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Monday, July 24, 2017
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  • FORT WAYNE – As kids, my sister Nancy and I sorted returnable pop bottles at our family’s general store for 35 cents a day. It may not seem like much, but I could purchase a box of baseball card packs for about $1.75, which is where my money went. My parents tried to lure me away from baseball obsession by offering to pay half of any non-fiction, non-sports books I purchased. Early business acumen led me toward history and political books. But our family was in the furniture business, not politics or baseball. So my dad decided to pay me a dollar for each motivational record I’d listen to.  Things like “Acres of Diamonds” and “Think and Grow Rich.” The real money bomb was an entire album of KISS talks: “Keep It Simple Stupid.” The U.S. Navy originated the phrase to stress that simplicity should be the goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. My dad had been a naval officer so obviously was attracted to the idea. Me, not so much. My good friend Steve Largent used to joke that if you asked Souder what time it was, he told you how they built the watch.
  • FORT WAYNE - Another special congressional election. Another Republican victory. More pained analysis from liberal commentators and Democrat analysts. What in the world is wrong with the stupid voters: don’t they understand that President Trump and the congressional Republicans are about to destroy the entire world?  If not by next week, at least don’t bank on being able to celebrate Labor Day. The initial “lessons learned” analysis of Karen Handel’s 5.2% victory by the national figures who don’t wish the Republicans well is very encouraging to conservatives and Republicans. The lessons the liberal Democrats have learned is, apparently, nothing whatsoever. 1) They wanted to reduce expectations, to stop taking victory laps before the people voted. But in the 6th CD of Georgia that was difficult. Money wasn’t the question. It was the most expensive congressional race in American history. Familiarity and name identification for the Democrat candidate was not the problem. So much for the money excuse. 2) Turnout wasn’t the problem. Special elections usually are low turnout affairs. Not this one. Furthermore, early voting occurred in extraordinary numbers. The Democrats were disappointed with the narrow margin among early voters for their candidate. They were supposed to have a huge enthusiasm edge. Whoops.

  • FORT WAYNE – In 1998, our accompanying Navy doctor and I skipped out on our CODEL’s evening dinner and bowling alley excursion in St. Petersburg, Russia, so we could explore the area around our hotel. We had spent several days in Moscow in scheduled meetings with the Russian Duma, as well as other government leaders there. We ventured out a hotel side entrance and quickly realized that it wasn’t like the reasonably well-lit thoroughfare. There were lots of crowded homes, with men sitting or standing on the stoops underneath an occasional dim streetlight. Furthermore, it was snowing. Meeting with the family of a local Duma member, Galina Starovoitova, who had been gunned down on her doorstep because of her government criticisms just weeks before, had enhanced our self-preservation concerns. We agreed to a hasty retreat. It seemed far too much like a scene out of “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  In fact, looking at a map the next day, we were but a few steps from Dostoyevsky’s former house. Which explains why it felt like a scene out of his book. Over the years not only did I return to Russia, but had several delegations of Russian leaders visit northeastern Indiana and had meetings with various Russian groups in Washington. While Russian history, like the novels produced by its legendary writers, is dense and complicated, it nevertheless is fascinating. However, like other hopeful glimpses of freedom in nations with totalitarian histories, one can easily mistake temporary openings for substantive change.
  • FORT WAYNE – Every day we get lectured by the media and Trump critics that he is not “draining the swamp” as promised.  In fact, he is expanding it. The key is how one defines the swamp. To liberals, the swamp is a place that looks like Okefenokee. Stagnant water, with partially submerged trees dominated by clinging Spanish moss. To them, the smooth flow of government is stagnated by business interests. Their lobbyists strangle the trees, feeding off a corrupt system. This is the core view of Bernie Elizabeth Warren. Libertarian conservatives would prefer D.C. reverted back to its days of original swampland. To them, the “swamp” means all the buildings of intrusive government workers that have now expanded the swamp of big government out to the surrounding beltway and beyond. But what did the swamp mean to the Trump core? The 25% to 35% of Republican primary voters which enabled him to have the largest faction over and over again? He reached 50% only as Republican voters opposed to him were faced with fewer choices and found him preferable to, say, Ted Cruz. In other words, the Trump political operation was not built upon a majority but a plurality that grew as the choices narrowed. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In “Conscience of a Conservative,” Barry Goldwater famously wrote: “My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.” The context of that line was freedom.  “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom.” Which was then followed by the famous line. When one re-reads this, last week in Washington becomes more clear. Well, not really, but the health care bill failure in the House does. The House Freedom Caucus was advocating the Goldwater position. Until the Republican Party figures out how to adapt as Reagan did, we are likely to fail in passing major new legislation. The Goldwater/Conscience of a Conservative tradition is one of the stumbling blocks. Some fundamental history is critical. Goldwater didn’t write the book. Brent Bozell, William F. Buckley’s brother-in-law, did. Goldwater might have read it and likely would have agreed with much of it. The book was meant to capture what he might have written had he been a writer, but more importantly, the Goldwater that the burgeoning conservative movement dreamed he would be.  It is not 1964 anymore. We aren’t going to repeal TVA, Social Security or Medicare. Adaptations maybe, but total repeal doesn’t work after things get settled in. Goldwater lost.
  • FORT WAYNE – It seems a good time to review the key points of the Donald Trump’s “Art of the Deal.”  At the start it is important to be clear: The Republican bill is TrumpCare just as much as the current law is ObamaCare. President Obama did not draft the health care named after him. Hillary Clinton was its mother from her days as First Lady. The Democrat House wrote it and the President signed off. Because he was the President, it became ObamaCare. What goes for one side also goes for the other. They aren’t trying to replace PelosiCare. Thursday night President Trump, after making his best offer to recalcitrant conservatives who want to gut the law, he demanded that the House vote Friday. If the alternative doesn’t pass, he’s ready to let ObamaCare remain the law and move on to other issues. It is not totally out of character for him. Another of his books (“The America We Deserve”) which was written as he considered running for President in 2000, he made his views on health care clear: “We must have universal health care … I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by healthcare expenses.” 
  • FORT WAYNE – As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised change, just as his predecessor Barack Obama had done. People generally want someone to blame for their problems, and we all choose different targets. I, for example, prefer to blame liberals. “Draining the swamp” in a non-Washington context has historically meant the draining of swamps to control mosquito populations to combat malaria. Ronald Reagan is often credited with using the term in the political way to refer to the concentration of power in Washington, thus combining the historical swampy conditions of the governmental area of original Washington and likening the overuse of power to malaria. But he was not the first to do so.  Winfield Gaylord, a Milwaukee socialist politician, wrote in 1903: “Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capitalist swamp, they want to drain the swamp.”  Fellow socialist, journalist and politician Victor Berger of Milwaukee wrote in his Berger’s Broadsides (1912): “We should have to drain the swamp – change the capitalist system – if we want to get rid of those mosquitoes.” Hoosier socialist Eugene Debs credits Berger, the first Socialist member of Congress, with recruiting him to socialism.  Neither Reagan nor our current president meant draining the nation of capitalism. The problem with such aggressive attacks on the “establishment” is that the slope to the “swamp” becoming the institutions of our nation – a republic, capitalism – is very slippery.
  • FORT WAYNE – Earlier this week, I went to the license bureau. Back when mastodons roamed our state, (before Mitch Daniels became governor) it was a miserable experience. Generally, now I do it on-line and even on a crowded Tuesday morning it is about like a grocery store on a Saturday.  When Mitch took over the state government with radical plans to run it like a business, he quickly became “Ditch Mitch.” His popularity dropped to incredibly low levels. The Democrats perceived a bright political future that could recapture Indiana, going back to making it great again. Gov. Daniels brought in people not trained to go slow. They thought “tactful” meant taking people who resisted change and using tacks to pin them on the wall. After suffering through nasty publicity which impacted his strategy somewhere between zero and zero percent, he emerged after eight years as “Saint Mitch.”  When Mike Pence became governor, he was in a difficult position.
  • FORT WAYNE – Winning an election is one thing; winning political legitimacy is another. The current debate about crowd sizes, popular versus electoral vote, and fake news all revolve another equally salient point: Elections in America are anchored on Election Day results but that is just the start of a continual battle for “political legitimacy.”  This process will continue during an entire administration, but the first stages are the most important in establishing basic legitimacy: Election Day and debate about the results, transition, and inauguration and the first 100 days. When Trump raised doubts as to whether he’d accept the election results, the media went apoplectic and the Democrats mocked him. Trump won, and then many on the left refused to accept the results, challenging them way past any legitimate concerns about fraud. Fair observers realized that this unwillingness to accept the election totals was a fundamental challenge of the integrity of the voting process.
        
  • FORT WAYNE – When I proposed to Diane back in 1974, I told her that life with me would not be boring. That it was not. (I also said I wouldn’t run for political office but I failed in a few other things as well.) When Mitch Daniels first discussed with me that he was going to run for governor, I raised some political concerns about his big city slicker and corporate background. His response was that he was going to “out small town me.” You know, he said, I come from a small town too. I asked how big. He said something over 10,000 people. I snorted, “That’s a big city.” Of course, Mitch (the populist first name), went RV’ing to every burg in the state, lost all his suits and ties, and even used populist green as his color as opposed to the ubiquitous Republican red, white and blue. I was impressed. My hometown of Grabill had under 500 residents and couldn’t grow much because it was surrounded by Old Order Amish farms (not the liberal Amish with a top on their buggy).  A friend unfairly described the church I grew up in as being founded by a group of men who gathered together, made a list of everything fun in life, wrote “NO” across the top, and then said “now we have the foundation for our church.” When Mitch Daniels was elected governor, Indiana government was rather antiquated.  License bureau jokes have disappeared from our lexicons.
  • FORT WAYNE – When emptying out the basement of my Mom’s house after she died, we found a partially rotted chest of items meant to help our family survive a Russian nuclear attack.  It was from the 1960s, a period when all sides took Russia seriously. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan had the temerity to call the Soviet Union the “evil empire.”  Liberals back then were upset that Reagan had such hostile views. In fact, Democrats and liberals in general were rather Trumpian about Russia. They wanted closer trade ties, more exchanges, and closer cooperation with Russia, not saber-rattling opposition. Current liberal protestations have the “I’m shocked, shocked” resonance of the scene in Casablanca. Democrat electors requesting CIA briefings illustrate precisely why the people in Trump orbit have discredited the CIA.  Democrats have turned it into a branch of the DNC. Do Democrats who blame alleged Russian email leaks for Hillary Clinton’s defeat realize how ridiculous they sound? Hillary Clinton, in spite of warnings, set up an email server to get around the official system. She not only exposed her political emails but also classified material to being hacked. Then, while under subpoena to turn her e-mails over to Congress, she brazenly destroyed thousands of them. The Clinton campaign and its supporters have no ethical standing to complain. Zero.
  • FORT WAYNE – A generation ago, as the recently elected chairman of the Indiana College Republican Federation, I was included in a small birthday celebration in the lieutenant governor’s office for the incumbent Richard Folz. I recall Folz, possibly puffing a cigar, talking in glowing terms about how much he missed looking out on the beautiful Ohio River. Our family vacations consisted of going to north into the land of the sky-blue waters, so I hadn’t really considered brown water as being that attractive before, which is why it stuck in my memory. Then there was Seth Denbo. That year I spent a fair amount of time around him for a kid from northern Indiana. Being around him was like living in the books I read about political bosses.  As the Republican southern boss in Indiana, Denbo was there for Folz’s birthday lunch.  I’m not actually certain who told me to read “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics,” but I prefer to think it was Denbo. Regardless of who did, Denbo and the others took the time to explain to me, the newcomer, the importance of the spoils system and rewarding friends in politics.
  • FORT WAYNE – Many were predicting that when Donald Trump lost, he would form his own television network.  Instead he won, and has taken over all the networks and all other media as well.  He is a marketing machine. 1.) Trump is terrific at promoting his brand. That is what he’s always done.  Members of the media have incredible angst over whether or not their constant coverage of him led to his victory.  Yet they know that Trump has an intuitive ability to sense how to insert himself into every hot story.  In old-fashioned media lingo, he sells newspapers. Trump is financially helping them at a time when media needs all the help they can get. Thus the angst. 2.) Trump uses his skill tactically, not just randomly. When there is a bad story about his personal life, or finances, he tweets some greatly exaggerated statement and media leaps at the bait.  For example, the New York Times did a story on his financial conflicts but Trump tweeted the allegation that millions of illegal voters had deprived him of a popular vote victory.  His supporters jumped to his defense, critics poured out scorn and outrage, which buried the more substantive story.
        
  • FORT WAYNE – Every election results in individual and categorical winners and losers that impact the longer-term future of politics. Here are a few of my selections. Indiana winner: The Pence/Coats establishment. It directed the quasi-slating of the victorious state ticket: Todd Young for Senate, in part by moving Eric Holcomb out and into position to become governor; Suzanne Crouch as lieutenant governor; Curtis Hill as attorney general; and Jennifer McCormick as superintendent of education. In political years, especially by Indiana standards, they are “fresh faces” ready to ready to rejuvenate the brand.  Indiana loser: An exhausted Democrat re-tread brand. Evan Bayh is one of the most decent men to represent our state, but coming back after clearly moving to Washington and becoming Big Bucks Bayh was a huge mistake, and his biggest mistake was trying to deny those changes. John Gregg had a detailed list of what he wanted to accomplish, and is generally considered “affable” when not nuking his opponents. The problem is that Gregg’s solutions, and Bayh’s, were the same liberal re-tread ideas that Hoosiers had passed up long ago.
  • CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. – It is hard to say which is the bigger shock: Todd Young’s large lead over Bayh or Eric Holcomb being in a tie with John Gregg. This WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana poll released on Friday will certainly have national reverberations. Essentially it suggests that while Young needs to not take his pedal off the floor, pushing until the end, that the Democrats will not capture this Senate seat. As the polling trend had been suggesting, they should have focused in other states. Essentially Republicans have closed ranks in Indiana, just as they appear to be nationally. The national fault line has fairly evenly divided the country.  Donald Trump is admired by only a fraction of the GOP but the same holds true for Hillary Clinton within the Democrats. In fact, her enthusiasts among Democrats may be less than Trump’s within the Republicans, though those who dislike her within the Dems may be fewer nationally. In Indiana, the anti-Clinton sentiment is much more intense than the national anti-Clinton sentiment. Not only is this state more socially conservative but more anti-international trade (e.g. NAFTA), pro-coal and pro-gun. None of which helps Clinton. She has neither the charm or hope that President Obama offered, and he did not openly promote international trade as Bill Clinton had done. Furthermore, talk radio has been pounding on the Clintons for 20 years.  
        
  • FORT WAYNE – It was around 2 a.m. on a cold January night in Washington. Looking down at the White House from our room at the Hays-Adams Hotel, the lights were dim outside but it had a glow coming from the lights within. I was about to go live, worldwide, on BBC’s morning news show. The evening before, President William Jefferson Clinton had delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress. “These are good times for America” he had told us. His message, however, had been overshadowed by the press conference the day before in which he famously said: “I have not had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”  The producer explained that many of the newer democracies around the world, mentioning Russia in particular, watched the BBC shows to explain what was happening in U.S. politics because they found American news made too many assumptions about what they understood. Most listeners had no clue who other legislators were. So keep it simple. So as I prepared to go live worldwide, I thought I was ready because I had already done this many times on their major shows. Like always, there was some chitchat first with the news producer in London. The focus was on Clinton’s speech and briefly on whether the Monica mess would impact his ability to govern. But I was not ready for the first question. Que music. Host comes on. Introduces who I am and then asks something like this: “Why are Americans so moralistic that you get all upset when a president drops his pants in the White House? Why should he have to apologize?”
  • FORT WAYNE – The second WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll provides additional good news to every television station as well as other Indiana media, because if you think you’ve seen a lot of candidate ads for senate and governor, wait until you see what is coming. Congressman Todd Young has come from far behind to, at worst, within 1% of the early assumed winner, former governor and senator Evan Bayh. The race that may decide who controls the United States Senate is essentially tied. Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg holds a two-point edge over Lt. Gov. Holcomb, but that means that they also are basically tied in the race that will determine which direction our state will head. Even the presidential race has tightened a bit, and there are some signs that while Donald Trump and his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence, are still likely to defeat Hillary Clinton here, the race could tighten even further. 
  • FORT WAYNE – In 2004 I had the unique distinction of participating in what was certainly among the most disastrous debates ever for a federal level candidate. The Democrats had nominated Maria Parra. She was a Michael Moore-style liberal but certainly an otherwise qualified candidate. Parra had an MBA from IU-Bloomington and had a successful business career in the health care field. Our debate was to be held in the studio at WPTA-TV in Fort Wayne taped “as live” with no audience. This was different than all other debates that I’d ever agreed to participate in, but her campaign insisted on the conditions. The Democrats wanted Andy Downs of IPFW as sole host as opposed to the normal panel we had at debates. When I arrived at the station, it became clear that her campaign had invited all the local media to observe. Whatever my weaknesses are, one of them was not an unwillingness to talk to media, so I didn’t care, but the constant changing of conditions without consultation was getting irritating. However, she didn’t make it through her opening statement. She took off her microphone, got up and went to her staging room.  Andy and I sat there stunned.  I remember Andy saying, “What should we do?” as did the producer through our earphones. I immediately said, “Keep your voices down, the media can hear us.” So I softly said I was willing to do whatever was necessary because the entire nation was likely to see this tonight if we didn’t fix this immediately. Our area would be the laughing stock of the country.
  • FORT WAYNE – The major shift in the WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll taken this week from earlier polls is crystal clear: Todd Young has closed the wide margin that Evan Bayh once had in the Senate race. The Gregg-Holcomb race for governor remains extremely close.  Donald Trump, as other polls have shown, has a large lead in Indiana. Two months ago, when Evan Bayh first announced that he was going to run for the Senate, the first poll had him up 54-33%. Since that time he has been under heavy criticism for his Washington D.C. residency and lobbying ties in all forms of media. A Monmouth poll had Bayh’s margin down to 48-41%. The WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll shows it has now fallen to 44-40%. However, the underneath numbers suggest more serious problems ahead for Bayh.
        
  • FORT WAYNE – The challenge of this year’s gubernatorial election is different. Contrary to feelings inside most campaign bubbles, almost no one is paying attention and few voters care about the race. This helps both Eric Holcomb and John Gregg because both begin as relative unknowns to most but party loyalists. Name identification is not the same as having an image attached to it. It helps Holcomb because attempts by Gregg to connect him to Mike Pence don’t work except to appeal to hard-core Democrats. The obsession with all things Trump, and secondarily with all things Hillary, means that voters at this point connect Pence with Trump. While Trump/Pence could lose in Indiana, it certainly doesn’t appear so and my guess is that Indiana would be one of the last states to go even in a Democrat tsunami. So why would you tie Holcomb to Pence. What could matter, if Holcomb capitalizes upon it, are his even closer ties to Mitch Daniels. Daniels is a popular and respected figure, possibly more in memory than at the time. It would make Gregg appear to be running against both Pence and Daniels.  On the other hand, Gregg has a different problem than Holcomb. For someone who served in his first elective office 42 years ago and was Indiana House speaker in the last century, he also remains a relative blank slate.
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  • Pelath rallies LaPorte Democrats citing 'fragile democracy'
    “I think we all learned in the last six months that this noble experiment, American democracy, is a lot more fragile than we thought. We find ourselves fighting for the right to fight at all. Although party leaders drew laughs and jeers as they took jabs at Republicans — from Donald Trump and Mike Pence on the national stage to even those on the local level — they also sought to convey the gravity of their remarks. It’s time to talk serious business now. We have to look ahead with some humility about what we face and what we have to do to turn things around.” - Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, rallying LaPorte County Democrats with U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky last Friday. According to the LaPorte Herald Argus, Pelath urged party members to “hang on to that feeling” they had after Trump was elected and use it to fuel positive action. He urged fellow Democrats to speak gently with relatives, friends and neighbors who voted for Trump.”
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  • Volatile meetings of Members, the press, and the Hoosier people
    We give great credit to U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon for conducting a rollicking town hall meeting in Evansville Friday night where he found supporters and detractors. Other Members, notably U.S. Reps. Pete Visclosky and Jim Banks, have held town halls during this GOP health reform sequence. Others, like U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, haven’t. That’s a sad development, that the people’s representatives fear their own constituents. And there’s reason for that, such as the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and the assault on the Republican baseball team earlier this summer that critically wounded U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise. We in the press have ventured out into volatile territory and know what it’s like to face a critical public. Throughout 2016, I attended five Donald Trump rallies (until I was banned by the campaign), and he would openly goad his supporters to confront the press, calling us thugs, liars and the worst of humanity. The positive news on this front is that Hoosiers are good folks. When Trump would aim his rhetoric at us in the press pen, people would turn and look. Some would wave and smile. I never heard a single insult or threat. A number of Indiana reporters and photographers had good-natured conversations with Trump supporters as we awaited the candidate. I never felt unsafe. Hoosiers are civic minded and good stewards of the process. - Brian A. Howey, publisher, writing in Nashville, Ind.
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