Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Neutering of Trump. Just Spayin'

Word is that Donald Trump is going to be acting more presidential from this point forward. Of course, not everyone is buying it, but the New York primary seems to have marked a turning or shifting point in the GOP race, if for no other reason than it looks more and more like Trump will be the Republican nominee this fall. Yes, I know that many party stalwarts are still trying to undermine his campaign and delegate count, and they say that even if Trump is 10 or 20 delegates short of 1237 that they will stop him, but that's easy to say in late April or even May. Come July, when angry Trump supporters gather in the streets or threaten to walk out or support him for a third party run, the GOP will relent.

But, as we have read over the past few days, that might not be necessary because Trump now understands that if he really wants to be taken seriously as president, he's going to have to tamp down his comments, become less controversial, and appear like, well, a politician.

Welcome to the end of the Trump phenomenon. It's not like he commands a majority of the GOP popular votes, because even his most dominant showings are barely over 50%, except for his home state, and at best he commands 35-40% allegiance among the party's base supporters. That in no way can translate into an electoral victory in the fall. He has simply insulted and lied and shifted his positions too many times for him to capture the vital center from which all presidential aspirants must live during the campaign.

Take for example, the Cook Political Report's map of electoral votes. Can Trump really win Iowa after not capturing it in the caucuses? Are Nevada and Colorado really toss-ups given what he's said about Mexican immigrants? Virginia just elected a Democratic governor. Will Trump convince enough of those voters to switch to him? The only way he can do that is by fleeing from his bombastic past and embrace a boring future.

Trump has built his campaign on the provocative and the vague, but if he wants to appeal to more voters he's going to have to leave all of that behind and hope that most voters forget that he ever said such things. This will not happen. Also, his most loyal supporters don't want another politician in the White House. They want a real maverick who says what he believes, even if, possibly especially if, it's misogynist, racist, anti-Muslim and largely made up of magazine articles he's recently read. Will they continue to support a Trump who pivots to the party line?

I would think not.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Christie Era Is Over

It happened so quickly and so quietly that I wasn't sure exactly what transpired, but it appears that the Chris Christie era in New Jersey is over. Yes, I know we have to officially endure the Governor until January of 2018, but most of that time will find him drowned out by the presidential race, and by the time that's over it will be time for candidates to begin announcing their intentions ahead of the June 2017 gubernatorial primaries.

Chris Christie was the main architect of his own downfall, though of course he will blame everyone except himself for his not still competing for president or the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal that has his style written all over it. He banked on being the rude loudmouth in the 2016 race but it turns out that he's only a piker compared to Donald Trump, Christie's take-down of Marco Rubio showed that he could use the bully part of the bully pulpit, something that New Jerseyans always knew, but that the rest of the country had to actually see to believe.

The capstone to Christie's fall, though, was his very quick and very ugly endorsement of Trump not three days after leaving the GOP race. The way he looked standing behind the Donald will be an enduring, iconic image for approximately the next thousand years and will serve as a warning against candidates making major decisions while still in the throes of Stages 1,2,3 and 4 of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's continuum of the terminally ill.

And his move to Stage 5, acceptance, came last week when Christie didn't just blink, he all but sent a message that he was going through political torture at the hands of NJ Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney and the rest of the Democrats, when he appointed a Democrat to the State Supreme Court, ending six year political battle by, well, giving up (although the new nominee is evidently a financial backer).

All was not terrible for Chris Christie, though. He was able to use political cronies of both parties to get a state employee pension and benefit reform package through the legislature that has contributed to a four-year reduction in take home pay for a significant slice of New Jersey's middle class. And he can also point to the fact that he didn't ask the wealthy to contribute more to solve some of New Jersey's problems, arguing that they would leave the state. Meanwhile, less-than-wealthy people have left the state because they couldn't afford to live here.

And then of course there's that confounded bridge.

Chris Christie will go down in history as a failed governor because he wasted his political capital on his White House bid, when he could have done much more and run in, say, 2020 with a fuller record of accomplishments. He has, though, paved the way for a Democratic sweep in 2017. Bank on that.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, April 10, 2016

It's April 2016: Do You Know Where Your Vote Is?

Now that we've got some room to breathe a bit until the New York primary hits with full force this week (that's when the ads will start running), it's worth looking at the present election season and asking, "Is this democracy?" I'm sure the rest of the world is following the elections and is wondering how the greatest democracy in the world can elect its political leader with such a long, messy, potentially divisive process.

As are many Americans.

The 2016 primaries will, I think, redefine the system we have for a few reasons. The first is the influence of social media. No longer can a candidate say one thing in Arizona, contradict themselves in Massachusetts and say a third idea in Florida and have nobody notice. We are too connected and communication in instantaneous. The second reason is that many more people are taking part in the primaries, partially due to social media, but mostly due to the issues at stake and the bitter polarization between the parties. Finally, Donald Trump, love him or not, has made this campaign into his own reality program and no news organization can resist him. But now that we have more voters participating, more citizens are questioning the process, and for good reason.

A look at the primary results so far suggests that both parties lack transparency, and the Republican Party is on course to actually thwart their own system in order to stop Donald Trump from becoming its nominee. On the Democratic side, although Hillary Clinton has a substantial delegate lead, the use of free-floating superdelegates is skewing her lead. These delegates are party elites who can essentially vote for whichever candidate they please, and most of them have pledged themselves to Hillary, although as in 2008, they can always switch their allegiance to Bernie Sanders should he upset her in New York and Pennsylvania. So even though thousands of Democrats have gone to the polls, they're finding that their democratic will is not being honored.

On the Republican side, superdelegates are not really the problem, as they mostly have to vote as their state did during the primary. The real issue is that the candidate who wins a state primary's popular vote does not necessarily get all, or even a representative portion of that state's delegates. This has happened to Trump in Louisiana and Colorado, and threatens to derail his bid for a majority once the GOP Convention starts in July. This also affects Bernie, as Saturday's Wyoming Caucuses show. He won the most votes, but he and Hillary will get the same number of delegates.

This is why many voters are feeling disenfranchised, despite their being able to cast a ballot. In effect, although the Supreme Court just ruled in favor of counting all voters in the latest "one person, one vote" case, we don't seem to all have that vote. The Republican Party is risking more because they have come out in favor of doing all that they can to deny Trump the nomination, even if he comes close to having enough delegates. This would fracture the GOP and probably lead to Trump running as an independent, especially if Ted Cuz is the nominee despite not having anywhere near the required delegate majority after the primaries. The Democrats won't suffer the same fate, but it would help if Hillary won enough delegates independent of the superdelegate votes. That would at least  convince Democrats that their votes had weight.

Nominating contests have traditionally not been expressions of democracy, but now much of the country is paying attention at this early stage. 2020 will look different.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Reality Show Election Just Got Very Real

It is true that political discourse has taken a wildly unpredictable and extremely troubling turn in this country, but just when it seems that the shouting match will get louder, along comes a politician who is calm, focused, steely, intelligent, moral and principled. Who is this person?

The current occupant of the Oval Office. A man who has led this country through some of its most trying days. The president who will be remembered for bringing health care to millions who would not have received it had his opponents won the previous elections, and for signing a financial reform plan that is holding up well in the face of those opponents who would like to go back to the conditions that created the crisis in the first place. He has made stirring speeches, gave the order to kill Osama bin Laden, reminded us that race is still a central issue in the country, and weathered attacks by people who questioned not only his authority, but his legitimacy and fitness for the highest office in the land. And he did all of this without a major political scandal, running the government and hiring advisors who, for the most part, served their president well.

And for all of that, President Obama's approval ratings have risen as the economy has improved, as evidenced by last week's Labor Department report showing that wages are rising, more people are working and looking for work, and the economy is improving at a rate we haven't seen in years.

But of course, much of this improvement is because the opposition is presenting voters with the choice between a Know-Nothing, Say Anything candidate in Donald Trump and his main competition, Ted Cruz, whose chief accomplishments seem to suggest that he wants to be president so he can shut the government down rather than have it serve the American people.

And this past week serves as a reminder that we had better be very careful about who we elect to the presidency. Trump's mindless comments about criminalizing women who have abortions is only one-half step worse than Cruz's position that abortions due to rape and incest be likewise criminalized. Both have said that American citizens who are Muslims should be watched more closely, and of course Trump wants to bar Muslim immigrants based solely on their religious beliefs. As for foreign policy, if you can call it that, Cruz wants to carpet bomb while Trump said last week that he wants our allies to pay far more for their own defense, even if it means the spread of nuclear weapons to South Korea and Japan. Never mind that an arms race with China is a real possibility and that the United States has an interest in shoring up those two countries against Chinese and unpredictable North Korean threats.

This last issue provoked the president into reminding the country that candidates like Trump can't simply make up foreign policy on the fly. We have commitments in the world and whoever is president needs to take them seriously. And saying that many other countries, such as Pakistan, have nuclear weapons as a reason to allow more countries to have them is not responsible.

There is a reason why the Republican Party is trying desperately to stop Trump from earning enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot, even to go so far as to repeal a rule passed to stop Ron Paul and ensure the nomination of Mitt Romney just four short years ago. Even in the states that have already voted, such as Louisiana and Tennessee, there are efforts to deny Trump delegates or to convince formerly committed delegates to support another candidate, or no candidate at all. Yet. Now, don't confuse this with GOP support for Ted Cruz. The party doesn't want him either. What they want is an open convention where they can settle on a compromise candidate who can win, such'll get back to you on that.

All of this should serve to remind us that we have a president who is a positive role model, a committed family man, a serious thinker and an admirable representative of the United States. He's had his challenges and burdens and did not really understand just how hard the Republicans would try to thwart him, but he's learned and adjusted. In the end, we might not get Justice Garland, but we might trade that for the Senate in 2017. I'll take that deal.

And I think a majority of the people in this country are waking up to the reality of what might happen if we make the wrong choice.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest