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Sunday, October 23, 2016
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  • WASHINGTON - Just as surprising as Donald Trump’s nomination is the fact that many Republicans are embracing certain Trump positions that are antithetical to the party’s core beliefs. Some in the GOP, like Indiana’s Governor and Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence, are bending over backwards to support statements by Trump that are way outside the party’s mainstream of thought—positions they couldn’t possibly share. The most egregious example is the way some Republicans have defended Trump’s unflinching admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a tyrant and thug who Trump seems to view as a leadership model. It was just four years ago that the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, harshly criticized President Barrack Obama for not taking the Putin threat seriously enough. Now the Russian menace seems to have evaporated in the eyes of Trump’s surrogates.  The hypocrisy on this is palpable. Undoubtedly, Republicans would have characterized Obama as traitorous had he lavished similar praise on the Russian leader as Trump has on Putin.
  • WASHINGTON – With the conventions over and three months to go, the dynamics of the 2016 campaign appear set. The presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is now Clinton’s to lose.  Granted, there are potential land mines and unforeseen circumstances that could shake things up, such as more embarrassing e-mails, even more incidents of terror, or a serious misstep on the campaign trail. But for now, certain facts are clear that point to a likely Clinton victory: 1. Democrats have been able to reframe the election as a referendum on Donald Trump’s values rather than a referendum on Hillary Clinton.  At their convention, Democrats turned Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” on its head, arguing that America already is great and that to suggest otherwise is a smear on the country and its citizens. Trump’s dark themes of fear and resentment gave Democrats the opportunity to embrace positive themes of family values, American exceptionalism, and patriotism. Unless Trump can turn the election into a referendum on Clinton, Democrats will be fighting on their turf. 2. The successful Democratic Convention erased Trump’s lead as post-convention polls show Clinton now with a clear advantage.
  • WASHINGTON – It may seem quaint now, but there was a time in American presidential politics when Labor Day marked the unofficial start of the fall campaign season. These days, the fall campaign begins whenever the candidates win enough delegates to secure the nominations of their respective parties, if not before.  Thus, the 2016 campaign is fully engaged now in June. The fundamental dynamics of this campaign will be set this summer, maybe even before the conventions. Those dynamics will be changed after Labor Day only by some dramatic event such as scandal, the specter of war or a looming economic catastrophe. Mitt Romney learned this lesson the hard way. In June 2012, Romney was hit with a series of tough television ads that defined him as a heartless corporate raider who enjoyed firing people and whose private equity firm, Bain Capital, destroyed the lives of ordinary working people. 
  • WASHINGTON – It was like old times waiting for election results from Indiana’s primary Tuesday. Hoosier politics is a whole lot more fun when it is relevant nationally. These are some lessons I draw from Tuesday’s election. 1. Message wins elections and Donald Trump’s message resonated with Hoosiers considerably more than Ted Cruz’s. The conventional wisdom several weeks out was that Ted Cruz was a better fit for Indiana’s conservatism than Donald Trump. Instead, Trump’s blue-collar message of strong leadership and getting tough on trade and illegal immigration resonated much more than Cruz’s more narrowly focused hard-line evangelical message. In addition, Cruz’s nakedly political deal with John Kasich and the naming of Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running mate came across as desperate and undercut his claim that he was the candidate of principle. 2. Trump’s “take no prisoners” style of politics worked.  Most presidential candidates come to negative campaigning reluctantly. Donald Trump embraced it from the start of his campaign as he systematically destroyed his opposition from Jeb Bush to Scott Walker to Ben Carson to Marco Rubio. Trump’s willingness to go on the attack was key to his growing success.
  • WASHINGTON – Basketball is the closest thing in Indiana to a state religion.  Or, as Phillip M. Hoose wrote in his wonderful look at heartland America, Hoosiers: The Fabulous Basketball Life of Indiana, “Indiana is basketball’s hometown.” So it is not surprising candidates in next Tuesday’s Indiana primary would try to lay claim to the Hoosier state’s hoops tradition. Nonetheless, it has been a bit amusing to watch some out-of-staters fumble the ball. Earlier this week, former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight returned to Indiana to campaign in Indianapolis with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.  Knight led the Hoosiers to three national championships and arguably could have been elected governor of the state around that time. But Knight is now regarded by many Hoosiers as every bit a bombastic, sexist, and polarizing a figure as Trump. Knight’s introduction of Trump consisted mostly of a nonsensical rant about longhaired teens and predictable complaints about the dearth of great leaders in America. By bringing in Knight, Trump has a speaker who is essentially preaching to the choir rather than expanding his base. But because Indiana is an open primary state, Knight could possibly help attract some voters who would usually stay home on primary election day.
  • WASHINGTON – The party nomination process is a bit like March Madness. We root for the upset in the early rounds, but we expect the established teams to end up in the finals. We root for upsets in politics too, even though they are infrequent. They are especially rare in primary elections. Primary election upsets are rare mostly because those backing the established candidate have too much at stake to lose and are willing to put their money where there mouth is.  But occasionally voters decide that it’s time to stick it to the establishment candidate.  In 2012, in what is arguably Indiana’s biggest ever primary upset, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock knocked off six-term incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar, who was considered so unbeatable that Democrats did not even field a candidate against him in 2006.  In 2008 former Congresswoman Jill Long Thompson defeated Jim Schellinger for the Democratic nomination for governor, although Schellinger was recruited to run by party leaders and he outspent her by more than 2 to 1. There have been other notable upsets and I wrote about some a few years back in a column titled “Indiana’s Top Ten Primary Upsets.” At the top of my list was Bobby Kennedy defeating Indiana Gov. Roger Branigin and Sen. Eugene McCarthy in 1968.
  • WASHINGTON - The celebrated Bernie Sanders campaign ad featuring the classic Simon and Garfunkel recording “America” helps explain what is behind the Bernie Sanders surge in Iowa.  The ad with its lovely imagery and uplifting message encapsulates what the Sanders campaign is about—ordinary people coming together to form a political movement in order to restore America’s promise.  Like the iconic song recorded in February 1968, on the eve of the Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinations, the ad conveys a search for lost idealism. The 60-second spot contains no dialogue. Rather, it consists of a panorama of everyday Americana images—small towns, farm fields, working people—intertwined with huge Sanders rally shots. In the background, the duo sings their beautiful tune concluding with the refrain “they’ve all come to look for America.” Of course, the actual Paul Simon lyrics—like the year 1968--end on a darker note as the song moves prophetically from hope to disillusionment.  Nonetheless, the Sanders spot resonates as a sweeping political statement about hope and change in 2016.

  • WASHINGTON – In his breakthrough book “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus,” historian Rick Perlstein reveals how the Republican establishment in 1964 continued to be in denial about Sen. Goldwater’s rise to the nomination all the way to the California primary in June when he defeated New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. By then it was too late to stop Goldwater and he went on to an historic loss to President Lyndon Johnson. Obviously, there are many differences between 1964 and 2016, but the similarities are striking. The GOP establishment this cycle has been similarly in denial about Donald Trump.  Month after month Republicans and the media have predicted his demise as Trump has continued to ride high in the polls. Last week’s CNN/ORC poll puts Trump at 36%, 20 points ahead of bad boy Ted Cruz who is now in 2nd place nationally. Conservative outsiders have topped the field since July. Even if the establishment were able to take down Trump, he might not be replaced by anyone remotely acceptable to them. Like 1964 when Goldwater occupied an empty field for months, there is a vacuum of message in the 2016 race that Trump has filled. At the outset of the cycle Republicans bragged about the quality of candidates in 2016.
  • WASHINGTON – If House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is correct in asserting that the Benghazi Select Committee’s work was responsible for driving down Hillary Clinton’s favorable ratings, it is equally true that the Oct. 22 Benghazi hearing gave Clinton a big boost in her resurgence. Clinton emerged from the hearing as a confident, poised victor while Republicans slinked away, tails between their legs, having failed miserably in accomplishing anything of value either for their side or the American people. Clinton is now on a roll that began with McCarthy’s truthful gaffe on FOX’s Sean Hannity show in late September. His comments amounted to an admission that Republicans were using tax dollars to derail her presidential campaign. Clinton’s appearance three weeks later before the Select Committee further exposed the brazenly political nature of the committee’s work as the rude, accusatory questioning was clearly designed to discredit her rather than determine the truth.
  • WASHINGTON – It’s often said in politics that a candidate can learn more from losing than winning. Bill Clinton as the nation’s youngest former governor learned enough from his 1980 loss to win it right back in a rematch. Barack Obama used lessons from his 2000 loss for a U.S. House seat to successfully win a seat in the U.S. Senate four years later. John Gregg and Glenda Ritz are good examples of both sides of that adage. Former House Speaker Gregg, who started slowly in his 2012 race for governor before losing to Mike Pence in a surprisingly close election, is off to a fast start in a possible re-match. On the other hand, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz thus far seems to have learned the wrong lessons from her stunning victory over incumbent Tony Bennett in 2012.
  • WASHINGTON - Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the two candidates favored by their respective party establishments and traditional donors, kicked off their respective 2016 campaigns for president this past week. Clinton is running as a “fighter for every day hard working Americans,” a progressive message that should resonate with much of the Democratic base. Meanwhile, Bush is running as an innovative and competent leader with the experience to put the country back on the right track. As much as establishment Republican leaders hoped to avoid the circus atmosphere of four years ago, Donald Trump’s entry into the presidential race Tuesday guarantees the opposite and underscores the difficult road Republicans face again in next year’s race for the White House. The mere presence of such outlandish characters as Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Dr. Ben Carson demonstrates how far off the right-wing deep end the GOP has gone.  As they did in 2012, the extreme candidates will pull the rest of the Republican candidates to the right and turn off voters.
  • WASHINGTON – You can usually tell when a nomination is worth something by the number of candidates wanting to run for it. So it is with the Indiana Democratic Party and the chance to take on a wounded Governor Mike Pence. Just a few months ago, former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg was the putative Democratic nominee for governor as former Congressman Baron Hill was quietly transitioning from the gubernatorial to the U.S. Senate race. Now that Pence appears truly vulnerable Gregg faces two opponents, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and State Senator Karen Tallian.  Others, including Jim Schellinger who lost the 2008 gubernatorial primary, Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott, and State Rep. Ed DeLaney, who spoke out forcefully during the RFRA controversy, have also been mentioned.
  • WASHINGTON – The fierce backlash against passage of Indiana’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) tore through the state and the nation like an early spring tornado.  Leaving in its wake was a changed political landscape.  Here are 10 takeaways from the RFRA controversy. 1. The politics of the cultural wars have shifted dramatically. A decade ago, 60 percent of Americans opposed marriage equality. Now it’s reversed, with 60 percent in support. Democrats used to be on the wrong side of cultural issues and now it is Republicans who are. Religious conservatives in Indiana promoted RFRA as a way to strike back at a federal court’s recent decision declaring Indiana’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. It blew up in the faces. One of the main reasons for the sea change is that millennials, people born between 1981 and 1997, are transforming America’s politics and culture.
  • WASHINGTON – There’s a little known fact about Democratic congressional challengers in Indiana. They only defeat Republican incumbents in midterm elections. The last time a Democratic challenger knocked off a Republican incumbent to win a seat in the U.S House of Represenatatives in a presidential year was in 1964 when Lee Hamilton defeated Earl Wilson in the 9th District. Since 1964 Democrats have defeated congressional Republican incumbents only in off-year elections—1974, 1982, 1990, and 2006. No Democratic Senate candidate has won over an incumbent since Birch Bayh upset 3-term incumbent Senator Homer Capehart in 1962.  So why have Hoosier Democrats only won in midterm elections and why are they not more competitive in this year’s election?


  • WASHINGTON - For 50 years—since the era of presidential primaries and caucuses began--the Republican Party has nominated the candidate in waiting.  Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney all ran unsuccessfully before a party that prefers the familiar turned to them. George W. Bush, riding the family name, became the heir apparent as soon as he defeated Ann Richards for Governor of Texas. Barry Goldwater is the lone exception. Goldwater’s nomination in 1964 represents the one time the Republican grassroots revolted against the establishment’s preferences. Goldwater’s landslide defeat in the general election has since led the party’s establishment to eschew any candidate from the party’s right wing. Reagan, of course, had enormous and enthusiastic conservative grass roots support. And, by 1980, as a result of his two presidential campaigns—in 1968 and 1976—Reagan’s brand of conservatism had overtaken much of the party establishment’s ideology. The 2016 Republican nomination may be the most wide-open race since 1964. There is no candidate in waiting, unless you count Rick Santorum or Mike Huckbee.
  • WASHINGTON - Off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia have long been touted as bellwether signs of what to expect in upcoming congressional and presidential campaigns. It is tempting to overstate what their results mean for future elections.  Yet, there are some clear conclusions that can reached following Tuesday’s off-off year elections in New Jersey, New York, and Virginia. Chris Christie is the presumptive frontrunner for the 2016 Republican nomination.  Democrats may regret having put up only token opposition to Christie, as the New Jersey governor easily won re-election taking more than 60% of the vote. Christie demonstrated his ability to win votes from all voting groups—carrying women by 13%, nearly half of the Latino vote, and surprisingly one-third of Democratic votes. Christie’s impressive showing has elevated him to the status as the one Republican presidential candidate—with the possible exception of Jeb Bush—who seemingly can compete in the new world of presidential demographics that strongly favor the likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.   

  • WASHINGTON - Former Congressman and 9/11 Commission Co-Chairman Lee Hamilton once said about the landslide election in 1964 that carried him and his fellow Democrats to a record majority in Congress, “any fool running on the Democratic ticket could have won that year … and there were a few that did.”  The same could be said about Democrats in 1974 and Republicans in 1994 and 2010. The political winds in each of those years were so strong that the usual rules and campaign dynamics didn’t apply.  The question a year out from the 2014 midterm elections is whether the Republican brand is so badly damaged by recent tactics that their majority in the House of Representatives is truly in jeopardy. Or to paraphrase Lee Hamilton, is the public so disgusted with the Republican Party that they will vote for almost “any fool running on the Democratic ticket” in 2014.
  • WASHINGTON – Judy O’Bannon is fond of quoting an adage of her late husband Governor Frank O’Bannon: “If you don’t care who gets the credit, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish.” As a political apothegm, the maxim goes back to President Harry Truman, which is appropriate. Truman and Frank O’Bannon had a lot in common. Both were underrated in their time, perhaps in part because they spoke the plain language of their modest, midwestern backgrounds. A decade after his death, Frank O’Bannon's career warrants re-examination. O’Bannon’s status in history deserves elevation.
  • WASHINGTON – What’s going on in Hillary land?
    The conventional wisdom was that after retiring as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton would lie low for a year or more and quietly begin to prepare for 2016. After all she is considered the odds on favorite for the Democratic nomination for president.  Why make yourself a target before it is necessary? Why not let the glow from her tenure as ambassador to the world remain for as long as possible?
  • WASHINGTON - The racial slur used by Alaskan Republican Rep. Don Young on a recent radio program in referring to migrant workers as “wetbacks” underscores the challenge facing the GOP in rebranding their party. Party leaders immediately denounced Young’s pathetic faux pas.  But after years of practicing racially divisive politics, Young’s words come across as a Republican Party Freudian slip to many who question their sincerity.
    The timing of Young’s remarks couldn’t have been worse. Just last month, Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus announced the party would launch a $10 million “minority outreach initiative.” The outreach is aimed at peeling off minority voters who have been punching the Democratic ticket in increasingly record numbers.
    The Republican Party’s outreach initiative comes on the heels of a 98-page “Growth and Opportunity Project” report some have labeled an “autopsy” that was designed to get at the bottom of what went wrong in 2012. The report’s underlying theme is that the party has marginalized itself because it is dominated by old white men whose views are intractably stuck in the past.  Had his remarks become public a few weeks earlier, Don Young could have been listed in the report as “Exhibit A.”
    The report’s diagnosis is accurate, at least as far as it goes. According to a February, 2013 Pew Research Center Survey, most Americans view the GOP as out-of-touch, extreme, and too resistant to change.  In a Washington Post opinion piece, Pew founder Andrew Kohut asserts that Republican image problems are the result of a party hijacked by an ultra-conservative block with far right views on nearly every matter of public concern from the size and role of government to foreign policy to social issues. Kohut says this extremely conservative segment represents 45 percent of the Republican base, but that they are demographically and politically estranged from the American electorate as a whole.
    While the Republican report acknowledges that the party’s imagery has repelled minority voters, it fails to address the underlying policy positions that keep them from attracting minority support.  Perhaps more problematic, Republicans intent on rebranding refuse to admit to years of racially divisive tactics that have been preventing many minorities from participating in electoral politics at all.
    Kohut believes that extremism within the Republican Party reached its apex during the two years following President Obama’s election in 2008.  But the reality is that the remaking of the Republican Party in the image of the John Birch Society began in the 1960’s.
    Though the roots are in Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964, the conscious effort by Republicans to play racial politics began with Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” in 1968.  In his 2nd try for the White House, Nixon faced not only a staunchly pro-civil rights Democratic opponent in Hubert Humphrey, he also faced a challenge from his right flank in the segregationist candidacy of independent George Wallace, the governor of Alabama.
    Nixon, ever the political pragmatist, created a template for future Republican campaign playbooks. The concept was to win the white vote by using wedge issues and coded language to exploit white racial resentment without appearing to be overtly racist (although the intended result was to maintain the racial status quo in the South).
    The Republican southern strategy amounted to writing off the African American vote nationally in order to maximize the white vote, particularly the southern white vote that had once been loyal to the Democratic Party. In effect, the parties of Abraham Lincoln and Jim Crow switched places.
    But Nixon didn’t want his campaign’s racial politics to scare off moderate and liberal Republicans in the North and West, which explains why he insisted on tempered language, at least publicly.  Nixon’s repayment for southern support from the likes of Strom Thurmond came in the form of judges who would turn a blind eye to lax federal enforcement of newly passed civil rights laws.
    The southern strategy worked for 40 years as the only Democrats to win the White House from 1968 to 2008 were Southerners Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.  Over time, though, Nixon’s southern strategy seeped into other forms of racial politics.
    Ronald Reagan played up to southern racial prejudice and the growing conservative element within his party, even traveling to Philadelphia, Mississippi a town where civil rights workers had been murdered, to deliver a message about his support for states rights—a way of signaling he would not press enforcement of voting rights laws.
    George H. W. Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater, skillfully exploited racially charged tactics in Bush’s 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis with the infamous Willy Horton.  And George W. Bush’s top political advisor Karl Rove, an Atwater disciple, promoted restrictive voting laws and trumped up charges of voter fraud to minimize voter turnout among African Americans and other minorities.  Many believe that passage of strict voter ID laws and cutting back on early voting ultimately boomeranged on Republicans as African Americans and Latinos turned out in record numbers for President Obama in 2012.
    Even as Republicans made the calculation that minority voters were unnecessary for their electoral success, they have given minority outreach lip service from time-to-time.  Nixon sidled up to Sammy Davis, Jr. and other black celebrities during his 1972 re-election campaign. Reagan even promised to reintroduce’s Lincoln’s legacy of equality to the Republican Party as a way to attract black voters, though he never supported using the federal government to enforce civil rights.
    It’s safe to say that with all their self-evaluation, Republicans are in panic mode. They have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. In 2012, they lost a presidential race many believe they should have won and blew a chance at control of the U.S. Senate. What has Republicans rattled is not just that they lost, but how they lost and demographic realities that suggest the party as currently constituted will not become truly competitive in presidential politics any time in the foreseeable future.
    The GOP is banking on its “minority outreach” program along with passage of immigration reform to get them back in the game. But the party’s past continues to haunt their efforts now.  After years of voter suppression aimed at minorities, Republicans courting minority voters is a little like asking black basketball players to attend the University of Kentucky under Coach Adolph Rupp. Why would you join that team?
    Meanwhile, immigration reform is showing signs of falling the way of gun control. While an immigration bill in some form is likely to pass the Senate, House Republicans are much cooler to the idea. That’s because so many Republican-held House districts are disproportionately dominated by the same white conservatives Pew founder Andrew Kohut says have hijacked the national Republican Party.
    As Kohut points out, the conundrum for the GOP in reinventing itself is that the extreme element that keeps Republicans in Congress also prevents the party from winning the White House.  
    The racially inclusive Democratic Party has become the party of national success while the racially challenged Republican Party can never be more than a legislative party. That fact won’t change because Republicans drop millions on “minority outreach.”  
    Republicans have to also demonstrate through their policies and their actions that they truly welcome Latinos and African Americans into their party.

    Sautter his a Democratic consultant based in Washington, D.C. He is an Indiana native.
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  • Brooding Trump ponders 'If I lose . . . ' election
    “What a waste of time if we don’t pull this off. You know, these guys have said: ‘It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. There’s never been a movement like this in the history of this country.’ I say, it matters to me if we win or lose. So I’ll have over $100 million of my own money in this campaign. So, if I lose, if I lose, I will consider this ….” - Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, speaking in Fletcher, N.C. on Friday. Trump didn’t indicate what he meant to say when he didn’t complete the final sentence. The Washington Post said the Trump/Pence campaign has settled into a “dark funk.”

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Trump taxes

Should Donald Trump release recent tax returns, like every major party nominee has done over the past 40 years?


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