mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Great Establishment Hope”: Was Marco Rubio Overrated All Along?

That was a rough debate for Marco Rubio. He finally got that long-awaited challenge on his previous support for the “Gang of Eight” immigration-law overhaul, which he handled well enough. But any way you look at it, this puts him to the left of the field on the major animating issue of the campaign. He continually took fire from a surging Ted Cruz and a feisty Rand Paul. He spent much of the night on the defensive.

He acquitted himself adequately enough through all that, sure, but what do we really have to support the idea that this is the guy who can prevent Cruz or Donald Trump from capturing the GOP nod? To unite the factions of the party that recoil at the thought of nominating either Trump or Cruz, Rubio may well have needed a much bigger, better night than the one he had Tuesday.

And what Rubio really didn’t need was another establishmentarian like Chris Christie putting points up on the board. Part of the reason Cruz and Trump and Ben Carson have been so successful has been that the moderate vote is divided among so many candidates; the best thing that could’ve happened for the anti-insurgent effort is for a clear alternative to the Cruz/Trump emerging in the very near future, and that sure didn’t happen Tuesday night.

Let’s get the usual caveats out of the way: We’re still a month out from Iowa. Cruz and Trump might yet destroy each other, which would give Rubio more room to rise. Buoyed by a last-minute ad blitz, Jeb Bush could somehow, in theory, come back from the dead. Or maybe, just maybe, we just get to the convention without a clear winner, and the GOP’s muckety-mucks figure out a way to draft an attractively boring guy like Mitch Daniels to run against Hillary Clinton.

But the trend lines should be pretty obvious at this point: Cruz is surging at a good time, maybe a half-step too early; Trump has a legion of diehard fans and solid polling numbers; Rubio, meanwhile, is lagging behind. And if you don’t think Rubio can stop Cruz or Trump, the pickings get awfully slim.

Christie? The guy who spent the last debate at the kids’ table? Sure, I guess, if he can capture New Hampshire and roll into the Southern states with a big win under his belt. But let’s not forget that the Fort Lee traffic jam will continue to haunt him, that he’s squishy on plenty of big issues that are important to the base, that his embrace of President Obama is still ready-made footage for an attack ad, that he’s deeply unpopular in the state he governs and that his temperament hasn’t exactly endeared him to voters outside the Northeast.

But without Christie or Rubio, who is there? Poor old Jeb? Is anyone still holding out hope for a John Kasich surge?

Yes, Rubio has soaked up the Beltway buzz, but no one seems to know what primaries he could actually, you know, win. Right now Rubio is stuck in a distant third in Iowa, some 16 points or so behind Trump in New Hampshire, and fourth in South Carolina. Sure, you say, polls change. As the pollsters themselves remind us, those surveys we get so breathless over are just “snapshots in time.”

Yet with Jeb dead in the water, Kasich unable to gain traction and Christie struggling at the back of the pack, Rubio had what looked like a perfect political moment. Polls indicate he’s the most electable Republican in a race against Clinton, and pundits and the GOP establishment waited for his seemingly inevitable surge.

And waited. And waited.

Now, instead of talk of a boom for Rubio, we increasingly have Republicans wondering how the guy is getting so consistently out-hustled on the ground. “[U]nderneath the buzz, GOP activists in New Hampshire are grumbling that Rubio has fewer staff members and endorsements than most of his main rivals and has made fewer campaign appearances in the state, where voters are accustomed to face-to-face contact with presidential contenders,” The Boston Globe wrote this month. Iowa Republicans, meanwhile, are likewise annoyed that he doesn’t have much of a presence there.

Rubio’s apparent reluctance to really work the trail is all a bit mystifying. He says he’s missing Senate votes because he’s busy campaigning, and then people in New Hampshire and Iowa get miffed that he’s nowhere to be found. You don’t need a lot of money to barnstorm, which is why it’s usually the preferred tactic of candidates like Rubio, who has lagged behind Cruz and Bush in the fundraising race.

TV ads are expensive, so candidates light on cash, the thinking goes, need to really be working voters on the ground. Rubio’s staff, meanwhile, has indicated that they reach enough voters through Fox News and the debates to make up for whatever deficiencies on the trail. So far, his stable but not-great primary polling doesn’t provide a lot of evidence to back up that theory.

As he showed again Tuesday night, Rubio may be the most eloquent speaker in the party—especially on foreign policy. He’s also cut a number of good ads and has a rightly respected communications team. But there’s no reason to think he can continue to run his campaign out of a cable-news greenroom.

