Can Americans still have a sensible and friendly political discussion across the partisan divide? The answer is yes, and we intend to prove it. Julie Roginsky, a Democrat, and Mike DuHaime, a Republican, are consultants who have worked on opposite teams for their entire careers yet have remained friends throughout. Here, they discuss the week’s events with Tom Moran, editorial page editor of The Star-Ledger.
Q. At their convention this week, with looting and burning in Kenosha in the background, Republicans warned of chaos and violence if Joe Biden wins this election and vowed that President Trump would bring law and order to the streets. Is that pitch going to work? Are those rioters giving Donald Trump new life?
Roginsky: That argument might have worked if Donald Trump were the challenger. Unfortunately for him, he’s the president and this “chaos and violence” is happening on his watch. If he can’t bring “law and order” to the streets now, why should even his voters believe that he will do it after his re-election?
DuHaime: Julie makes a good point that the civil unrest is happening on president’s watch, and that usually would hurt the incumbent. In 1968, LBJ didn’t even run for re-election. Trump, though, is trying to make the discussion about crime and safety, not racial injustice. Peaceful protests will hurt Donald Trump’s chances. Violence, looting and property damage will hurt Joe Biden. That’s because some elements of the party (not Biden himself) have called for defunding the police, which is wildly unpopular, even among Democratic voters.
Q. Have either of you detected an agenda for a second Trump term during this convention? Does he need one?
Roginsky: Trump doesn’t need a substantive agenda because he’s gotten this far just on promoting grievances and nostalgia for the halcyon days of white male domination uber alles . It’s telling that the vast majority of the speakers at this convention are either family members or current and former staff members. Most rational Republicans want to stay away from this apocalyptic nightmare.
DuHaime: His forward-looking agenda is that the economy will be great again, and the forgotten working class will be forgotten no more. That’s it. Aside from the excessive number of family members speaking, the convention has done a great job showing diversity in speakers – including Tim Scott, an African American U.S. Senator, Daniel Cameron, a young African American Attorney General, and Nikki Haley, a female Indian-American former governor and UN Ambassador. Perhaps more importantly, you have seen a female dairy farmer from Wisconsin, a logger from Minnesota, a lobsterman from Maine and a Democrat mayor from the blue collar Iron Range of northern Minnesota. These are examples of voters who voted for Obama but flipped to Trump in 2016.
Q. A vicious hurricane hit the Gulf Coast while California burns, and still no one at the convention is talking about climate. Is it just me, or is that a bit bizarre?
Roginsky: Climate change is a “hoax,” didn’t you hear? Hurricanes and fires are not of interest to this president, because he can’t rail against an act of God and providing real relief to the people hurt by natural disasters is beyond his capacity or interest. But mark my words: senators from Texas and Louisiana will soon be asking Congress for a bailout for their states from Hurricane Laura, since this administration depleted FEMA funding for emergency preparedness that could have mitigated the fallout from this storm. I’m also old enough to remember when they opposed rapid relief for New Jersey earlier this year, when it was one of the first states hit hard by COVID, another natural disaster.
DuHaime: I believe the speakers would do well to better acknowledge some of the major challenges we face in America – the COVID crisis, racial strife and anxiety, and yes, natural disasters. The president can play a leadership role in all three, and the federal government has the resources to help on all fronts if marshaled properly.
Q. Gov. Phil Murphy took the advice of liberal economists who warned against spending cuts during a recession, presenting a budget that includes $4 billion in borrowing and little belt-tightening. Does that make sense?
Roginsky: It makes perfect sense. Drastic cuts have historically only exacerbated recessions. But the devil is in the details for the governor. Politically, voters will give him a lot of leeway on this, provided that he doesn’t ask one cohort to pay more so that another cohort doesn’t have to make any sacrifices.
DuHaime: Makes sense? Higher income taxes, higher business taxes, even higher fees on health insurance, all while borrowing billions do not make sense. Every year, the Democrats see a different problem, but solution always seems to be the same – higher taxes.
Q. The budget has one big social initiative, the Baby Bond idea Sen. Cory Booker is pushing in Washington. It would give $1,000 to every newborn in families earning up to $130,000 a year, which could be used after age 18 for college, job-training or a home. Is that idea going to fly?
Roginsky: It’s a great idea but I’m not sure it’s going to fly right now. The governor asked for and received emergency borrowing powers because of the unprecedented nature of the pandemic. He is asking for over $4 billion in new debt and over $1 billion in new taxes. The baby bonds plan is not pandemic-related and I don’t know that there is broad appetite to have some people sacrifice more financially for a brand new spending initiative that doesn’t affect them directly. To be successful, the governor is going to have to message this one very carefully.
DuHaime: Give me a break. It is a terribly silly idea right now. Because it sounds nice, people are afraid to say it. We have the second-highest unemployment in America right now. The governor is proposing higher income taxes, higher business taxes, borrowing billions and cutting funding to hospitals, but let’s give unborn children a thousand bucks in 2038? Give a thousand bucks to unemployed restaurant workers now instead. If you want to empower today’s children for life in 20 years, let’s not pander with borrowed money. Let’s make difficult decisions now about improving our public education system, especially in our poorest communities.
Q. The governor says he may allow gyms to open soon, and restaurants for indoor dining. I love gyms and white tablecloths, but I’m not ready for that. Are you two? Is the public?
Roginsky: I’m kind of ticked off that I will soon no longer have an excuse to stay home and watch as my muscle mass disintegrates further into jello. But generally, yes, I do think people will return to restaurants at least. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in western Massachusetts this summer, where indoor dining has been allowed for a few months, and indoor restaurants are typically about as full as social distancing measures allow them to be. As we get closer to cold and flu season, that behavior may change but for now, it’s a positive lifeline for these businesses.
DuHaime: The governor is absolutely correct here. Gyms can operate safely with proper precautions. Gyms are often cavernous and have plenty of room for social distancing and air flow. Exercise is important for physical and mental health, and this will also help many people get safely back to work. I am hopeful we can move soon on indoor dining with proper distancing, expanding gathering limits and more so we continue to move in the right direction. Good job here to continue moving the state on the path to normalcy.
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