Friday, June 17, 2016

Republican Party in Turmoil

The Republican Party is in turmoil.  Its leadership has so far chosen to support a presumptive nominee that has used hate, fear and personal attacks to secure enough delegates to be nominated at its upcoming convention.  Does the GOP really want to be the party of Donald Trump?
Does it want to cave to the rebuke Trump challenged them with on Wednesday in campaign a speech Atlanta?  "You know, the Republicans, honestly, folks, our leaders -- our leaders have to get tougher," he said.  "This is too tough to do it alone.  But you know what?  I think I am going to be forced to."  Does the party want to roll over in the face of the stinging criticism it received from Sam Clovis, Trump's campaign co-chair? "Either they want to get behind the presumptive nominee, who will be the nominee of this party, and make sure that we do everything we can to win in November, or we're just asking them if they can't do that, then just shut the hell up," he said.
Following Trump's outrageous statements about an American born judge of Mexican heritage, and his statements about Muslims, he has seen his support among Americans sharply decline.  An astonishing 70 percent of Americans surveyed recently by ABC News now have an unfavorable view of Trump.  Yet Trump intends on doing nothing to address this problem.  Instead, he is using the same narrow strategy that brought him victory in the Republican primaries--attack, divide and bully.  But in order to win in the general election he will need to attract independents, Democrats, women and minorities. 
A growing number of Republicans at all levels are distancing themselves from Trump. Asked to comment on Trump's ridiculous statement that President Obama was responsible for the terrorist massacre in Orlando, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded, "I am not going to be commenting on the presidential candidate today."  Last week, when McConnell was asked who Trump should pick as his running mate, he said, "He needs someone highly experienced and very knowledgeable because it's pretty obvious he doesn't know a lot about the issues."  
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced his support of Trump after many weeks, still has not fully embraced the candidate.  In an interview with NBC News, which will air Sunday, Ryan was asked whether Republicans should follow their conscience?   "The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that's contrary to their conscience," he said. "I get that this a very strange situation. He a very unique nominee. But I feel as a responsibility institutionally as the speaker of the House that I should not be leading some chasm in the middle of our party. Because you know what I know that'll do? That'll definitely knock us out of the White House," he added.  
Fundraising is now a problem for the Republican Party.  And many major companies that sponsored the GOP's 2012 convention have announced they will not be sponsoring its upcoming convention.  Down-ballot races are now threatened because Trump's behavior is undermining Senate and House candidates across the country.  The problem is so severe that the party has turned to former President George W. Bush, who was very unpopular when he left office, to help save its most vulnerable senators.  
Stopping Trump from becoming the Republican presidential nominee will not be easy at this point.  Trump received more than 13 million votes in the primaries, and he has won more than enough delegates to be nominated.   If the party gives its nomination to someone else, and there is no clear alternative, it will risk revolt.   But would the GOP really be worse off if it did so?
For the past eight years the Republicans have been the party of obstructionism in Congress. Its leadership has allowed a minority of conservatives to dictate the direction of the party no matter the consequences, including shutting the government down.  The leadership has repeatedly said no to compromise with Democrats for fear of upsetting those on its far right.
So it should be no surprise that the party's leadership has not stood up to Donald Trump. His bullying tactics, racist statements and lack of temperament have damaged their brand, and they will do nothing except hope for the best in November's elections.  
In short, Republicans will reap what they have sown.    

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Clinton v. Trump

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made history on Tuesday when she won enough delegates to secure the Democratic Party's nomination for president.  "Thanks to you, we have reached a milestone," she told thousands of wildly enthusiastic supports in Brooklyn Tuesday evening.  "The first time in our nation's history that a woman will be a major party's nominee," she said to a thundering ovation.  

Clinton's received her supporter's adulation with warmth, emotion and authenticity.  Like a great marathoner, she had crossed the finish line first following a difficult and challenging race.  She had her mojo back; she was poised and confident in demeanor, expressing gratitude to her supporters, and graciously reaching out to her competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders.  

"I want to congratulate Senator Sanders for the extraordinary campaign he has run," she said.  "The vigorous debate that we have had about how to raise incomes, reduce inequality, increase upward mobility, have all been good for the Democratic Party and for America," she added.  With her decisive victory in California and several other states, Clinton dashed the dim fire of hope that Sanders' supporters had going into Tuesday.

Telling her supporters that the stakes in this coming presidential election are high, she attacked the presumptive Republican nominee.  "Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be commander and chief," she declared with resolve.   She said Trump wants to win by "stoking fear and rubbing salt in wounds."  She cited Trump's attacks on a federal judge, born in Indiana of Mexican heritage, immigrants, a reporter with disabilities, women, Muslims, and the press, saying, "It goes against everything we stand for."  And in a play on Trump's campaign motto, she said firmly, "When he says 'Let's make American great again,' that is code for let's take America backwards.  Back to a time when opportunity and dignity were reserved for some not all."  

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, at the Trump National Golf Club in suburban New York City, Trump addressed supporters in an attempt to calm the waters that have roiled his campaign this past week. Reading a well-prepared script from TelePrompTer, something he has criticized Clinton for doing, Trump carefully read words meant to assure his party's restless leaders.  "I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle, I will never let you down," he asserted.  Trump has received growing criticism from GOP leaders for the very things Clinton cited in her later speech.  He was unapologetic, instead announcing he would soon give a major speech attacking the Clintons, noting, "Hillary Clinton turned the State Department into her private hedge fund."

Both candidates have many challenges ahead.  Clinton has to consolidate her party to bring disappointed Sanders' supporters into the fold, which will be no easy task.  She also faces an FBI investigation around her private email server, which will continue on for many weeks.  Trump must apologize for his many insensitive and racist remarks, and prove that he is presidential.   But can the pugnacious fighter, who has won his party's mantle by swinging freely from hips, campaign "on message?"  Will an apology from Trump make up for his ill-tempered remarks?

This has already been an historic presidential campaign; the first woman presidential nominee is facing a real estate developer with no political experience.  On Tuesday it appeared that these two campaigns were headed in different directions.  But this election has so far demonstrated that anything can happen.  Hang on.  

Smith School

(My address to the graduates of the Smith School, New York, NY)

It is an honor to be with you this evening.  On this very special day, we celebrate you and your accomplishments.  You have successfully completed the courses that will now serve as a foundation for your future. 

For those of you who now move on to high school, you will soon enter an important phase in your life.  The next four years will expose you to subjects and ideas that will challenge you, but also prepare you for your adulthood.   I encourage you to focus all your energies on your studies—and to make the most of your high school years.

For those of you graduating from high school, you have now completed an important phase in your life’s journey.   Now go forth with confidence and the knowledge that you are well prepared for the future.

Because of the Smith School’s unique approach to education, and its caring teachers and nurturing environment, here you have been given an opportunity to learn and to succeed.  You should all be proud of yourselves—your parents sure are! 

Many great people throughout the world’s history have recognized the importance of education.  The great South African leader and civil rights icon, Nelson Mandela, said, “Education is THE most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world.” 

The great American philosopher Allan Bloom said, “Education is the movement from darkness into light.”  And the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  This is a very important idea—for the pursuit of your passion, whatever it may be, inevitably leads to great personal reward.

A great American educational reformer, Horace Mann, said, “A human being is not attaining his full heights until he is educated.”  A great (and very large) former NBA basketball superstar, Charles Barkley, said, “People cannot rely on government to come help you in times of need.  You have to get your education.” 

The great American historian, Daniel Boorstin, said, “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.”  Here at the Smith School you have been given a wonderful opportunity to learn many things you did not already know.  But learning, and educating yourself should be, must be a life long experience.   And the tools you have obtained here at the Smith School can be applied in your continuous pursuit of learning, and your career.  The great Chinese Philosopher, Confucius, said, “You cannot open a book without learning something.”

The Smith School mission statement is inspiring, and it contains several important words:

Responsibility.  You should strive at all times to be a responsible person, a responsible employee and a responsible citizen.  So be fully engaged in your life. 

Adapt.  Everyday technology is advancing and Society is evolving—you must be able to adapt to change.  Do not fear it--rather embrace change.  The great American inventor and Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”
Innovate.  Do not be afraid to develop new ideas, and to bring them to fruition.  Conversely, do not be afraid to make mistakes, or to even fail.  Everyone makes mistakes--everyone has failures.  The key is to learn from your mistakes—and you will.  The great Irish author, Bram Stoker, the man who wrote Dracula 100 years ago, said, “We learn from failure, not success.”  The great founder of the Apple company, Steve Jobs, who endured some failures along with great success, said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” 

Alas, this is not the time to speak of failure, for today is a culmination of your success, your hard work has paid off.  You all have overcome many challenges and have navigated uncertain seas to prove to yourself that you can do it--you can succeed. 

So take the many lessons you have learned in this wonderful institution, and build upon the foundation you now have in place.  

President Barack Obama wrote a note to my daughter several years ago that still today hangs on her bedroom wall.  “Dream big dreams.”  Like so many people, President Obama was challenged by childhood difficulties.  But he dared to dream.

I tell all of my students to find their passion--then put all of their energy into pursuing that passion.  Shine a light, light a fire, reach for the heights, and change the world.  Be true to yourself—be who you want to be—but never stop being a student.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Trump's Press Tirade

Donald Trump unleashed a series of angry attacks on the press, including personal insults directed at some reporters attending his news conference Tuesday.  He called an ABC News reporter "a sleaze" and at another point said, "I think the political press is among the most dishonest people I have ever met, I have to tell you."  Of course, Trump has benefitted from more that $2 billion in free media coverage, according to a New York Times report in March, and his 40 minute news conference was carried live on the cable news channels.  

Trump's harsh attack appeared to serve many purposes for him.  First, taking on the press makes him look strong to his supporters because it is so unpopular with Republicans.  Second, Trump intended to change the subject from legitimate press inquiries about his handling of the veterans' fundraiser into a story about the press' unfairness.  Trump also was attempting to draw attention away from growing questions about Trump University, which is the subject of an embarrassing federal lawsuit.

The issue that triggered Trump's diatribe was $6 million he and his campaign spokespersons had regularly said he had raised to help America's veterans.  Trump had cancelled his participation in a Fox News debate in January because he was mad with how the network was treating him, and instead held a rally to raise money for veterans.   At the fundraiser he announced that the event had raised $6 million, including $1 million from Donald Trump himself.

Some veterans organizations subsequently raised questions about how much money was pledged, and exactly where it was being donated.  Reporters began to follow up on the status of the money.  Last week The Washington Post published a story with the headline, "Four months after fundraiser, Trump says he gave $1 million to veterans group."  Today Trump provided details of how much money he said had been raised and to what veterans' organizations the funds had been distributed.  He also displayed a copy of the $1 million check he had written to a veterans organization just last week.

Trump campaigns on his success as a businessman, repeatedly saying he knows how to get things done, and that "I am a unifier."  But he has consistently shown he has thin skin when it comes to criticism, and his default tactic is to immediately attack his critics.  Most often his vitriolic retorts are in the form of personal insults rather than facts.

"The press should be ashamed of themselves," he said Tuesday, "You make me look very bad."  He singled out political reporters as "Unbelievably dishonest."  He sarcastically referred to a CNN reporter as "A real beauty."   In January, Trump took on Fox News anchor Megan Kelly after she asked some tough questions at a debate.  Trump tweeted, "I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct.  Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter."  And at rallies Trump regularly points to the camera stand and calls the press "slime" and "disgusting" to the cheers of his followers.

Some observers have said that Trump does not understand that the role of a free press is to hold candidates accountable for their actions and what they say.   In Founding Father Thomas Jefferson's words, "The agitation it produces must be submitted to.  It is necessary to keep the waters pure."  But Trump knows exactly what he is doing, and he does not want to keep the waters pure, otherwise he would release his tax returns.  And so far his bullying has earned him the Republican Party's nomination for president.  A reporter asked Trump if Tuesday's press conference was an indication of what his White House press conferences would be like.  "It's going to be like this," Trump responded.
Memo to Donald J. Trump: your press tirades will not have chilling effect on the press.  Reporters will continue to ask you tough questions, along with all the other candidates, because it is their job. And the questions will only intensify in the months leading up to the election given the future of the country is at stake.   You and some of your supporters may think your press attacks are effective, but it is really a sign of weakness, and an indication you have a lot to hide.  

The truth will ultimately prevail.  Remember President Richard Nixon?   

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Clinton's "Mistake"

As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nears her goal of securing the Democratic presidential nomination she once again is testing the loyalty of even her most ardent supporters.  A State Department inspector general report, released Wednesday, found that she had not sought permission to use a private email server while she was in office, contradicting her explanation that she has repeated throughout her campaign.   

The report is damning, noting that she had "a personal obligation to discuss using her email account to conduct official business," but there was no evidence she sought or received approval from the State Department.  The State investigation also was critical of Clinton's handling of emails under the Federal Records Act after she stepped down.  While she later turned over thousands of emails, she had thousands more she considered personal destroyed.  The government has now determined that more than 100 emails Clinton sent contain classified information.  

Meanwhile, an FBI investigation into her email use continues, as well as other legal challenges, which all casts a dark cloud over her ongoing campaign.   Clinton has repeatedly said that other Secretaries of State used a private email address.  The State report found that Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served in President George W. Bush's first term, said he used a private address for unclassified emails.  But at least two emails sent to him have now been marked classified.  

The report also points out that the email rules were clarified before Clinton became Secretary of State to not allow the use of a private server because of "significant security risks."   In November 2010, her deputy chief of operations recommended "putting you on State email" to shield her email from spam.  She responded that she would consider using a separate address, but "I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible."  The report says Clinton was sent a memo in 2011 warning of hackers trying to access private email accounts, and that she was given a personal briefing on the issue.  

Why would the Secretary of State, who should know the rules of her department, seek to use a private server?  In March 2015, Clinton told CNN, "I opted for convenience to use my personal account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two."  She continued, "Looking back, it would have been better if I'd simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn't seem like an issue."   This effort to minimize the issue flies in the face of State Department rules.  While the State report found that neither Clinton nor Powell was directly told to end their personal email, there were plenty of warnings.

The FBI is looking into whether Clinton mishandled government information, which could result in criminal charges.  The investigation reportedly centers on the failure to preserve government records and exposing government information to security risks.   Clinton and her top aides are expected to be interviewed by the FBI in the near future.   Clinton has described the FBI investigation as a "security inquiry."  But FBI Director James Comey said he wasn't familiar with that term, instead calling it an investigation and adding that there is no external deadline.  "I remain close to that investigation to make sure that it's done well and has the resources that are needed," he continued, "My goal in any investigation it to do it well and to do it promptly."   

Meanwhile, Republicans immediately capitalized on the State Department findings.  "This report underscores what we already know about Hillary Clinton: she simply cannot be trusted," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.   Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House oversight committee, responded in a statement.  "While Secretary Clinton preserved and returned tens of thousands of pages of her emails to the Department for public release, Secretary Powell has returned none."  The statement concluded, "Republicans need to stop wasting taxpayer dollars singling out Secretary Clinton just because she is running for President."

The ultimate impact of Clinton's email controversy on her campaign will not be known until the FBI announces its findings.  There is no question that the controversy plays right into the widely held perception that Clinton is not trustworthy.   The presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, is making the most of Clinton's troubles.  He has branded her "Crooked Hillary," and he told a rally Wednesday night, "She's as crooked as they come, she had a little bad news today."  However, recent polls show that Trump is even more unpopular than Clinton.   And Trump's bullying, erratic behavior and outrageous statements have caused many Republicans to cautiously embrace his candidacy, and others to hold off on their endorsements. 

While it may be nearly impossible for Clinton's Democratic opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, to overtake her in the delegate count, he has pledged to take his fight to the Democratic Convention. A new poll, taken before the State Department report was released,  shows Sanders has closed the gap among likely voters in the upcoming California primary.   

Last September, in an effort to quiet the controversy, Clinton told ABC News that her use of private email was a "mistake," adding, "I am sorry about that.  I take responsibility."   Now, nearly one year later, the email controversy continues to gain momentum and roil her campaign.   And the FBI has not yet spoken.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

Republican Crisis Management

Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, many party stalwarts are so upset with the billionaire businessman that they are considering backing an independent party candidate.   Others believe that the party will take a such a severe shellacking at the polls in November with Trump that the party could lose control of Congress.   

Trump himself put Republicans on notice Sunday in an interview on ABC when he said,  "This is called the Republican Party, it's not called the Conservative Party."  Trump later added, "I think it would be better if it were unified...there would be something good about it, but I don't think it actually has to be unified in the traditional sense."  The question for many Republicans is how can they embrace a candidate who is not a true conservative, and whose extensive use of personal attacks has dragged the campaign into the gutter?

Conservative commentator William Kristol says the answer is don't support Trump.  Kristol called Trump unqualified for the presidency, on CNBC Monday, because of his lack "character and temperament."   While ruling out voting for Democrat Hillary Clinton, Kristol said, "We don't need a binary choice.  The system is set up to allow independent candidates to get on the ballot." Actually, he is misinformed on the last point.  For instance, the Texas deadline for independent candidates to file an application to be included on the November ballot is Monday, May 9.  And the application, "must contain 79,939 signatures of registered voters who did not vote in the presidential primary of either party." 

Kristol met in Washington last week with former GOP standard-barer Mitt Romney to discuss the prospects for a third party candidate.  Romney has been critical of Trump's candidacy, but he has said he is not interested in a third party run.  The Washington Examiner reported Romney said he currently could not support either party's candidate.  Nonetheless, he lamented, "I am dismayed at where we are now, I wish we had better choices, and I keep hoping that somehow things will get better, and I just don't see an easy answer from where we are."

Many establishment Republicans have decided to focus their attention on the down-ballot races that may be jeopardized with Trump at the top of the ticket.  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, in a statement Friday posted on Facebook, said, "In November, I will not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but I will support principled conservatives at the state and federal levels, as I have done my entire life."  Neither his brother or father, both former Republican presidents, will endorse Trump.  Trump called Jeb Bush "dishonorable" for reneging on his pledge to support the GOP candidate.  

The Trump candidacy has left many incumbent Republican Senators and Representatives squirming.  Arizona Senator John McCain, the party's 2008 presidential candidate, in in a tough reelection bid this year in a state with a large Latino population.  McCain, perhaps walking a fine line on Trump, told CNN, "You have to listen to people that have chosen the nominee of our Republican Party."  He concluded, "I think it would be foolish to ignore them."  McCain has stressed he is running his own campaign, but recent polls show he is tied with Democratic opponent Ann Kirkpatrick.

Meanwhile, rhetoric involving Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has reached the boiling point.  Ryan said last week he is not yet ready to endorse Trump.  Trump supporter and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin told CNN she would work to defeat Ryan by supporting his primary opponent in his Wisconsin district.  Trump is scheduled to meet with Ryan and other party leaders in Washington Thursday, and he has said he would not rule out removing Ryan as the chair of the Republican Convention.  

The ongoing political battles involving Trump and other Republicans are taking attention away from the still unresolved Democratic primary.  They are also unsettling for GOP efforts to raise campaign funds.  Do donors put their money behind Trump, or instead only target down-ballot races?  And while Trump has "expanded" the party base during the primaries, he has also alienated many traditional Republicans. 

Following Thursday's meetings in Washington, no doubt the participants will all say they had a good meeting, and 
that they have agreed to work to unite the party.  But, given the tenor of the Republican campaign, how can they really unite?   Of course, these are politicians.