It’s possible Rubio still takes off, but the GOP has never nominated a guy who lost both Iowa and New Hampshire, and the latter, where he’s still struggling, is probably a must-win for him. It’s a weird year, sure, but why should we think, in a primary season that’s been dominated by talk of restricting immigration, the guy whose biggest legislative push was for a bipartisan “amnesty” bill will capture the nomination?

So what if the Great Establishment Hope, the insurgent-killer so many of us were waiting for, never emerges? It’s kind of hard to process the Republican nomination coming down to a choice between the Senate’s least-popular showboat and a New York billionaire who’s basically been a liberal all his life. Perhaps that’s why we keep coming back to Rubio and Jeb and maybe now Christie.

But right now it looks like only Cruz and Trump have clear-ish paths to the nomination. Cruz takes Iowa, Trump wins New Hampshire, and then those two duke it out for the Southern states.

Maybe it’s because the other guys just kept committing a series of own goals. Or maybe, when we look back at 2016, we will see it as the year when the GOP transformed into something more akin to the populist, nationalist, anti-immigrant parties we’re seeing in Europe – i.e. the kind of party for which Trump or Cruz would be the obvious standard bearer. Either way, this is starting to look like a two-way race between Trump and Cruz, which means Rubio and company are quickly running out of time to show they can win this thing.

 

By: Will Rahn, The Daily Beast, December 16, 2015

December 17, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“He’s Shifted, Backflipped, And Outright Lied”: Christie; A Personality-Driven Candidate Makes Contradictory Campaign Promises

“Telling It Like It Is” — That’s Chris Christie’s campaign slogan, revealed the day before he formally announced his candidacy for president. It’s meant to evoke his brash persona, which is the biggest advantage he has in a crowded GOP field.

Christie is the 14th Republican candidate to announce, and is not expected to be the last. But with trailing poll numbers and an iffy record in New Jersey, where he is in his sixth year as governor, he will be a hard sell for GOP primary voters. It makes sense, then, that his announcement speech Tuesday morning touted bombast over bonafides, rhetoric over record, and a promise of a clean campaign that runs contrary to everything we know about the bellicose, secretive governor.

His speech opened with “We Weren’t Born to Follow” by Jersey rockers Bon Jovi, whose blue-collar, hard-won affirmations provided a fitting soundtrack to the event. (The announcement closed with “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” by the same group.) Christie’s address was rooted in his humble origins, beginning with his choice of venue — the gymnasium of Livingston High School, from which he graduated in 1980 — and segued to his family history: a tale of blue-collar success and the American Dream realized, with Christie himself embodying the dreams of his parents and grandparents.

As in interviews he’s given, he was light on policy and the specifics of his accomplishments as governor. He mentioned “reforming tenure” and “reforming pensions and health benefits,” but didn’t delve into details, possibly because he has a messy and contentious track record on the subject. Other than a line about fixing the country’s “broken entitlement system” and “encouraging businesses to invest in America again” through deregulation, he didn’t say much about what his platform would be. (He may not have much to say, period, other than the word “reform.”)

What he did play up was his persona — imperious, truth-telling, no-nonsense Christie, who tells it like it is and has the ability to work with the other side to get things done.

“Both parties have failed our country,” he said, his voice rising. “Somehow now ‘compromise’ is a dirty word. If Washington and Adams and Jefferson believed compromise was a dirty word, we’d still be under the crown of England.”

Befitting the high-school setting, he drew parallels to high-school concerns — namely, popularity contests. He said that he was not running for prom king, and that respect was more important than love. “I am not looking to be the most popular guy who looks in your eyes every day and says what you want to hear,” only to turn around and do something else, he said.

And yet his critics allege that he’s done exactly that – on pension reform and gun legislation, Christie has shifted, backflipped, and outright lied, and always managed to modulate his style of confrontation and candor — to suit whatever position was most expedient at the time.

His pledge to run a campaign that wouldn’t “tear people down,” is quite a leap for a man who is widely known for his humorous, often nasty takedowns of others – YouTube is littered with videos of him calling out those who criticize him or ask what he thinks are silly questions, calling them “idiots” or “stupid” or worse.

And when he’s not belittling those asking the questions, Christie has been known to simply not answer them.

He promised a campaign free of pandering, spin, or focus group-tested answers: “You get what I think whether you like it or not or whether it makes you cringe every once in a while. A campaign when I’m asked a question, I will give the answer to the question asked, not the answer my political consultants told me to get backstage.”

Christie’s bravado about not being run by political operatives belies the fact that he’s a career politician who obviously knows how the game is played.

“I mean what I say and I say what I mean – that’s what America needs right now,” he said in his closing remarks. He promised to be the kind of candidate who would be open – in his eyes, heart, ears, and mind. Ironic, since his administration isn’t known to be forthcoming, and it’s hard to imagine that as president he’d be any more “open” than he is now.

Surrounded by supporters, against the backdrop of the American flag, and flanked by his family, Christie choked up as he recounted why he does what he does: “I wake up every morning knowing that I have an opportunity to do something great. That’s why this job is a great job and that’s why the president of the United States is an even greater job.”

 

By: Stephanie Schwartz, The National Memo, June 30, 2015

July 1, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primaries | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Problems Go Deeper”: Chris Christie Is No John McCain

It’s no surprise that Chris Christie has adopted the straight-talk strategy that carried John McCain to a huge upset victory over George W. Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire primary and helped him win the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. It’s a natural fit given the New Jersey governor’s blunt, outspoken personality.

Yet McCain was in first or second place in polls of New Hampshire at this point both times he ran. Christie is in single digits, and as far back as ninth in one poll of the large Republican pack.

There’s a reason it’s not working. There’s no way to break this gently: Chris Christie is no John McCain.

In McCain, the Arizona senator, you had a bona fide Vietnam War hero who had spent more than five years as a prisoner of war. You had a presidential candidate whose candor on the 2000 trail was startling, sometimes charming and occasionally quite personal.

When a voter in rural New Hampshire complained about substandard medical facilities, McCain said that was the price for the voter’s choice to live in a gorgeous setting instead of a more populated area. When another New Hampshire voter worried aloud about whether his child would be able to get a factory job, McCain advised him to aim higher for his child. He undercut his own anti-abortion position when a reporter asked if he’d forbid an abortion for his teenage daughter if she became pregnant — saying he’d discourage that but the final decision would be hers. When the predictable furor erupted, he did not kick the press off the bus.

With McCain, you also had politician who was publicly and continually remorseful about his role in a campaign finance scandal, who then became passionate about breaking the connection between money and influence. This defining ethics challenge came in 1987. That’s the year McCain and four other senators asked federal regulators to drop charges against the Lincoln Savings and Loan chaired by Charles Keating Jr., a donor to all their campaigns.

Taxpayers were on the hook for a $3 billion bailout when Lincoln S&L collapsed in 1989. McCain called his intervention on behalf of Keating “the worst mistake of my life.” A decade later he made campaign finance reform the centerpiece of his first presidential campaign.

Bridgegate has been Christie’s defining ethics challenge. The massively disruptive four-day traffic jam on the Fort Lee approach to the George Washington Bridge was engineered by his aides in 2013 as political revenge against a Democratic mayor who did not support him for re-election that year. For nearly a week, their fake “traffic study” turned 30-minute commutes into three and four hours. The New York Times offered a sampling of who was trapped in the crippling gridlock: first responders in police cars and ambulances; buses of kids headed to the first day of school; a longtime unemployed man who was late for his first day at a new job, and a woman who couldn’t reach the hospital in time for her husband’s stem-cell transplant.

Christie said he had been “blindsided” by the plot. He said he was embarrassed and humiliated and apologized to “the people of New Jersey” and “the people of Fort Lee.” He also denied creating an atmosphere that led to such behavior and maintained that “I am not a bully.” If he had followed the McCain model, Christie would have then become a highly visible national advocate for good government, political civility and excellence in public service. He might have started an organization to that effect, or joined one. Alternatively, perhaps he would have launched or lent his name to an anti-bullying organization.

Unlike McCain, Christie does not have a heroic personal biography to cushion problems. He does have a long, mixed, and controversial record as governor. He also has a long trail of viral videos that show him insulting and shouting at people who disagree with his policies. That image was a boon for his popularity and his fundraising for his party. He used to revel in it. Now, not so much. Now he is trying to morph into a policy truthteller on entitlements, taxes, and national security.

“Real. Honest. Direct. Tell It Like It Is.” According to National Journal, that’s the banner that advertised Christie’s recent appearance at The Village Trestle tavern in Goffstown, New Hampshire. But there’s a difference between confrontational straight talk and the McCain 2000 brand of straight talk. Christie, belatedly realizing that the first kind is not presidential, is trying to transition to the latter. But his problems go deeper than that, as do his differences from McCain.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, June 11, 2015

June 11, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, John McCain | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“It Ain’t Over Yet, There’s A Whole New Inquiry”: Christie’s Administration Is Facing Another Investigation

If after last week’s Bridgegate indictments you thought Chris Christie was finally done as the focus of government investigations, think again. The Republican governor’s administration in New Jersey is facing a whole new inquiry — this one involving hundreds of millions of dollars, and not just blocked-off bridge lanes.

At issue are the fees being paid by New Jersey’s beleaguered public pension system to Wall Street firms. In recent years, Christie’s officials have shifted more of the retirement savings of teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public workers into the hands of private financial firms. That has substantially increased the management fees paid by taxpayers to those firms. Indeed, while Christie says the pension system cannot afford to maintain current retirement benefits, pension fees paid to financial firms have quadrupled to $600 million a year — or $1.5 billion in total since he took office in 2010.

In recent months, details have emerged showing that Christie officials have directed lucrative pension management deals to some financial companies whose executives have made contributions to Republican groups backing Christie’s election campaigns. Additionally, Christie’s officials have admitted that they have not been fully disclosing all the fees the state has been paying to private financial firms.

Not surprisingly, this has made the trustees who oversee the state’s retirement system more than a little bit nervous — especially since the ever-higher fees have coincided with below-median returns for the state’s pension fund. So the trustees began asking questions, and when they didn’t get the answers they were looking for, they announced in April that they are launching a formal investigation of the matter.

Wayne Hall, the chairman of one of the state’s pension funds, told the Newark Star-Ledger that the new investigation is designed to help retirees understand why the state is paying so much.

“I’m a layman. I’m not on Wall Street. I’m not an investor, and I have 33,000 people that I answer to and they’re not investors either,” he told the newspaper. “Why are we paying that kind of money? When I see the exorbitant fees the state has been paying for the last couple of years, I have to question that.”

In their quest for better disclosure, Hall and his colleagues received a boost from an unlikely source: conservative activists. When it comes to pensions, those activists are often calling for benefit cuts, but when it comes to transparency, they are standing on the same side as the retirees.

“Both government workers and taxpayers deserve to know why such an incredible sum is being expended every year with the current system in deep crisis,” said Erica Klemens of the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity. “These are dollars that could be funding the system and preventing the state’s pension hole from growing even deeper. The decision by the trustees to look into this matter is the right thing to do.”

You might assume that the conservative support was designed to set the stage for New Jersey’s Republican governor to cooperate with the investigation’s push for transparency. But no — quite the opposite.

Only days after prosecutors indicted his appointees in the Bridgegate affair, Christie vetoed a bipartisan anti-corruption bill designed to insulate the state’s pension system from undue political influence. One of that bill’s provisions would have forced the state to better disclose the fees being paid to politically connected Wall Street firms.

That leaves the trustees to try get to the bottom of what’s really happening at the state’s $80 billion pension fund. They may not have the governor’s bully pulpit, but thousands of retirees are relying on them to bring the truth out from the shadows.

 

By: David Sirota, Senior Writer at The International Business Times; The National Memo, May 8, 2015

May 10, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, New Jersey, Public Pension Funds | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christie’s New Jersey Faces Yet Another Downgrade”: The State’s Structural Finances Are In A Very Precarious Condition

It was about a year ago when New Jersey’s debt was downgraded for the sixth time since Gov. Chris Christie (R) took office in 2010. The announcement came soon after the Republican governor scrapped his state pension-reform plan.

Four months later, the Garden State was hit with another downgrade. Then another. Late yesterday, it happened yet again.

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded New Jersey’s debt rating, dealing the Garden State its record ninth ratings cut since Gov. Chris Christie took office.

The ratings drop by one notch, from A1 to A2, on $32.2 billion worth of bonds underscores the state’s “weak financial position and large structural imbalance, primarily related to continued pension contribution shortfalls,” Moody’s said in a statement Thursday…. Credit downgrades make it more expensive for the state to borrow money to pay for things like road improvements and school construction.

The agency warned that the state’s structural finances are in a precarious enough condition that future downgrades may be necessary.

Christie not only holds the state record for the governor with the most downgrades, he holds a comfortable lead in this ignominious competition against his next closest rival.

In the larger context, I don’t doubt that the governor will kick off his presidential campaign soon, but I’m honestly not sure what he’ll say.

State pension reform, the “landmark achievement” of Christie’s first term, is no more. He’s still getting slammed, repeatedly, for the bridge scandal, which isn’t yet resolved. Job creation in New Jersey has been slower than most of the country, and its unemployment rate is still above the national average.

The Republican can’t point to his management skills, or his presidential temperament, or his legislative accomplishments. He can’t point to his standing in the polls, or his electability, or his major donors who’ve started to embrace different candidates.

Unpredictable things happen during a race for national office, but in a crowded, competitive field, it’s tough to see Christie’s road to success.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 17, 2015

April 18, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, New Jersey, Pension Plans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: