Q&A: A pundit on presidential politics

Name: Larry Gerston
Age: 69
City: Los Gatos
Position: Political analyst, professor emeritus www.larrygerston.com


You taught political science at San Jose State University for more than 40 years, and you’re an analyst for NBC11 who has been weighing in on politics for 36 years. With Donald Trump closing in on the GOP nomination and the Republican Party eyeing a contested convention, have you ever seen a presidential race like this one?

Larry Gerston: Not in modern American politics. We’ve certainly seen very acrimonious periods in the past. But beyond the insults, this augurs the possibility of a major change. There is something called party realignment. This happens about once every 40 to 60 years. At that moment, people in large groups who have voted a certain way in a certain party over a couple of elections will switch. The last time we saw this was when the once-Democratic South became the Republican South.

What the Trump phenomenon is doing is basically breaking up both parties, in that he is attracting tea party types and some evangelicals, but more to the point, blue-collar Democrats, who are going to hook up with conservatives and become the basis of a new Republican Party. As a political scientist it’s exciting. It’s like a 9-point earthquake to a seismologist.

Larry Gerston

What are your thoughts about the Bernie Sanders campaign on the Democratic side?

Sanders taps into the economic uncertainty felt by many people in the middle class. Trump taps into that, too, though he solves it in a much more simplistic way. Sanders has the idea of massive government programming and a radical change in the tax system. So people who turn to [Sanders and Trump] feel disaffected, but for different reasons. People for Trump feel they are losing jobs to immigrants. There’s a strong racial component in this. Immigrants and race go hand in hand. Republicans are upset that so much money is wasted on welfare and illegal immigrants. Democrats are upset because the wealthy take a disproportionate share of the money.

Have you detected any shift in the American Jewish vote between the last election cycle and this one?

Jews have been 70 to 80 percent Democratic for as long as we can remember. It isn’t the economy that may change the flow of the Jewish vote, but rather the perceptions of what’s going on in Israel and the Middle East. We know American Jewry is fairly divided over it, but the overlay is that the greatest voting bloc of American Jewry is older people. They are three times as likely to vote as younger people. Older folks may gravitate to the Republicans because [the party] will back a very conservative Israeli government.

People assume the Bay Area is solidly liberal. After having studied the politics of the region for so long, how do you see it?

When you talk about the Bay Area weather climate you talk about microclimates. The same is true politically. San Francisco and the South Bay are liberal, but the more you go into the East Bay, the more conservative it becomes. And there are splits on what to do about BART and high-speed rail. There are splits on how to prevent growth. Some areas work hard to avoid it and keep house values high. Just look at San Francisco. On one hand you see this incredible influx of high-tech workers, a gentrification of the city we haven’t seen in years. On the other hand you see an exit of poor and middle-class people because they can no longer afford to live there. That’s not a healthy city.

How has your Jewish background influenced you and the work you do?

I grew up in a Jewish home, was bar mitzvahed and married a Jewish woman. Our kids went to Yavneh Day School in Los Gatos, and my granddaughter is there now. I adhere much more to Jewish cultural values then to spirituality, but I believe in making the world a better place. One of my kids went into the Peace Corps and now works in Mozambique. Another works for the Humane Society. They are making a difference. One thing I’ve always said to my students and my kids is, follow your passion. If you do what you like, you will succeed. You’ll work hard for it. It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.