Stories by Stephen Richer

Stephen Richer is a director at a public interest law firm and is the co-founder and director of a Jewish social organization www.GathertheJews.com. He can be contacted at stephen.richer@gmail.com.

Admit it, The GOP Needs a Smart Nominee

October 24th, 2011 at 12:29 am 50 Comments

Mitt Romney is the most intellectual of the leading Republican presidential candidates (Romney, Cain, Perry). That can’t be questioned. His masterful debate performances – capped by the October 18th debate’s one-on-one destruction of Perry – have evinced quick-wittedness, a deep grasp of policy issues, and an ability to capably communicate.

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AJC Survey Confirms: Obama Losing Jewish Vote

September 26th, 2011 at 1:18 pm 22 Comments

A new poll from the American Jewish Committee shows further erosion of President Obama’s Jewish support. Only 45 percent of American Jews approve of “the way President Barack Obama has handled his job as President, medical ” and 48 percent disapprove. This is an even worse statistic than the 40 percent Jewish disapproval that Gallup reported last week.

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Perry is Toxic to Jewish Voters

September 19th, 2011 at 6:55 pm 32 Comments

President Obama, the Republican Jewish Coalition, and Ed Koch are all doing their best to push Jewish voters away from the Democratic Party. These efforts are having effect. In NY-9, Jewish voters turned from the Jewish Democratic candidate to hand the victory to his Catholic Republican rival Bob Turner. Only days later, a Gallup poll put Jewish disapproval of Obama at 40 percent.

But these efforts can swiftly be reversed by one man: Rick Perry.

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Jews or Gays, Which Decided NY-09?

September 15th, 2011 at 12:30 am 32 Comments

New York’s 9th congressional district is somewhere between 25 and 40 percent Jewish (according to three difference sources, drugstore  25 percent; 30 percent; 40 percent). Regardless, for sale it’s the most Jewish district in the country, and because of this large Jewish presence, the district has three registered Democrats for everyone one registered Republican. Republicans have not held the district since 1922.

Everything changed last night. We Republicans won the Jewish vote, and as a result, we won the special election. But did we win the Jewish vote in NY-09 the right way? In a way that can readily translate to other Jewish voters nationwide?

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The Jewish Vote Can be Decisive in Close Races

August 11th, 2011 at 12:44 am 7 Comments

Can the Jewish vote be decisive in swing states? Nathan Guttman has argued that it can’t in an article for the July/August issue of Moment Magazine. But does this claim survive scrutiny?

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Perry Nomination Will Alienate Young and Educated Voters

August 1st, 2011 at 6:58 pm 38 Comments

In an AP interview on Saturday, Rick Perry managed to swiftly steer into two topics – gay marriage and evolution – on which his views will likely alienate young and educated voters should he make it into the general election.

On gay marriage, Perry said  “I am for the federal marriage amendment.  And that’s about as sharp a point as I could put on it.”  The referred to federal marriage amendment would outlaw individual states – such as New York – from granting marriage licenses to gay couples.  This new statement is indeed a sharp point, and it is also a sharp contrast with Perry’s previously expressed tolerance for gay marriage as a state issue.

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The Supreme Court Does Not Work for Big Business

June 29th, 2011 at 11:32 am 21 Comments

Another Roberts-led Supreme Court term has ended, and another journalistic “the-Court-is-overwhelmingly-and-blatantly-pro-business” season has begun.  Consider the following article titles and segments written in the past two weeks:

“The Supreme Court, which winds up its term Monday, has once again shown itself to be highly skeptical of large lawsuits against big business, regardless of whether the suits are intended to protect workers, consumers or the environment.”  David Savage, The Los Angeles Times.  June 25, 2011.

“Analysis: Big business scores key Supreme Court term wins.”  James Vicini, Reuters. June 28, 2011.

“Corporations and the court: America’s Supreme Court is the most business-friendly for decades.” The Economist.  June 23, 2011.

Given such media outcry, it’s no surprise that Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) took the opportunity to call for a Judiciary committee hearing ominously named, “Barriers to Justice and Accountability:  How the Supreme Court’s Recent Rulings Will Affect Corporate Behavior.

But these articles and this hearing offend logic on two grounds:

1) The notion that the Court is supposed to call cases 50-50 to be considered fair. Consider a baseball umpire.  If a pitcher throws 75 strikes in a row and the umpire calls 75 strikes in a row, is the umpire blatantly biased toward strikes?  No.  The umpire’s job is to call strikes if they are within the strike zone.  Similarly, the job of the justices is to frame the law and to rule on how the issue fits (or does not fit) within the law.  The framework is not pro-business verse anti-business, but consistent with law verse inconsistent.

2) What numbers are these pro-business complaints coming from? Even if we accept the premise of the journalists and Leahy that the Court’s posture can be judged simply based on number of decisions that favor big business verse number of decisions that hurt big business, the numbers still don’t support the proffered hypothesis.  According to Richard Samp, who spoke at a recent Washington Legal Foundation seminar, “Of the 27 decisions, 13 came out the way the business community was hoping, and 13 came out the other way.”  Samp even went so far as to say that “the Court was far more friendly to plaintiffs suing businesses when the issue before the court was the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims, rather than whether the plaintiff and his lawyers should be permitted to make use of a procedural device.”

At the same seminar, Peter Keisler of Sidley Austin LLP claimed that the pro/anti-business framework is a “completely inaccurate description of how judges think about their work.”  Keisler pointed to Justice Breyer – one not often accused of being pro-business – as somebody who does not think the Court’s attitude toward business has changed over time.  And Keisler also called the Chamber of Commerce’s record at the Court – 57 percent victory – as “good, but not overwhelming.”

The Supreme Court already received unmerited insult from the executive branch at the 2010 State of the Union.  We don’t now need unfounded criticism from the legislative branch at today’s hearing.

Huntsman: Big GOP Man On Campus

June 20th, 2011 at 8:34 pm 21 Comments

Today I described “College Republicanism” for Students For Liberty.

Which Republican Party policies do college students (as a segment of young voters) specifically like and dislike?  To find out, sickness my organization (RK Research) has so far surveyed 1, illness 000 students at colleges throughout the country and tabulated their entries on 25 different policy issues.  The results – available here – are not complete but they begin to paint a picture of what “College Republicanism” looks like:

1)    College students don’t hate everything about the Republican Party. Especially in the free response section, buy respondents expressed approval of the party’s position on national security and its notions of limited government, economic liberty, and pro-entrepreneurial policies.

2)    It’s the economy stupid. General unemployment is 9.1 percent.  The unemployment rate for those less than 25 years old is 19 percent (or higher in some polls).  Understandably, college students are worried about their job prospects, and they rate the issue highly important.  The party that reclaims the mantle of economic competence will make major gains with college voters.  More on this topic:  “CNN Debate: Young Voters Win.”

3)    Opposition to gay marriage is a losing issue.  Although gay rights ranked low in importance for the average student, it ranked very important for some students, and almost all students ranked the Republican Party’s performance on gay rights as terrible, worst or second-to-worst of the 25 issues presented.  This data is consistent with reports from Pew, CIRCLE, and other polling organizations that have found that young people are far more accepting of gay marriage than older generations.  More on this topic: “Gay marriage issue poses long term challenge for GOP.”

4)    The environment matters.  Respondents rated both “environment” and “energy” to be of high importance.  If the Republican Party is to win college students, it can no longer casually dismiss these issues, treat them as unimportant, or deny their existence.  Climate change and energy scarcity must be addressed – but they can be addressed in a pro-market Republican-friendly way.

5)    Education.  Education policy at both the college level and the university level is of great importance to young voters.  In the free response section, many voters cited “No Child Left Behind” as one the least-liked issues of the Republican Party.  Conversely, many respondents noted “increased school choice” as a Republican policy strength.  Republicans need to codify an education policy consistent with its principles and then ensure that it is competently administered.

6)    Health Care.  Many students cited Republican opposition to federal health care reform – “Obamacare” – as a top Republican issue.  However, this does not carry the day.  Health care is so important to college students (and to all voters) that the Republicans need develop a cogent plan that voters can understand and rally behind.  No college student wrote about health care in terms of what the Republican Party offered, only what the Republican Party opposed.

If you try to match these six characteristics to a Republican candidate, the best fit, by far, is Jon Huntsman.  To go down the list:

1) Issue priority.  Huntsman’s campaign will revolve around the economy, China, and national security – the issues where college students trust the Republican Party.

2) Economy.  Huntsman is a true fiscal conservative responsible for massive tax cuts in Utah, managing the Utah budget, and winning business environment awards from Forbes;

3) Gay rights.  Huntsman is a social moderate who has long supported civil unions for gays;

4) Environment. Huntsman cares greatly about the environment, but realizes it must be addressed in a business-friendly way, and he has learned that cap and trade is not the solution.

5) Education.  Huntsman has repeatedly said that school choice is a top priority and that the public school system must be injected with competition.

6) Healthcare.  As Governor, Huntsman made healthcare reform a priority, and he signed into law a health care system that allows Utahns to take defined contributions from their employers and buy coverage on their own. The Heritage Foundation called it the “blueprint for consumer focused health care reform.”

Add to this Huntsman’s youth, and his “coolness,” and you have the model candidate for College Republicanism.


Should Republican Candidates Avoid Gay Marriage?

June 17th, 2011 at 4:42 pm 24 Comments

When asked about the subject of gay marriage at the CNN Monday night Republican debate, Governor Romney responded appropriately by saying, “Well … we ought to be talking about the economy and jobs,” instead of gay marriage.  But for whatever reason, host John King insisted on making the “gay question” the only question that each of the candidates addressed: “Let me start at this end, we’ll just go right through.  Are you a George W. Bush Republican, meaning a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, or a Dick Cheney [Republican] who … said this should … be a state’s decision?”

Bachmann reaffirmed her belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that gay marriage should be left to the states.

Cain also left things to individual states.  When pressed on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), he said he would never have overturned it.

Pawlenty departed from the gay marriage question (but he has spoken against it in times past) and said deference should be shown to the military on DADT.

This moved the discussion to DADT, a policy to which Paul said, “I would not work to overthrow it.  We have to remember, rights don’t come in groups.  We shouldn’t have gay rights.  Rights come as individuals.”

Following the caveat Romney made above, the former Massachusetts Governor said: “I believe that DADT should have been kept in place until conflict (Iraq/Afghanistan) was over.”

And Gingrich responded: “Well, I think it’s very powerful that both the Army and the Marines overwhelmingly opposed changing [DADT].  And as president … I would list to the commanders.”

These statements alone didn’t yield much insight on positions on gay marriage – three of the six panelists deferred to the well-being of the armed forces.  But certainly none of the candidates offered a voice of strong support of gay marriage or even civil unions.

This might play be a wise posture to take for the Republican primary.  According to an article at Poll Watch Daily, “85 percent of Staunch Conservatives and 72 percent of Main Street Republicans oppose the right of gays and lesbians to marry.”

But opposition to gay marriage is of dubious electoral efficacy when it comes to the general election.  The Los Angeles Times wrote in May that five recent polls showed the majority of Americans to support gay marriage, including a Gallup poll that said 53 percent of Americans support the rights of gays and lesbians to legally marry.

This trend has led some Republican strategists to worry that gay marriage is increasingly a losing issue for the Republican Party.  In a New York Times article, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said, “The Republican Party is shrinking.  One of the reasons it is shrinking is because there are large demographics in this country that view the party as intolerant or not relevant to them.  Politics is about addition.”

Young voters in particular seem apt to punish the party for its stance on gay marriage.  The same Gallup poll cited above showed that “70 percent of those between 18 and 34” support gay marriage.   Other studies – such as this one by Pew – estimate youth support to be lower, but still in favor of gay marriage.  RK Research confirms youth hostility toward the Republican Party’s position on gay marriage in its study of college students and the Republican Party.  The surveyed students, when asked to rate the Republican party on 25 issues, gave the party a score of 3.8 (1 – the worst, 10 – the best) on gay rights, dead last of the 25 issues.

The actual convictions and beliefs of the candidates aside, the issue of gay marriage poses a difficult question for the Republican candidates.  Do they hit the gay issue hard in the primary, only to have it potentially haunt them in the general election?  Or do they withhold antagonism toward gay marriage at the risk of upsetting much of the Republican base?

Perhaps the best strategy though is to stick with Romney’s plan and focus on the economy and the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

Huntsman Candidacy A Boon For GOP

June 14th, 2011 at 5:02 pm 38 Comments

As FrumForum noted a few hours ago, decease former governor of Utah Jon Huntsman Jr. will officially announce his candidacy this coming Tuesday at Liberty State Park, New Jersey.  Huntsman’s entry is hugely positive for the general well-being of the GOP field — he reemphasizes the primacy of the economy; he brings youth appeal; and he adds a cool composure that will appease partisan-weary voters.   

The Economy:
Last night’s GOP debate can be considered a success simply because the candidates spent the first hour (half the program) discussing the economy. With unemployment at 9.1 percent and the debt at record levels, the Republican strategy for 2012 should be: the economy, the economy, the economy.

Huntsman will help the Party stay economically focused — it’s his favorite subject.  When asked what he is proud of as a governor, he cites the $225 million tax cut he signed, Utah’s 3.5 percent growth rate over the past five years, and the Forbes awards Utah won for business environment.  Almost half of American voters think that the economy is the most important issue of the day.  There’s no reason to think that Huntsman won’t give the people what they want.

Youth Appeal: In 2008, 66 percent of young voters (18-29) voted for President Obama.  In 2010, without President Obama on the ticket, young voters favored the Democratic Party over the Republican Party, 54 to 40 percent. Clearly, the Republican Party could use some help with young voters.

Huntsman can provide this help. Even if he’s not the eventual candidate, he will make the group as a whole look less stodgy.  He’s only 51; he’s an avid outdoorsman and mountain biker; he spent a number of years in a rock band as an electric keyboardist; and it doesn’t hurt that he recently led South Carolina in its “kick ass” cheer at graduation.

Keeping It Calm: According to Time Magazine, Huntsman is one of the few politicians to possess the same cool demeanor as President Obama.  Added to this, Huntsman has already declared that insulting President Obama (or competing Republicans) will not factor largely (if at all) into his campaign.  Say what you will about the electoral efficacy of this strategy, but it will help the Republican contenders temper their collective image for the 82 percent of Americans who say they are “fed up with partisan bickering in Washington.”

Whether or not Jon Huntsman is the eventual Republican candidate, there’s strong reason to believe that by simply entering the race, he’s helping the party.