Sunday, February 28, 2016

Trump-Christie Agonistes

This is what happens when a political party is in the midst of self-destruction. I remember it well when the Democrats dissolved between 1972 and 1984, and these last, frantic days should remind us that it's not pretty or helpful when a major political organization goes nuclear.

Such is the Republican Party.

I have been saying, for quite some time, that I didn't believe that Donald Trump will be the GOP nominee this year, and I will cling to that belief until the numbers say that I'm wrong, but it's fairly clear that ego, infighting, stubbornness and incompetence have put Trump on the brink of attaining that prize. For once, though, I don't fully blame the Republican Party as much as I also blame the voters it nurtured and the utter disdain and hatred they have for President Obama and government in general.

There are still some Republican leaders who do understand what their actions have wrought, such as former NJ Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who says that she will support Hillary for president, even as they are now seeing that saying ultraconservative things, but governing less so, has gotten them into a pot of boiling water they can't climb out of easily.

The debate last week was bad enough; a WWE-type smackdown that had little to do with politics and everything to do with the stunted maturity of the party's front-runner and the anger of the intellectual dwarfs who want to take him down. The candidates discussed precious little about what they would do as president, which in all cases would be a disaster for the middle class, women, minorities, anyone whose sexuality differs from the norm, potentially productive immigrants and most animal species, and focused on bodily functions and who might have lied the most. They then continued the fight through the week, referring to bathroom habits and other national security issues they believe are the keys to their success.

And then came the angriest, most-inappropriate, venom-spewing know-nothing of them all: Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is so terrifically angry that the GOP decided to support Marco Rubio over him as the party's savior that he threw away what was left of his dignity, common-sense and governing doctrine. Christie will have to spend most of his time walking back comments he made during the campaign about how unqualified his new friend Don is to be president.

Christie has clearly had it with the Republican Party, and in his mind he has good reason. After all, he spent years cultivating supporters by giving time and speeches to candidates when they were running for office. Then, as Chairman of the Republican Governor's Association he threw himself  into party politics, doled out resources and, again, spent many months on the campaign trail, biding his time until the 2016 election, when he would gather up his favors and chits and be the instant front-runner for the presidency. The GW Bridge traffic jam destroyed his credibility and his actions on the campaign trail, including his torching of Marco Rubio in the debate just before the New Hampshire primary, proved to be not only his undoing, but the cause of his own political self-immolation.

And now Chris doesn't have to spend more time in New Jersey being Governor, which I'm certain is one of his main reasons for making this endorsement. Christie is essentially over state politics and craves the national limelight and cable television programs. It's Kim Guagdano's gig now, but the Democrats have the power. Christie is fast becoming irrelevant on the state level.

Also, he probably sees Trump as the only candidate who would give him a job if (shudder) he wins the presidency. Does Christie on the Supreme Court grab your attention? It should.

Let's see what happens on March 1, Super Tuesday, and in the big states that hold primaries between then and March 15. Trump is not likely to gather enough delegates to win the nomination and if Rubio can consistently get 20% or more in each state, he can stay close until April, when more big states will vote. Also, John Kasich will probably be out of the race very soon.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hillary Salves the Bern: Trump Burns Bush

I don't think this is what the GOP had in mind when they made the calendar and rules that would govern the primaries. The party clearly wanted to make it easier for a candidate to consolidate support and win enough delegates so they could then turn their attention to fundraising and the general election. This enabled Trump to win 44 delegates with only 33% of the vote. Nice job.

In the words of Rick Perry, "Oops."
In the further words of Howard Dean, "AAAAHHHH."

South Carolina has to be the loudest wake-up call ever recorded in a modern presidential race and the Republican Party elders clearly have no strategy to stop the bleeding. Trump won a fairly convincing victory and rendered the race for second as the only one worth watching. Now that Jeb! has left the race I imagine that phones will be ringing in the Carson and Kasich campaign offices and the person on the other end will not be shy about telling those candidates that their time is gone and that they should rally their supporters around Marco Rubio as the only person who can save the party from its angry candidates. Unless they want to rally around Ted Cruz, but I can't see that happening.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the docket, Hillary Clinton all but shut the door on Bernie Sanders in Nevada, winning a solid victory in a state that the Democrats will need in the fall. Word is that Harry Reid made some phone calls to union officials saying that it was fine for them not to endorse a candidate, but could the officials at least urge their members to vote for Clinton. That seems to have worked. Now it's on the South Carolina on Saturday where Hillary has a commanding lead. A win there and on Super Tuesday on March 1 will probably close out Sanders as a serious contender, though I would not be surprised if he continue his campaign until the end.

The upshot is that the Democrats will probably achieve what the GOP had hoped for; a well-funded nominee who has time to unify the party, make nice-nice with their opponent, and start moving to attract the moderate voters who will likely be the keys to their election.

I know that I'm bucking the conventional wisdom at the moment, but I still don't see Donald Trump being the GOP nominee. I think the GOP will find a way, or at least die trying, to rally around a candidate that they can control and win. After all, 65% of the party's voters aren't voting for Trump. Someone has to be able to harness that between now and June. If I'm wrong, then the GOP is in big time trouble.

But time is running out. Beware the Ides of March.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Public Workers: Working Hard, Paying More, Getting Less, Being Blamed. Solution?

Governor Christie wasn't back in New Jersey for two days before his administration and its apologists went back on the attack on public worker pensions and health benefits. The man who promised that he wouldn't touch pensions in his gubernatorial run in 2009, and who staked his presidential ambitions on a bipartisan pension and benefits bill in 2011 is now touting a plan recommended by his appointed board of campaign contributors and Wall Street executives that would further degrade the benefits that are part and parcel of many people's decision to enter teaching, firefighting, police work and government administration in this state.

The latest plan, which was first unveiled last year and clarified on Thursday, calls for an end to the health plans that most New Jersey state workers get as part of their employment. Christie's plan would move workers to the equivalent of Affordable Care Act Gold Plans which, despite their lofty name, have higher deductibles and more limited health care options for their subscribers. But the plan gets even better because no longer would health care be paid for by the state and employees; the cost would be shifted to the municipalities and school boards. Then the money that the state saves would be used to replenish (and plenish) the pension system.

Ingenious, right?

We got a further clarification on this proposal by Thomas Byrne, one of the members of Christie's pension reform panel and his point, in sum, is that teachers get more than most workers in the private sector in benefits and besides, the plan he and the panel recommended is the only way to solve this problem. Talk about reinforcing your own limited thinking.

What Byrne and his apologists don't say is that there are many private sector workers who get far better benefits. Why can't he compare public employee health care with those people? Because, simply, the same people calling for benefits reform are the same people who want to privatize public work and to destroy the power of the public worker unions. So comparing us to the average worker who's been shafted over the past 40 years by Republicans and conservatives makes people angry at what we have, rather than what we've earned through legal collective bargaining. The rich keep what they have and the rest lose out. Haven't we heard that somewhere before?

I do have to say that I agree with one of Byrne's points, and this is likely to get me in trouble with my public worker brethren and sisteren. I think that putting a constitutional amendment that forces the state to make a full pension payment every year is a losing issue. Most New Jerseyans support their local teachers and don't want to penalize them, but the thought of having to pay billions of dollars at the expense of other programs, which is what the opponents of this amendment will argue, will turn most voters against it. Governor Christie has done a terrific job, and a terrible one at the same time, by turning public workers into the face of the budgetary, taxing and spending problem we have in New Jersey. It's not right, it's not fair and it's a disgraceful turn away from decency and respect, but it's the truth and Democrats need to understand that. An amendment will fail. Nix it.

Likewise, a millionaire's tax would help, but will not raise enough money to pay for the shortfall. Reducing pension investment fees is also a necessary step, but a small one. So what to do?

A 1% tax on corporate profits. After all, it's the business interests that have been driving educational reform since 1983, including the calls for more cooperative learning, back-to-basics content retention, tenure reform and the Common Core Curriculum Standards. Business is interested in education because schools supply their future workers, and they also have an interest in well-run towns, police forces and firefighters. So why not have them pay a greater share of the expenses? That way, all public workers could share in the proceeds and homeowners wouldn't have to bear the burden of ever-rising property taxes. One percent is not too much to ask and any company that decides that it's too much and leaves New Jersey would be sacrificing its highly educated labor force and would risk ridicule for running away.

Obviously I don't have complete details and I'm sure the accountants would discover all manner of roadblocks. Plus, having corporate interests pay for things usually means that they'll want their names and logos on it. But I think this is better than having taxpayers voting on a multi-billion dollar plan that will hike their taxes. And it might, just might, solve the problem of our underfunded school systems.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Christie's Fat Tuesday Result Leaves His Campaign In Ashes

Those of us in New Jersey knew that this day would come, and it's really best for the country that Chris Christie has ended his presidential bid. The governor does not have the personality to be a thoughtful, caring, empathetic leader and there's some poetic justice in the fact that he lost mainly because Donald Trump won. Christie always thought that he was going to be the wise-cracking loudmouth in the race, but Donald upset that cart with his first campaign utterances last spring. Add in the terrible job Christie has done with the economy, his utterly disgraceful YouTube rants and his poisonous attitude towards public workers and anyone who disagrees with him, and you have the recipe for...well, what just happened.

What struck me about Christie is that he didn't seem to have a moral compass when it came to running for office. He would say anything, even contradict himself if it served his goals. His charge to the right on many issues left New Jersey in seriously bad shape. He vetoed a train tunnel that the state and region desperately needed, refused to raise the gas tax to pay for our potted roads, and slashed budgets for social services that many state residents needed to survive after the financial crisis hit. He did make his name during the aftermath of Sandy, but even that has been overshadowed by the number of people who still don't have their homes back.

Christie will now come back and be the governor, for at least a while. I wouldn't be surprised if he left at some point because what's he really got to work for now? His legacy? Another run in 2020? He can be a FOX News host or lobby for a radio program, but I can see him getting very bored and frustrated by an emboldened Democratic majority that will savage him during the 2017 election, and the state GOP that is furious with him for abandoning them during the Assembly elections in 2015. The man has no coattails. He doesn't even appear to have much of a coat.

I'm thinking that the biggest beneficiary of Christie's supporters will be John Kasich as he tries to navigate the rather unfriendly South Carolina political landscape. Perhaps Carly Fiorina's backers will go with Kasich too. Or maybe I'm just a dreamer and they'll all go to Trump because he's such a peachy guy. The campaign moves on.

Chris Christie goes home.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Very Late New Hampshire Primary Predictions

Here's how it will go down:


Kasich--20% (upset special)



There's a real possibility that nobody on the GOP side drops out, but I think that Fiorina is the likliest.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Christie's Last Stand

It's too late to say it with any meaningful conviction now, but Chris Christie should have run for president when the Republican Party and Nancy Reagan were imploring him to do so in the late fall of 2011. He was the guy, the shining star, six months removed from pounding out a public worker pension and benefits bill that would be his most lasting achievement. The stars were aligned, and let's face it; that doesn't happen twice.

Then came his insatiable desire to win the biggest landslide in New Jersey history which led to the George Washington Bridge scandal which occurred at the same time that New Jersey's economy was doing bupkis and the governor was actively running away from his signature accomplishment, then asked the NJ Supreme Court to rule his pension and benefits bill unconstitutional so he wouldn't have to make a full pension payment. This is not at all presidential and, to their credit, most of the national Republican electorate has rejected Christie's message, such as it is, his bluster, and his insufferable swaying back and forth on the issues. Of course, that same Republican electorate seems to have fallen for the political alchemy that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are pandering, so that means the voters are batting .500.

Last night's debate was really and truly Chris Christie's final chance to turn an aggregate 5% polling average into a stunning political comeback. He yelled mightily at Marco Rubio and continued to tout his aggressive style of governance, which is exactly what the country doesn't need. He was angry at the weather when it forced him to leave the campaign trail in January and understands that he needs to finish way ahead of Jeb Bush and John Kasich in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

I don't see it happening.

Christie can blame Donald Trump for most of the damage done to his campaign. Christie was all set to be the loudmouth truth-teller, but even he couldn't have foreseen Trump's being able to say whatever was on his mind and watch his poll numbers rise. When terrorism reared its ugly head in November, Christie's numbers rose too, but ultimately there were just too many other candidates for him to leapfrog in the standings. If Christie can somehow finish in the top three or four with double-digit number next to his name, then maybe he can move on to South Carolin and Nevada and get squashed there.

But then what? Christie says that he's going to come back to New Jersey to finish out his term, but he will return to a very different political landscape. He won't be able to be the dominant force in Trenton that he would like, and will find that many GOP legislators will defy him if it's in their political interests. And it will be. The Democrats can smell a victory in 2017 and will do all they can to get a supermajority in both the Assembly and the Senate. Further, those Republicans who voted against Christie when bills would come up for votes, but then vote to uphold Christie's vetoes, will not always do so in the future.

On the flip side, Christie will not need to be so conservative if he returns, so maybe we can get some common sense laws on firearms, school financing, health care and transportation. In the end, it will be up to the Governor and what he wants to see as his legacy.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cruz Bumps Trump, Rubio A ReMarcoble Third, Dems Deadlocked

I'm not really the type to say "I told you so," but I indeed told you so on numerous occasions that Donald Trump would not be the GOP nominee and neither will Ted Cruz. Trump's second place finish in Iowa is but the first blow to his campaign, because while he was battering Cruz with ads and withering sarcasm, Marco Rubio, who is no moderate, snuck up on him and finished a very strong third. This gives the GOP alternatives to Trump and my sense is that they will take advantage of that.

Iowa also marked the beginning of either the beginning or the end of some of the more moderate Republican campaigns. Jeb, Kasich and Christie absolutely must come in second or third in the Granite State if they are to have any traction for the rest of the month and to stick around for Super Tuesday. By next week the GOP field should lose Fiorina, Carson and Paul, and their supporters will have to go somewhere. My guess is that they won't go to Trump or Cruz.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Bernie and Hillary were locked in a tight race that likely serves Sanders better because the polls said he would lose by a small margin. To lose by an even smaller margin, or perhaps to eke out a small win, puts Clinton back a bit going into New Hampshire where Bernie is expected to do very well.

Funny how actual voting can really mess up a narrative. Onward we go.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest