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