Sunday, December 18, 2016

We Are the Majority. Shout It.

I think what's sustaining me, and alternatively giving me strength, is the knowledge that the United States is not going to become a second-rate nation and that our form of government is not being irrevocably damaged by the Russians, Wikileaks, right wing white nationalists or Donald Trump's cabinet nominations. No, we cannot let these entities knock us off center or dissuade us from our message as a nation. We alone can lend legitimacy and commitment to democratic republicanism throughout the world, and we alone can fix our internal problems. If anything, the election and its aftermath must make those of us in the majority of voters who rejected the hateful, negative, xenophobic, blame-filled rhetoric of the Trump campaign more committed to the good fight, more convinced that we have history on our side, and more vocal in the coming years to speak truth to power.

OK, we can put our gloved fists down now. On second thought, keep them up.

The right wing ideologues who will run our government come January 20 will certainly do some damage to the environment, to the middle class, to those who need society's protection from the ravages of a less caring government, and to our commitment to freedom and equality. But it is incumbent upon those of us who see the country's mission as different to make our wishes known, to take to the streets if necessary and to monitor every move, covert and otherwise, that the new administration makes. And that includes filibusters, lawsuits, social media and nonviolent protests whenever we deem it necessary.

Remember that Donald Trump ran a terrible campaign, has no clue as to how to be a competent president, and that he has nominated people who don't like government to, well, run the government. There will be some shockingly embarrassing moments in the next year alone, much less the next four, and we need to exploit them at every turn. Do not be hesitant. Do not be silent. Do not do the Democratic, left-wing thing where we say that we don't want to be strident or uncompromising because that's what Republicans do. Be difficult. Call out the perpetrators whenever possible. Take charge.

That's the only way to fight against a group that has no shame when it comes to power grabs, fake news, and outrageously false accusations. We are the majority and we have to act like one.

Have a great holiday season. I'll be back in 2017.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Military-Government Complex

Just in case you thought you'd get an early political holiday present in the form of Donald Trump actually being more moderate than his campaign promises, it's time to start planning for that wrapped lump of coal to show up via Amazon drone. Which might be good news for the coal miners and executives waiting for a rebound (not going to happen), but is terrible for the majority of the country that voted for a science-based, constitution-respecting, human rights-defending, livable wage-proposing administration that will now be delayed for at least four years, much to the shame and detriment of the United States.

No, what we are seeing is the flowering of an idea that I suspect most Americans have forgotten about after cramming it for their high school history final exam questions and assuming it was nothing they needed to remember. That's right, folks, I'm talking about good old Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the emergence and power of the Military-Industrial Complex. And Ike didn't just warn us about how the complex would corrupt democracy. He also presciently said that we can't continue to take our natural resources for granted:
Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.
Eisenhower is a terrific role model for us today because he was a military man who understood the danger of too much military influence in what is supposed to be a civilian-run government. He respected that the constitution gave him the power to be commander-in-chief, but that power must be wielded responsibly, pragmatically, and in conjunction with the people. Ike used it well, especially when you consider that the 1950s saw a significant increase in the number and power of nuclear weapons, the Suez Crisis, attempted uprisings in Hungary and Poland, and attacks on our ally Israel.

This is why Trump's infatuation with the military, and the fact that he's appointed generals to a significant number of cabinet and government posts, is so disturbing. He is using his power to surround himself with other people who see power differently than civilians with no military experience. And he seems to continue to believe that the military has the answers to many of our policy questions.

As for the industrial part of the equation, nominating a Labor Secretary who's against a livable minimum wage, an Education Secretary who bashes public schools, a true know-nothing for Housing, an anti-science guy at the EPA, and what looks like the mother of all oil executives as Secretary of State proves pretty conclusively that this is going to be a government-by-testosterone with little to no moderating influences from what's left of the sensible Republican Party. Trump is going to rule by the Only I Can Fix It credo he ran on, and it looks like he's going to keep his hands in his business dealings despite all of the evidence that suggests that decision will be his ultimate undoing.

What's even more disturbing is the news that the president-elect is not electing to attend the daily intelligence briefings that are vital in this time in our history. And if anyone needed more intelligence, it's Donald Trump. This weekend he is bashing the professionals who are saying that the Russians were far more involved in the election that previously reported and he's also questioning whether the Russians or "some guy in New Jersey (not me)" is responsible for the hacking.

These are the tidbits that let you know that Trump thinks that nothing is possible because anything is possible. He's not anti-intellectual, he's un-intellectual. It's hubris, and we all know how that ends.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Foreign Affairs: Be Very Afraid

I think I've decided that the best way to incorporate the reality of Donald Trump being president is to just assume that what he's saying at the time is undergirded by willful ignorance, lack of knowledge, boasts, and the idea that he's a huckster showman who has little working knowledge of the United States Constitution, the country's history, and his responsibilities as the head of its executive branch. In fact, I have begun to sleep better at night assuming that he's going to make a shockingly terrible decision on a weekly (daily?) basis, and at some point will provoke both domestic and foreign crises simply to keep himself in the news.

Perverse? Yes, but such is the state of our politics.

The litany of Trump's ignorance of diplomatic and presidential protocol is concerning, especially for a 70 year old man who has some impressive educational accomplishments. I certainly understand that he believes that he was elected to shake up the system and to drain the political swamp in DC. The problem is that there is a right way and a wrong way to make great change. The right way is to have a comprehensive plan as to how you're going to do it and to tell your friends first how your approach might affect them. Gushing over the dictators in Pakistan, the Philippines and Kazakhstan is not the way to do that, especially when British PM Theresa May only gets a "come by if you're in the US" invitation. Trump is playing the businessman who doesn't want to upset any potential customers, but this is reason one why electing business people with no political experience is a terrible idea.

And then there's Taiwan and China. Somebody needs to tell the know-nothing who will occupy the Oval Office come January, that the Chinese have a great deal of power and that they are not afraid to use it. He can't treat the Chinese as some backwater nation that can be cowed with 45% tariffs or threats about undercutting American companies with cheap materials and labor. Might Trump be the one who ultimately tames China and revives US trade? Possibly, but he's not going to do that by wading into the one issue that China cannot abide, which is recognition of Taiwan. Perhaps Obama can save this bit of face before he leaves, but he and his team need to pointedly remind Trump that there are still some rules he needs to respect.

But what do you expect from a man who is surrounding himself with generals. Talk about sending a message. The problem, again, is that Trump is sending the message that he doesn't really understand the constitution. The military is supposed to be under civilian control, not making major decisions about the country's policies. And the bigger problem is that because Trump doesn't have a clear plan and is ignorant of both policy and world events, he's going to have to rely on those generals for advice, and there are going to be a lot of them in the room during cabinet meetings. If he appoints a Secretary of States that he doesn't really respect, like Mitt Romney, Trump will more likely minimize his advice and turn to his military men. Not that Mitt Romney knows how to be Secretary of State. On-the-job training is going to be a hallmark of this administration. The will make unnecessary mistakes. I hope they learn from them.

If we could only have General Tso. But, alas, his creator is gone.

As for domestic affairs, the deal with United Technologies and Carrier was a public relations win for Trump, but at the expense of the taxpayers in Indiana who will pay more and get less because Trump and Mike Pence did the Republican thing and gave the company a tax break. Bribery? Yes. Smart? No. Because Trump will not be able to replicate what he did with Carrier with other companies. If he had thought about a long-term strategy, maybe he would have a template to work with., but he's making it up as he goes along and the people who voted for him based on his jobs promise will be terrifically disappointed with the trade-off.

And my bet is that those 1,000 saved jobs will ultimately go to Mexico. After all, as Trump has said, it's just good business.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trump's Education Pick: Making American Public Schools Worse!

Just remember: Most voters rejected Donald Trump's vision of the United States. They rejected his rhetoric, his vile comments about women and minorities, and they don't want large tax cuts to the wealthy, a trade war with China or a Supreme Court that overturns hard won democratic victories for women, gays, and those that desperately need health insurance. They also rejected the far right's view that religious people should be able to discriminate in the name of God's love and that hate groups should have a seat at the country's table of power.

Donald Trump will, of course, not pay any attention to this. That's why we need to remind him at every turn that we are here and we will be loud. And by the way, Charles Blow is my new hero.

As Trump builds his cabinet, it's becoming clear that he is not a new Populist, but an old-style Republican with the added twist of not respecting the Constitution or his responsibility to be president 100% of the time, not part time so he can also sell his name on buildings. He also hasn't given a lot of thought about how his appointments will actually contradict what he ran on.

For example, his proposed choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, her choice would have reflected a commitment to public schools with a mixture of Charter School policies sprinkled in. Ms. DeVos, however, has never taught in a classroom, doesn't have experience with public schools, doesn't have any political experience, and doesn't respect that public school teachers need representation and protection from a very political public school system. She begins with a firm commitment to school vouchers and Charter School, with public schools an afterthought. Oddly, she worked with Jeb Bush in Florida and is a fan of national standards, though not calling them Common Core. Her track record is terrible. Just what we need for education policy.

It's a very good thing that the federal government has no constitutional role in the public schools because both Arne Duncan, President Obama's Secretary of Education, and Ms. DeVos could do far greater damage. As it is, Ms. DeVos can try to guide policy towards more school competition, but she can't force districts to radically change their curricula or administration. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the choice of Ms. DeVos sends a message that the Secretary of Education need not have very much actual education experience. It's insulting to have someone foisted on you who knows less about education or what works in the classroom for students than you do. It's also a travesty that Ms. DeVos has little respect for the associations, such as the NEA, that continue to work hard to defend teachers against unwarranted interference and ensure that every education professional earns a livable salary and works in a safe, productive environment. Living through the Christie years here in New Jersey saw the education establishment fight for every scrap of respect and bargaining right we ever had. We won some and lost some major ones. We will fight, but it would be nice if we didn't have to.

Donald Trump and the new know-nothing Republicans he's appointed so far have a point-of-view that does not reflect the majority of voters in this country. They are anti-Muslim, supportive of far right wing hate groups, or just inexperienced to the point that they will be learning on the job for the first year, including the president-elect himself. Many of his supporters want to make America great again, when it's pretty great as it is.

It's a shame that we'll be taking three steps backward before we take one stride forward.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Will of the Minority

The American people have spoken. And a majority voted for Hillary Clinton. Which would be great if we had a democracy in this country, but we don't. We have a republic, if we can keep it, and in a republic some funny things can happen. Like protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

But who's going to protect the majority from an especially rabid minority who now controls every branch of the government and has little reason to consider the effects of their policy proposals on the country at large? It will take some thoughtful opposition from the GOP majority to put a brake on what I'm sure will be some terrible ideas. And I have very little confidence that Donald Trump, the rather self-centered con man huckster who will sit in the Oval Office, will moderate his ideas in the interests of unity. He might, but I am extremely skeptical.

Consider his latest appointments. He is bucking the Republican establishment with his picks for CIA Director, National Security Advisor and Attorney General. That mix of Mike Pompeo, Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions should create an explosive brew of anti-Muslim sentiment, seasoned with a hatred of Hillary Clinton and a bias towards torture. And of course we have the very real prospect, I'd say a certainly, that Trump will nominate a climate denier for Interior and a hawk for Defense. I understand that the president-elect wants to shake up Washington, but he's doing nothing to help bridge the wide chasm between the majority who voted against him and the minority who set aside many of the things he said in the campaign that show him to be less than a moral leader for this country, including support from the far right voices of hatred. Does he care that a shift of 70,000 votes would have cost him the election? Probably not, but ignoring those voters will turn out to be perilous for him.

What's also becoming clear, and will be clearer as we get into the first months of his term, is that just because Donald Trump said he was going to do certain things like rip up trade agreements and set punishing tariff rates, doesn't mean that the world will stand still for them. China and Mexico have weapons at their disposal to make things difficult for our economy and the people whose manufacturing jobs Trump has promised to create. Getting rid of NAFTA will actually cost the country jobs. Plus, if the bond market continues to firm up, that will mean higher interest rates on mortgages and automobiles which will then require wage hikes and probably higher inflation. All we'll need is disco and polyester to complete the 70s throwback. How fun. And if you thought the Carter family was interesting, just wait. The Trump family will be far more entertaining and one of them will conduct themselves so badly that they will be disowned via Twitter by the midterm elections.

Despite the hopes of the liberal press, and even some of the conservative media, Donald Trump is no moderate. He will try to deport millions of people, demonize Islam, ignore his more enthusiastic right wing hate group supporters when he should be strongly condemning them, criminalize abortion in many states and open up more public land for commercial use. The rest of the GOP will then take a knife to social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which are exactly the programs that Trump's core supporters rely on. How terrible it will be when they realize, too late, that the Republicans actually want smaller social programs. Yes, we will likely get better roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements and some jobs for the people who are hurting, but at what cost?

All of this will also come in an atmosphere where Trump will complain loudly and often on Twitter about the unfairness and inaccuracy of anyone who opposes him. This weekend's Hamilton incident is a case in point. We can debate whether the cast should have broken protocol and addressed Mike Pence, but in an era where Republicans and Democrats talk past, over and under each other, getting a message directly to the incoming Vice President was a smart move. Trump's response, that Hamilton is an overrated show, tells me volumes about the thickness of his skin and his artistic appreciation. And besides, the real point was to stop speech and to stifle dissent. 

For someone who doesn't command the will of the majority, that is dangerous.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On the Election: This Is Bad, and It's Going to Get Worse.

Remember when Ronald Reagan--the actor--was supposed to represent the nadir of presidential victors? How could we elect a former actor? What a laugh riot.

This is not funny. This is bad.

I've read and watched a lot of news and I'm still having trouble reconciling the people who decided in the end that Donald Trump would make a good president. Don't get me wrong; I fully understand that many Americans are angry and frustrated, have lost their homes while wealthy bankers got bailouts, have seen their communities lose resources, jobs and hope, and generally don't see Washington as a place where problems are solved. I get that. I feel it too. But it takes a special leap sans parachute to go from that to seeing Donald Trump as the best person to solve these problems.

I especially don't understand how anybody associated with women (mothers, daughters, sisters) could vote for him after what he said about them. Those kinds of comments disqualify you from being a moral, upstanding person who will represent all Americans. Yet more white women voted for him than Hillary. Many of the articles I've read quote women as saying that he was going to bring back jobs. Or they just didn't like Hillary. Or maybe it was Comey's letter. It still doesn't excuse what he said. or make him in any way presidential.

The same thing goes for the other groups that Trump verbally assaulted during the campaign and the bitter, angry tone in which he not only said ugly things, but the way he tolerated that speech, and actions, in his followers. He ran a stupefyingly xenophobic, hateful campaign, but because enough people decided that despite that, he was the only candidate that would bring back their coal and steel jobs, that they could rationalize him away as refreshingly honest. It's no wonder that schoolchildren were actually afraid the day after the election.

But the joke will be on those who think that Trump will change Washington. Almost immediately, the same lobbyists and interest group attorneys who genuflect before Republican winners were back in the capitol, eager and willing to do whatever bidding the Trump trolls will ask of them. They will serve themselves at his table, but this time in the name of the oil and gas industries and, yes, the same multinational corporations that have no interest or intent in bringing jobs back to the United States. Trump will talk about ripping up trade deals and slapping 35% tariffs on Chinese goods, but that will produce higher prices, higher interest rates and higher anxiety as the world sees America as an adversary, not a friend. Choking off immigration will further erode our economy because new residents are a major source of strength and growth, and if you think that American citizens are eager to pick fruit, clean hotel rooms and do the dirty work at slaughterhouses, then you are in for a rude awakening.

And then there's the reason why Hillary lost in the states where she needed to win. Much of the reason is in the numbers below.

Republican votes by the year:
2008 59,930,551
2012 60,934,407
2016 59,022,040

Democratic votes by the year:
2008 69,438,98
2012 65,918,507
2016 59,245,315

Democrats didn't come out in the numbers they did for Obama, and it turned out that the Hispanic juggernaut and African-American support was a myth too. Even with President Obama stumping for Hillary in North Carolina and Florida. That, to me, was a sobering lesson. Not even Obama could get his coalition out in sufficient numbers. I guess too many people in key states just didn't like Clinton.

Then there's this piece of political stool-softening that tries to paint Trump as essentially a pragmatist who will likely jettison his most incendiary campaign proposals and rule from the center-right. I don't believe a word of it. Trump is not experienced enough in the ways of governing, nor do I think he really understands at more than a headline level what's involved in legislation and how it can hide some explosively nefarious provisions. With both Ryan and McConnell, but also the farthest-right and alt-right voices clamoring for his short attention span, he will be at the mercy of the Republicans who have been slobbering over themselves in anticipation of controlling the levers of power for the first time since 2006.

They will send him cuts to Medicare, Social Security, AFDC, Medicaid and any other social program they can get their hands on, and he'll probably sign most of them into law. He has promised to work first on an infrastructure bill, but the GOP regulars, allergic to any new revenue, will demand that a costly measure such as that be paid for with corresponding tax breaks to businesses and cuts to other programs. Guess which ones? The GOP will also attach their greatest hits such as cuts to Planned Parenthood, overseas family planning projects, and school programs other than abstinence education while restoring aid to religious institutions, And did you say women's health programs and abortion? By 2020, we might be wistfully remembering a country that had a heart.

As if the talking heads haven't been discredited enough, the news organizations are saying that the angry, tweeting, inappropriate, insulting, profane Donald Trump is a character that he will retire, a la Stephen Colbert. That one smells too nasty to even consider. The Donald Trump of the past two weeks is the real imposter and it's only a matter of time before he loses his cool and his credibility (what he has) over some perceived slight or media report. He's already advocated for laws that would make it easier to sue for libel, and, like Nixon but with a real personality, he will do something about it. The media will continue to play lap dog for him and find false equivalencies by comparing him to other presidents. There is not comparison. He is the Singularity.

But there is good news. More voters supported the Democratic vision of the country, as evidenced by the popular vote. And Trump's margins of victory in the states that mattered--Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan--were tiny and were also based on promises that he will have a difficult time keeping. If he and the GOP also decide to repeal the Affordable Care Act and millions lose their health insurance, then the GOP will be toast.  And then there's the future of the party. Right now, it's difficult to see who will emerge as the face of the Democrats in the coming years. Sanders can be the driving ideological force, but the party will need a younger face to run for president.

The best news, though, is that this means that the Democrats will likely gain seats in Congress in 2018 because the party in power usually suffers midterm losses. This bodes well for the Senate especially, where the Democrats will need to defend far more seats than the GOP. In the meantime, I expect new Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to hold the line against the far right.

This will be a difficult four years for the country, andwe will even survive this, but only if we agitate, agitate, agitate.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Let's Not Do This Again

What, really, is there to say? We have come to the end of a truly unique and disturbing Presidential election, and in the end, most people will reject Donald Trump's twisted view of America and his repeated assertion that only he can fix our problems. Yes, I know that many on the left, and some on the right, are rightly appalled that he's stayed so close in the race through November. Why isn't Hillary Clinton trouncing him in the polls? What's wrong with the Republican Party? Where's the outrage?

The honest truth is that it was always going to be far more difficult electing a woman to the presidency. Overt sexism is alive and very well in the United States, and, more specifically, at Harvard University, and while I can't say that it's more or less virulent than racism, it does seem to manifest itself on a broader level in society. More people, it seems, see racism and treatment of African-Americans as more unjust, more obnoxious and more unfair than our historic treatment of women, and I think it's because mistreatment of women cuts across all ethnic and racial groups. Seeing women as second class citizens and/or as sex objects is still a cultural norm.

That Hillary Clinton will likely become the first female president will be a significant milestone in the country's development. She will have overcome an opponent who represents the worst of America and who reminds us that we are not a nation that wants to turn the clock back to a time when it was fine to refer to woman as inferior or to question someone's judgement because of their ethnicity. Three debates and countless news stories have shown that Donald Trump is not the kind of person most people want to lead our country. It will be close. In the end, it won't matter. Hillary will be the president and she will have the power of the office.

It will then be up to the Republicans to decide whether they want the country to move forward. Will they make good on their promise to block any Supreme Court nominee that Clinton send them? Will they threaten to shut down the government? Will they refuse to compromise on tax reform, immigration reform and background checks? We cannot afford four more years of one party believe that the other party's presidents are somehow illegitimate. It's time to move forward.

Make sure you get out and vote on Tuesday.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Stop The E-Mail Panic! Hillary Will Still Win!

Come on now, be honest. Did you panic on Friday night? Are you still panicked over the emails that might cost Hillary the election and you your sanity? Are you angry that Hillary set up a private email server in the first place? Even angrier that FBI Director James Comey had the gall to insinuate himself into the election?

I'm here to tell you that you are wasting precious emotional and intellectual capital by doing any of those things. Hillary Clinton will be elected president on November 8 and chances are good that the Democrats will control the Senate, if only because Vice president Tim Kaine will be around to break ties.

What makes me so confident you say? First and foremost, there doesn't seem to be anything that indicates this new batch of (10,000+) emails came from Clinton's server. They are messages that Huma Abedin had because she was printing them out or they were duplicates of emails that Clinton had already given to the FBI. Of course, there could be some messages that we don't know about or ones that Anthony Weiner saw and shouldn't have, but that's what the FBI is looking at. The GOP can say all it wants about investigating Clinton's server, but that's not an issue here.

Also, the Clinton campaign will make this about James Comey, and will do so effectively. He will need to defend his actions when other Justice Department officials told him that they opposed releasing such a bombshell so close to a presidential election date. He will ultimately need to say that he doesn't know what's in these emails and that to conclude that the are in any way incriminating would be wrong. Then the GOP will attack him and the story will continue to be about James Comey, not Hillary Clinton.

I understand why he sent his letter to Congress, because to sit on this information until the election was over would open him up to accusations that he wasn't following the law. And obviously if there was something incriminating he has his duty to release it, but there isn't any. In fact, his letter to FBI employees states specifically that they don't know what's on the computers. This is irresponsible. Imagine if you did that on your job. The job you would then lose, I mean.

The other nonissue is that most voters have already made up their minds and either have voted or wouldn't dream of voting for Trump. This is where polarization works to Hillary's advantage. If the GOP had a reputable candidate and the election was close, then I could see being worried. But Donald has already overreached by calling this as big as Watergate and I'm assuming that Comey will need to clarify that the FBI doesn't know what it has, so that will undercut Trump's attempts at blaming anything specific on Hillary. Plus, the email issue is nothing new and it won't erase the terrible things that Trump has said over the course of the campaign.

What about the polls, you say? The polls have been tightening, right? Well, yes and not-so-yes. The margin by which Hillary has been leading, since July, I might add, is getting a bit smaller, but that seems to be because recalcitrant Republicans who were repulsed by Trump's misogyny are coming back to the party. They'll regret it later, but Trump's improvement has been almost entirely built on his getting a greater share of GOP voters than he did earlier this month.

Most state polls, which are the ones that we should be watching, show that he's behind in most of the swing states and has never led in the Electoral College projections since the campaign started. He could even win Ohio, Nevada, North Carolina and Florida and still lose, assuming that Clinton wins Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, which she will, so I don't know why you're bothering me about this. Probably because you've been consulting the mainstream press, which has an interest in creating uncertainty so you'll continue to consume their messages. Please stop.

The most important thing that Democrats can do now is to vote. I know that some thought that Hillary had this in the bag, but that's not true if people don't vote for her and Democrats for House and Senate. Vote early if you can. This election is too vital not to.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hillary Dumps Donald: The Debates Do Their Job

I love the presidential debates. Why, especially in a campaign that will go down in history as one of the nastiest? Because the debates uncover what the candidates want to cover. They ultimately show us the character of the candidates. And they tell us a great deal about how each person would rule, should they win the election.

This year was no different than any other.

For most of the campaign, the media reported that Donald Trump was unique and that he could say anything without exacting any penalty from the electorate. We were also told that Hillary Clinton was a flawed, unpopular, programmed candidate who could do nothing but damage herself in the debates because, surely, Trump and the moderators would pummel her with the emails and the foundation and Benghazi! It turned out that exactly the opposite was true.

Hillary Clinton's performance in the three debates will become mandatory viewing for anyone who aspires to national office. She utterly defeated, deflated and defanged Donald Trump with clinical efficiency and cool professional effectiveness. She turned questions about her weaknesses into attacks on Trump, and was able to deflect the more damaging accusations into her past with a smile. Of course, we all want candidates to answer for their sins, but part of being a great debater is knowing how to parry and evade. Clinton did that; Trump did not. By the end of the third debate, it was crystal clear that Trump did not prepare or have any strategy other than to bully, interrupt, cite questionable evidence or hurl accusations.

And this is where the debates were so instructive. They really did show us that the Trump campaign is a Potemkin operation, built on personality and the teachings of Chairman Breitbart, with the GOP's greatest conspiratorial hits from the 1990s thrown in. They also showed that Trump is not suited for the presidency. Given the biggest stage of the campaign, he didn't prepare, and it showed. His answers were short and scattered, he didn't press advantages that he did have, and his behavior was abominable. For someone who was supposed to be able to use his television experience, his body language showed him to be too aggressive, and his constant interruptions came off as ill-mannered. He went for every piece of chum that Hillary threw at him and he got angry, which rarely plays well on the tube (contrast Trump with Reagan's "I paid for that microphone" line to see the difference between power and tantrum).

Clinton was not perfect, but she was close. Trump helped by letting her off the hook on many occasions and by reacting too emotionally when she brought up things that he didn't expect, which is part of debate preparation. She interrupted him at times despite her promise to "go high," but she understood that she had to seem even more in control because she's a woman, so she couldn't back down. At the third debate, where she essentially closed the deal on the election, Clinton spoke forcefully and in command of the issues. She's clearly thought a great deal about them over the course of her adulthood and she enunciated them impeccably last week. Trump played along for a while, but his lack of preparation, personal control, and content sunk him.

In the end, we learned a great deal about each candidate. Clinton did her due diligence, Trump did not. She displayed a command of events and issues and explained them in cogent, factual terms. Trump was able to do that on occasion, but he then got caught in rhetorical whirlpools which led to what unfortunately became signature moments that didn't help his campaign. She was able to put him on the defensive and keep him there; he tried, but didn't have the intellectual stamina to press his points. He called her names and accused Clinton of conspiracies and plots that the right has manufactured for almost 30 years. He also, fatally, said he would not accept defeat.

As for Trump being able to say anything he wanted and get away with it, those days ended for good with the groping tape. Trump had always been penalized for what he said, rarely polling over 42% nationwide and never leading in the electoral college count, but the media couldn't fold up its tent in July, so they continued to feed us the story that this campaign was different and that political correctness was on the run. Yes, there is a sizable group of people in this country who support Trump and what he says, but there are far more who finally saw through his tactics and are abandoning him with impressive speed.

The record low for a major party candidate in a presidential election is a popular vote of 39%. I predict that Trump will poll lower on election day. He'll cry fraud, but he's the only fraud in the race. Clinton beat him fair and square in three debates because she's the most qualified of the two, and of many more, to be president.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Indefensible, And Getting Worse

Political parties blow up. That's a fact of life. But not all political explosions are similar and this year's nuclear meltdown of the Republican Party is unique in the United States and, I'm sure, terrifying to other countries who depend upon our, well, dependability to keep the peace, ensure economic tranquility and to fight against injustice most of the time.

Consider. When the Democrats blew up in 1972, the issue was the Vietnam War and the influence of the far left wing, many of whose adherents were communists. That year's nominee, George McGovern, a Senator from South Dakota, was not the party's first choice, but since Nixon's dirty tricks campaign had eliminated Edmund Muskie and scared off Ted Kennedy, this is what the Democrats were left with. Add to the fact that Nixon was popular after having gone to China in February and that the GOP had wads of (unregulated, illegal, corporate) cash, the race was going to be an uphill climb for McGovern. Then he made the mistake of naming a semi-vetted running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as his VP. When word got out that he had undergone shock therapy and had to drop out, any momentum McGovern was going to get was gone. His policies veered too far to the left and the pictures of long-haired, drug-taking hippie freaks in Nixon attack ads pretty much sealed his fate. Watergate hastened the return of the party in 1976, behind a religious, centrist Jimmy Carter, but that was just the drain plug that couldn't hold back the conservative tide that won three elections in the 1980s.

Ah, the good old days.

The Republican Party's descent into political hell that Donald Trump is leading makes 1972 seem like a peaceful transition in a Scandinavian country. His especially noxious brand of politics, which by the by has been on display from Day 1 of his campaign, is unprecedented for a presidential campaign in this country. He has decided that the issues don't matter, except to point out that he would arrest and jail his Democratic opponent, arrest millions of immigrants, and build the wall with Mexican money. Everything else he's said over the past week has been offensive, sexist, contradictory, or just plain unintelligible.

His focus on women's looks and bodies is a reminder that we not only continue to have a race problem, we have a gender problem in the United States. We also seem to have a problem understanding how destructive words and actions can be and we also have a problem realizing that words can be equal to an assault if they cause someone to change their physical or psychic behavior. The latest right wing defense of his words seems to rely on the fact that he didn't act on them, and that those women who said that he did act on them should have reported them contemporaneously. But that's not how power relationships and bullying work. Plus, in some ways, it's easier to let it go if that person, and Trump certainly is one of those people, might have control over your financial or personal future.

And his incessant talk about physical appearance is beyond any locker room I've been in. Men joke, men comment, men wish, men hope, men beg, but decent men do not talk about grabbing, groping, or physically assaulting women, and if they do, most of the time they get called on it. Trump's comments saying that he would not have tried anything with the women who've accused him of lewd behavior because they aren't attractive enough for him is far beyond the bounds of respectable behavior. Forget about disqualifying him to be president; that behavior should disqualify him from being an employee at any corporation with a functioning Human Relations department.

It's a good thing that he's going to lose badly, but the terrible part is that he's going to drag down our political culture over the next three weeks. he will not discuss issues and he won't allow Hillary Clinton to say much about policy in the final debate this Wednesday. He will likely challenge the results of the election and I'm assuming he won't concede in the traditional manner. What we as decent citizens of this country need to do is to explain to our young people that this election is an anomaly, and that it should wake us up to the danger of any candidate who objectifies groups of people, shames them or speaks dismissively of them.

This quote never gets old: "Have you no decency, sir?"

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Friday, October 7, 2016

It's October, But This Is Not a Surprise

I suppose the real question is why it took so long for the smoking gun tape to make its way out of the sewer that is Donald Trump's campaign for president. We've been building up to this since 2010, when the Tea Party ran some candidates who decided that rape was a major public policy item, not for the shame and injustice it rained down on women, but because evidently many Republican men believed that a woman couldn't get pregnant as a result of it or that it was much ado about nothing. Yes, we always knew that Trump was disgraceful sexist and that he saw women as objects to be conquered or groped, but somehow the morality bar got buried under the sand this presidential go 'round and his rantings became the stuff of boys will be boys or, worse, lauded by some as evidence that we'd lost our sense of humor in the haze and smoke of political correctness.

There's a reason the word "correctness" is associated with the phrase. Because it's correct to respect women, and the other minorities and physically challenged people that Trump has savaged. It's correct to actually speak from facts and research, not from the good old 1950s paradigm that many of Trump's supporters want the country to return to. And it's correct to hold everybody accountable for remarks that denigrate any person for whatever reason.

And we are learning so much about the Republican Party and its candidates, aren't we? Mike Pence, Trump's running mate, said nothing after reporters repeatedly peppered him with questions about Trump's remarks. Corey Lewandowski, Trump's once and present advisor, reminded us that we're electing the leader of the free world and one who needs to lead by example, not a Sunday school teacher, which presumably means that the president can say anything he wants in the interests of being tough. Paul Ryan didn't appear on stage with Trump.

Sorry, not good enough. The party leaders and elected officials need to condemn, in no uncertain words, what Trump has said. They need to disavow his campaign and, at the very least, withdraw their support. It's bad enough that Trump's ideas are dangerous and incoherent. It's quite another for this man to think that he can follow a man like Barack Obama into the White House and have any moral standing.

This of course will be one of the topics of Sunday's debate, but I expect that since voters will be asking questions, that they will move on to jobs and security and taxes and other issues that should be the crux of Sunday's event. Hillary, though, will not leave it alone, nor should she. This is exactly why we need a strong woman as president. The country needs to get over the female leader barrier in the same way that we've smashed the race barrier at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

 Perhaps this means that we'll get the landslide election we clearly deserve.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 2, 2016

This Trump Guy Is Volatile, No?

What a difference a week makes. The buildup to last week's debate was breathless, and so was the debate itself, what with Trump wasting his energy interrupting Hillary and getting red in the face as she baited him all evening. He clearly had not prepared much other than to ask himself who the best-looking, smartest, most leader-like candidate in the race was. And of course his mirror had the answer, as it always does.

Then came the continuing attack on Alicia Machado as Trump tried to tie her to a sex tape and other sordid events from her past, many of which she has owned up to. But he fell into the Republican male blame-the-victim trap. Ms. Machado might have some things in her past. That doesn't mean it's in any way excusable for him to shame her about her weight. And then to continue to do so on Twitter at 3:00am when nobody should do anything on any electronic device anywhere. Anywhere. Go back to sleep.

And of course today there's the report that Trump might not have paid any income tax over an 18 year period because of, well, the tax laws. And the reason he might not have had to pay was because his businesses...sucked wind. Went bankrupt. Failed. For someone who's running on his managerial and business acumen, he surely doesn't have a successful track record. But why would that surprise anyone? He's been running on non-sequiters and nonsense for over a year. Now that the national media has woken up, he's not getting away with saying the things that his base voters think is true.

What's also remarkable about the past week is that media outlets that are normally rock-solid Republican, like the Arizona Republic and the Cincinnati Enquirer. USA Today went out of their way to tell people how dangerous the man is. The free ride is over.

The polls, which saw  movement towards Trump as of last weekend, are now moving to Clinton. That's good news for her, but she does have to be careful because this week has been all about Donald the Terrible and very little about Clinton's vision for the future. I'm sure she'll take the help that Trump is giving her, but she really did want to spend the post-debate period talking positively about what she'd do to help the country. I'm not sure that Trump will ever let her do that because he'll do anything to keep the media spotlight on him and he clearly has no desire to enunciate a coherent policy agenda over the final 5 weeks of the campaign.

There are two more presidential debates, and a VP face-off on Monday, but really, can Donald Trump undo the damage he's done over the past few months? Does the GOP and the media think that one good, solid debate performance from him will wipe away the things he's said about women, minorities and every other group in this country? I don't think so, plus he's shown no compulsion to do anything except try to convince the electorate that he is absolutely right on every issue and that only he can fix our problems. This has to be frustrating to Hillary because she can't seem to lead the headlines with policy, as she wants to. The next debate will likely be an even worse experience for her as I'm expecting Trump to interrupt every answer she tries to give and to bring up everything except what he'll do the help the country.

It will be fiery television, but not much else.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Time For the Main Event

I suppose it was inevitable that the first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign would be touted as a must-see, Super Bowl-sized audience extravaganza. This has been building since Dwight Eisenhower lamented that running for president was akin to being a product marketed across the country. Television and now social media has turned this election into the first full-force, multi-screen election. We will never turn back.

But the main concern is about the match-up. Who will win? How will they win? How will the debate shape the race? The conventional wisdom says that the debates in and of themselves will not change the dynamics of the campaign, but the research also says that the first debate has the most overall impact on shaping voters' attitudes.

As of now, Hillary Clinton has rebounded from a bad couple of weeks and has seen her poll numbers improve. Trump has taken the lead in some of the key swing states, but that was based on his rise nationally, and those swing states should come back to Clinton. The reason for Trump's rise, though, is interesting. Most of his rebound is based on Republicans deciding to support their nominee including, evidently, Ted Cruz, who endorsed Trump this weekend. The country remains as polarized as ever and there are a larger number of voters who say they are undecided and could be swayed by tomorrow's debate. Then there are the Johnson and Stein voters, more of whom are Democrats who don't want to vote for Hillary.

Which brings us to debate strategy. Of course, the more compelling media story is which Donald Trump will show up: the controversial, offensive one or the moderate, less blustery one. This is a false choice. Donald Trump has shown that he can't stay away from saying things that grab headlines and reinforces stereotypes, and I expect that this is the Trump we'll see on Monday night. He can try to appear presidential and restrained, but he'll still be talking about building walls and deporting people and what terrible shape the country's in right now. The last time he had to make a consequential speech, at the GOP convention in July, he painted a dystopian picture of a country that really doesn't exist. During the summer, after he hired a new set of advisors, his message did become restrained at times, but we were never more than a few days removed from his making an outrageous claim about things that were not supported by data. And further, he told so many untruths, it was difficult to keep up. He will not be able to get away with that on Monday.

Hillary's job in the debate, quite simply, is to appeal to the Bernie voters who don't think she's got his back. If she can convince wavering Democrats that her agenda is liberal enough for them to vote for her, then she's done her job. Along the way, she needs to look presidential and strong, and she needs to remind the audience about Trump's, shall we say, discomfort with specific policies. She will face some rough spots over the emails and the Clinton Foundation, but if she keeps the focus on Trump's questionable business activities that will blunt some his points. And if Trump really tries to bring up things like Bill's affairs or Hillary's looks or any other topic from the dark side, Clinton should just remind people that we have very pressing issues, but Trump is worried about THAT?

Of course, if either candidate makes a huge mistake or comes off looking anything resembling unpresidential, then that will absolutely damage their chances. It will be interesting television and I'm glad that so many people are expected to watch.

This race is still Hillary's to lose. I don't expect her to.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Lie That Keeps On Giving

It's funny how public opinion can be swayed by a good lie or repeating an untruth until people believe it. OK, well maybe it's not so funny when it comes to the presidential race, but here we have it. Up to now, Hillary Clinton was seen as the less truthful candidate, but the real truth is that more than half of the public pronouncements Donald Trump has made are, well, lies. And that's really why I said last week that Hillary's drop in the polls was not anything to panic about. All we had to do was wait a little bit and Trump would likely say something that would further reinforce the fact that he is woefully unprepared and unqualified to be president.

We didn't even have to wait a week.

Trump's commitment to the birther issue is proof positive that he doesn't have the intellectual capacity to run the Executive branch. After all, how can someone who is gullible enough to believe, and susceptible to low-level analytical arguments, be trusted to gather information and make an educated decision that might cost us lives? And he stuck with it for five years. Then, even though he received documentary proof that he was wrong, he continued to push the lie. Until Friday. Then he finally acknowledged what has never, ever been true. Trust Trump to make a decision. Nope.

But wait, there's more. He then doubled down on the lie that Hillary Clinton wants to gut the Second Amendment and, gasp, take your guns away. Rather than making the point with a political argument, though, he repeated the idea that Hillary should be harmed by pro-gun citizens in order to...prove a point. I'm not quite sure what that point would be, but since it is not anchored in reality, it really doesn't matter what the point is. The result is quite a backlash against Trump, and one that will reverse his momentum in the polls, and rightly so.

I'm sure that Trump will try to deflect all of this at the debates, but if he can go so far off script during a scripted campaign event, imagine what he'll say during a debate that, evidently, he hasn't really prepared for. September 26 should be quite a show.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Concerned About the Polls? Don't Be.

I know you. You're a Democrat, or at least someone who believes that Donald Trump is a disaster waiting to happen, and you've been very concerned over the past week because the polling seems to indicate that Hillary Clinton's once safe lead is vanishing with every news release. You also wonder how anyone, and I (you) mean ANYONE, could vote for that Trump guy, and it's a travesty that he's even polling in the forties, much less close to Clinton. And you also fear that not only can Trump say anything without being punished in the polls, but that Hillary is losing. LOSING.

With all of this in mind, I have a question for you: Are you daft?

Let's calm down and look at some reality. First of all, Clinton has a lead in every national poll aggregation since, well, the spring and she continues to lead in the RealClearPolitics average of both national and state polls (sorry, but that CNN poll is an outlier. Like Pluto.). She also is ahead in enough states to have more than the 270 electoral votes in RealClear, FiveThirtyEight, Princeton Election Consortium, (where on Sunday Clinton was losing Ohio and Florida, but still winning the election) and..and...and every other reputable polling site in the media ether. Plus, the odds that Hillary Clinton will win the election are above 70% according to most calculations and above 80% in some others. Last week, the Washington Post released polls for each of the 50 states and found that...Hillary is leading in enough states, even Texas and Georgia, to win handily. But that's clearly not enough for you weak-kneed liberals who must have your 90% win projections and a 400+ electoral vote landslide in the bag before Labor Day.

It's not going to happen. Hillary is not popular enough and voters are in a foul mood and the country is locked in at about 45% support for each party, with the middle 10% the deciding voters. It's striking to hear that some Republicans will not vote for Trump, but there are still Bernie voters who won't vote for Hillary. Plus, it's still relatively early. Political junkies have been mainlining the politics cut with baking soda for more than a year now. The pure stuff doesn't arrive until September 26. That's when most of America will pay serious attention.

Which brings me to the most noxious comment that people make about Donald Trump, that he can say anything and not be punished in the polls. He is being punished in the polls. His numbers are terrible and they continue to be terrible even with the race tightening. If you look, you'll see  that Trump is still polling nationally in the low 40% range. The race is getting closer because Clinton's numbers are falling a bit because of the email and Clinton Foundation stories. She also essentially took the summer off to raise money and to let Trump say ridiculous things without competing for air time.

Trump's numbers didn't budge. His supporters remain who they were during the primaries (and by the by, Hillary is essentially right about them). He's doing abominably with women, Hispanics, African-Americans, college-educated people and those with middle and upper middle class incomes, and he's saying nothing that will win them back. To go even further, even with Clinton's troubles, more voters support her for president than Trump. It's terrible that this election seems to be a race to the bottom, but Trump is winning that race convincingly.

Starting this week, Hillary Clinton will be more visible and she will begin to actually run for president. She's clearly the best qualified, and she's the candidate with the answers that most other Americans agree with on the issues of the day. They don't agree with mass deportations or banning Muslims from the country or Trump's view that the country is a cesspool of stagnation, violence and decay run by a president who might still not be a citizen, but is definitely a Muslim. Hillary will make her case and make it forcefully. I also think that the debates will be an eye-opener for Trump because he's going to be called on every one of his contradictory comments and will be forced to actually take a stand on issues he's clearly not studied. Hillary will also have some zingers of her own and she'll show a sense of humor that many voters don't think she has.

And that's ultimately why Hillary Clinton will win the election. She's ahead in the polls now and my take is that she'll still be leading by this time next week and the week after that. She will use the debates to reintroduce herself, her qualifications, her vision for the country and her steady realism and that will enable her to win.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Monday, September 5, 2016

Back To School: A Different Kind of Division

The great divide in American public attitudes is most evident during Presidential election years, and this year is no different. Republicans and Democrats seem to be living in two different countries when it comes to their views on how much the government should be involved in people's lives, the role of religion, support for social issues such as marriage equality, reproductive rights, voting laws, immigration and, of course, the bathroom.

Now this divide is becoming more evident in education. More specifically, the latest PDK Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools shows that Americans cannot agree on the purpose the public schools should serve in our republic. Less than half, 48%, said that the purpose should be to prepare students academically, 25% said schools should prepare students to work, and 26% said that the main purpose should be to promote citizenship. As a teacher, I'm sure that the public schools can do all three, but they really should be doing one thing very well, and my preference is with the plurality of the public that came down on the side of academic skills and knowledge.

This divide, though, says a great deal about our country. We seem to have convinced ourselves that it is necessary to go to college to get a job. Any job. The educational establishment has bought into that attitude and many public schools have eliminated non-academic courses and programs or shifted them to the nearest vocational, technology or career-ready establishment. Are we doing our students a favor by focusing on getting them into colleges? I would say no. Continued academic study is not for everyone, but we seem to be asking every student to follow one path. So while I agree that the main purpose of schools should be academics, we do need to focus on each child's needs and get them on the road to a career or interest that plays to their strengths. Finances, poverty and whether a child's family members went to college all have something to do with their success in higher education, but it doesn't mean that all young adults can succeed in college, and we are wrong to push them there when the evidence is against their interests.

As for citizenship, that is also a key component of our education system, but it shouldn't be the main focus. We can certainly do better: the arguments I see in the media that revolve around the Constitution or what it means to be an American are sometimes based on a shocking level of ignorance of our basic ideals. I cannot count how many times I have been in discussions with adults and listened as they confused the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution or were ignorant of the Gettysburg Address or how we elect a president or how a bill becomes law. I am not talking about opinions, but rather, about the basic facts. Clearly we need to focus more on the basics of citizenship and what it means to uphold basic American values. Of course, we seem to disagree about what those values are and how to exercise them. See Kaepernick, Colin.

Where do teachers fit in to this? We need to advocate for high-quality curricula and continue to educate the public about the over-reliance on standardized tests. At a time when many states are cutting back on PARCC and other tests, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was handed a victory by the State Board of Education when it resolved to make standardized tests count for 30% of a teacher's yearly evaluation. This will only make things worse for districts and teachers as they now must spend more time on testing and preparing students for tests in order to keep their jobs. It's no wonder that we've seen stories like this.

We have highly effective teachers in this country who need the public's support, and have earned it by influencing the lives of generations of children. And we need to attract more qualified people to the profession to ensure that the United States continues to lead the world in innovation, creative thinking and the freedom to think, explore and exercise one's rights.  The school year has already begun in most parts of the country and Labor Day marks the end of summer for the remainder of public school teachers. I am proud to be an educator and I have been lucky to work with some of the greatest teachers working today from all over the country. We have one of the most important paid jobs in the country and we need to continue to do it with professionalism, passion and persistence.

I wish all teachers a great year for them and their students.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Last Quiet Week

You do realize that this will be the last week that food stores will be listing summer fruits, vegetables and other items in their sales flyers, right? After Labor Day it will suddenly be soup, oatmeal and cold/flu medicine time even though it's likely to be near 80 degrees where most of us live. Such are the vagaries of the seasons and the need to sell stuff.

But it also means that the political races will turn for home as people return to work after a vacation, if they can afford it, and politicians return to their capitals for a fleeting moment of relevance before spending full time campaigning. For all of the talk about how this year was going to see a different campaign with different rules, it has been a remarkably stable presidential race, and the Senate is coming down to a few important races to see if the Democrats can take control of the chamber. Donald Trump has changed the tenor of the campaign somewhat, but most of what he's done has not helped him and I can't see future races taking serious notes from his playbook.

At this point, the polling for the presidential race shows that Hillary Clinton has a solid lead that hasn't really changed much since the Democratic Convention in July. According to the RealClearPolitics national average, she has a 6 point lead as of today and is ahead in enough states to garner 272 electoral votes if the election was held today. Which it is not. Other state polling sites like,  the Princeton Election Consortium, and show Hillary with a bigger lead.

Most polling shows Trump with about 42% of the national vote, and that has been his ceiling since July. If anything, this is his biggest problem. He will somehow need to expand his appeal significantly if he is to seriously challenge Hillary over the next month, before the first debate on September 26. This will likely be his last chance to help himself since most research says that the first debate is the most important for possibly changing people's minds.

Of course, this all presupposes that Trump's potential pivot on immigration doesn't cause him to lose support from his base, or that something overly consequential is lurking in Clinton's email server or that we are attacked at home or abroad. Enjoy the last quiet week of August. Next week the real show begins

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I Will Always Tell You the Truth. And Other Lies.

Which, of course, is an absolute lie, no matter who says it. But the fact that it was Donald Trump, all-of-a-sudden apologizing and blabbering on about how in the heat of a campaign he might have said some nasty things about, oh, African-Americans, women, Hispanics, judges, pollsters, etc., makes it doubly ironic and self-defeating.

This is the Trump Pivot; the moment in the campaign where he gets serious and presidential and wants to be judged by what he says from this point forward and for us lowly voters to forget what got him the Republican nomination in the first place. That would be hate, accusation, blame, xenophobia, denial, sexism and blaming the victim. The only thing that would make his standing worse in the eyes of many Americans is if he publicly insulted the family of a fallen United States soldier because of some ethnic slur or ignorant remark.

Oh, wait.

And then the first issue he publicized was Hillary Clinton's health. Which turns out to be rather fine, thank you very much. And that came straight from her doctor. But I guess if you're going to deny climate change, you might as well double down and dismiss all scientific inquiry. So go ahead and smoke, right?

There will be no Trump Pivot. His new Breitbart-led campaign will be the height of cynicism and chock full of the right's 1990 greatest hits list, which includes the Clintons murdering Vincent Foster, trying to manipulate the money supply and all of the other untruths that the fringe has been dying to run on since 1994. Dump in a heavy dose of Benghazi and e-mails, and you pretty much have the Trump campaign's tactics right in front of you. It's the campaign the far right has wanted to run since the Reagan era began, but the party kept nominating politicians who actually had ideas. Not good ones, but actual governing experience. With Trump, they have their perfect front man--a huckster who only cares about spreading his name and enough ignorance to just say stuff and hope that it leads the news cycle.

The truth will unfortunately have to wait its turn, if it comes at all.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Lock Him Up

Don't you just love politics and politicians? Here's a group of people who seemingly do not ever consider that what they say about their opponents will even happen to them. And yet...

This week's ridiculousness comes, not surprisingly, from the Trump-Christie branch of what used to be one of America's great political parties; the GOP. These days it's difficult to see how they were able to elect George W. Bush, much less get through a week without one of their candidates self-destructing.

The once-and-never-again national candidate, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is on even thinner ice (consider that image) concerning the traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge that not only killed his presidential chances, but is also resulting in crater-like approval numbers across the state. Now we have some evidence that Christie "flat-out lied" when he said that his political team knew nothing of the bridge closure. He's denying it of course, and I can't see that this would lead his leash holder, Donald Trump, to dump him as his transition boss since at this point it looks like Trump's transition might be to a different floor on Trump Tower, as opposed to a move-in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The bigger issue, though, is that it was a during Christie's speech at the Republican Convention that  the crowd chanted that Hillary Clinton should be locked up for, well, unspecified crimes against, um, someone. Now Christie has leapt the queue and is looking more likely to be the one facing an actual indictment. Not that I expect one, but still. Christie has no one to blame but himself after endorsing Trump and tying his political future to a man who, at best, will lose the presidency for himself and the Senate for his party. Christie's fall is a monumental one, and after November he will be the lamest duck in the land as the Democrats jostle to pick someone to replace him.

In the meantime, the road projects are still stalled, NJ Transit still has one train track in and out of Manhattan, the public employee pension system is still massively underfunded, property taxes are sky high, and social services are lagging. Yet Christie still finds time to campaign for a candidate who accused Christie of knowing about the bridge closure and who Christie hopes will save him from a life of retired bliss in...Mendham. A nice town, to be sure, but certainly not where Chris thought he should be.

Outside the state, Donald Trump is mystifying the political press with his antics, which include saying that president Obama and Hillary Clinton founded ISIS, then saying, as most ignorant people do, that he was just being sarcastic, questioning the need to get his supporters out to vote in November, saying again that the only way Clinton can win, this time in Pennsylvania, is by cheating, and by traveling to those hotbed competitive states, Maine and Connecticut  instead of, say, Ohio or Florida where Trump absolutely must win in order to be elected (shudder).

If anything, these two gentlemen deserve each other, and it looks like they'll destroy each other in the process.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Trump-Christie Effect

In case you missed it, Donald Trump had a terrible week that saw any lead he had after the GOP Convention in Cleveland completely evaporate in a climate-changing blast of heat and parch. Not only did he dive into the empty pool of stereotype, anti-Islamic rhetoric and sexism, he ended the week by questioning the sanity and mental awareness of Hillary Clinton. She's gone from being corrupt to evil and unhinged in his eyes. It is certainly true that Hillary has spent a great deal of her campaign time attacking Trump for being unfit to be president, but when he acts the way he did last week, she has a point. If that's the way he's going to react after a political attack from the Khans, then how will he react when things go badly if (shudder) he wins the White House?

Republicans are running away from Trump in larger numbers than those he might have gained from disaffected Democrats, and his late week endorsement of Paul Ryan and John McCain's primary fights came far too late to be seen as sincere. And to think we've been told that Trump is a different person in private. Would it kill him to show us that side?

I don't have evidence, which is what makes personal blogging such a joy, but I can't help but think that Chris Christie, the now-popularly-challenged (30% approval) governor of New Jersey, is failing in his attempts to influence the Republican standard-bearer. Christie was done in because of texts and emails related to the GW Bridge scandal, and Trump's tweets seem to be having the same effects on his campaign.  But where Christie acts like a politician, Trump defies convention. If Christie is supposed to be running Trump's transition team, he's either not doing a very good job or, more likely, is having little affect on Trump's sense that he really needs to start focusing on Clinton's weaknesses in a coherent fashion.

Of course, having someone who's broadly disliked advising another person who's broadly disliked is not a recipe for success. Yes, Hillary also suffers from underwater favorability, but that's changing, if this new ABC news poll is any indication. We're still in Hillary's convention bounce window, so let's see what's happening with the polls once the Olympics are finished.

In the meantime, letting Donald be Donald doesn't seem to be a winning strategy.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

If Only We Could Trexit

If only Donald Trump would Trexit. Before November, when he'll likely Trexit anyway.

Yes, I know that the British vote to leave the European Union is being interpreted as a warning that the angry, anti-immigrant, anti-trade, build-an-entire-sea-around-the-country (which the British actually did at minimal cost), xenophobic population in England is heading towards the United States, but I don't necessarily believe it. The forces that created the European Union to begin with were far more elitist than the Democrats and Republicans who supposedly rigged the country with unfair trade deals and lower taxes on the wealthy in the United States. After all, we actually got to vote to lower taxes and everything else that the angry electorate wants to undo. The Europeans didn't get to vote on the Union. And by the by, don't let the fact that it was the Conservative government of David Cameron, in an effort to mollify the far-right, that brought on this vote. There really is a lesson about giving ultra-conservatives a referendum on their beliefs. Will we learn?

Clearly, change is in the air and has been for a few years. The United States economy has stalled, the middle class, and what used to be called the working middle class has seen its income stagnate, bankers and Wall Street types got bailout while others were losing their homes, and public workers have been vilified for having too much in the way of collective bargaining rights, pensions and benefits. Mix in terrorism, mass shootings and a sense of unease because of technological change, and the brew is getting quite yeasty.

It's at this time that we need to be very careful about the electoral choices we make. I understand anger, but I do not want an angry person, or a person who is leading an angry movement to become powerful in this country. I want someone who is going to be able to manage that anger and make it productive. Someone who can lead us to a safer place where we do not turn on each other. President Obama is such a level-headed leader and I applaud his attempts at calming the waters and asking Americans to think before they act. I also see Hillary Clinton as the best choice in November to lead a country who is one demagogue away from violence, recrimination, blame and disaster.

This is why we need a Trexit. Donald Trump is exactly the wrong person to get anywhere near the White House short of a tourist pass. He has certainly tapped into much of the anger and frustration that many people in this country feel, but he has yet to harness it. He continues to scratch the raw wound and is enabling Americans to suffer from the pain without actually administering some medicine that will cure what ails us.

And he continues to utter what I consider the most destructive phrase in the political lexicon: We need to take back our country.

This is a potent saying, but one that is built on hatred, mistrust, creating "the other," separating us from each other, and overtly saying that there are anti-Americans in our midst who should either not be here or should be dealt with harshly. And we all know who he is talking about. The British were able to render a decision peacefully and without blame because the question they were being asked to vote on did not have a name attached to it. In some ways it was a referendum on David Cameron, but this was an idea. What Trump is doing is giving a face to the fears we have and tapping into our worst stereotypes. All Muslims. All Hispanics. There is no nuance. That's dangerous.

Besides, although the reporting will continue to follow the day-to-day effects of the British vote, the real issue is not that they voted to leave, but whether that was actually the right decision. Donald Trump thinks it was. That's all I need to know.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest