paul-Ryan-Is-Going-To-Save-Our-Party cry before? Oh yes. It was during the 2012 presidential campaign and he had just been named as Mitt's VP and all-around brodudecrushbratwurstbeeerguy. Ryan's inclusion was going to mean that the campaign would now be fought with ideas and policy and a serious purpose and all of the things the mainstream media gets hard and wet over but never seems to become the focus of the parties. Turns out that 2012 was not a policy-driven campaign but one in which a master campaigner and tactician, President Barack Obama, wiped the floor with Mr. 47% and Mr. I'mgoingtocutMedicareforyourwngood. It was not a great campaign, but a win's a win and Ryan was on the losing side.

Thus spake history.

And here we go again. Ryan is now being heavily courted to become the next Speaker of the House by the same people who lost control of the Republican Party in 2010 and have been battling its right rear haunch ever since. If Ryan is as smart as people say he is, and not only is the jury out on that, it's likely a hung jury, he'll run straight to the Wisconsin Dells and hide behind a heifer until this episode is over.

The bottom line absolute truth is that there is no savior for the Republican Party. Whoever becomes the next Speaker will get about a week's honeymoon before Trey Gowdy, Jason Chaffetz and Daniel Webster (who's no Daniel Webster, by the way) turn on him or her (OK, definitely him--it is the GOP after all) and start plotting the next government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding. This is not a job for someone who wants to be seen as a strong leader because the Tea Party will not let it happen. In fact, they want to weaken the power and influence of that position because they stand for citizen control of the government and they're going to take the government down with them if they don't get what they want.

That all of this is happening just when many people are starting to pay attention to the party primaries is not good long-term news for the GOP. The far right is going to get their pound of flesh and the will parade it in front of the remaining Republican candidates and ask for their blessing. This will be a defining moment for Jeb!, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie (never count him out) and Rand Paul because they'll have to choose between the pragmatic route to the presidency or the expedient way to the nomination. I am not confident about what their answers will be.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes and generally out of ear-and-mugshot, is the wiliest politician in the country, Nancy Pelosi. She's managed to keep what's becoming a more fractious (in context, of course) Democratic caucus unified and strong. She's worked with Boehner and has let him take the headlines because any deal with her would be a deal-breaker for much of the right. The Speaker needs Democratic votes to keep the government funded and to possibly get a highway bill passed before he leaves and Pelosi has been there to keep the country on the, well, right track.

Boehner can now ask for votes from the left because he doesn't need to keep the far right happy anymore. And that's going to be the first problem for Ryan or anyone who becomes the next Speaker. If it's one of the Tea Partiers, they will find that what passes for moderates will balk at the most extreme legislative proposals and Democrats will, of course, stay away. If it's a more mainstream Republican, then the far right will block the laws. Does Ryan really want this headache? No. He does not.

Congress has adjourned for a couple of weeks so that members can go back to their districts and get an earful about abortion and the banks and the health care law and guns. When they come back, the stark reality of actually helping to govern the country will stare menacingly back at them.


For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Guns Again? Ho-hum.

Please don't think me flip, or accuse me of taking advantage of a terrible tragedy, but conservatives are tremendously fortunate that Pope Francis left the United States before the unconscionable, probably preventable, if we had some background check laws, shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon late last week. I can only imagine that the Pope would take the gun lobby to task for being as anti-life as the anti-choice crowd, further muddying every attempt by both right and left to shoehorn Francis into their tidy ideological boots. Even his misguided meeting, and subsequent Vatican public relations fiasco, with Kentucky's favorite law-breaker, Kim Davis wouldn't have been able to calm the right wing if he was here for the massacre.

And here we are, again, having this same conversation about guns and how the only answer is to arm all students and faculty in every school in the country. That is folly. Madness. An invitation to more tragedies. But it passes for considered, thoughtful policy in one corner of American politics. I live in the most crowded, anxious, tense corridor in the country and most of the people I know and come in contact with would not even think of carrying a gun, much less buy one for their college-aged children, yet people who live in the rural, more remote regions are armed to the hilt, convinced that this president (This President) is bent on taking away the gun that's protecting their family against...what?

Really. Please tell me what's so frightening? It doesn't make sense to me.

There will be no legislation anytime soon, what with John Boehner gone and a far more conservative leadership about to take the helm of the House. And even if a Democrat is elected president in 2016, Republicans will have at least the House, if not the Senate, in which to thwart any attempt at reasonable laws that might prevent a future tragedy.

Yes, we certainly have a mental health problem in this country, but we also have a gun problem. Mentally ill people without guns don't pose the same threat as those with them. But listening to the right, you'd get the idea that they are two completely different issues at all times; an empty middle in the right's Venn Diagram.

So when Jeb Bush flicks away the shooting last week as "stuff happens," and he's supposed to be a bit more moderate than others in the race, it sends an unambiguous message that the Republican Party doesn't value life as much as it says it does. It's a tremendously callous thing to say from someone who's supposed to be the smart brother. The other candidates have been silent.

I don't know which is worse.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest