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Wednesday, September 20, 2017
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  • INDIANAPOLIS – Many conservatives missed the Donald Trump phenomenon, and the Bernie Sanders explosion, because it’s difficult to detect and discern populist movements when one more naturally reacts from the head than the heart. Populism is about feelings, and if one doesn’t have the same feelings it can be easy to dismiss the emotions of others. Facts, on the other hand, are indisputable. Of course, that’s until those facts are uttered by a politician, at which point they become as useful as a dead cat. And it’s that inability to fully grasp and respect human emotion that puts conservatives, and their allied partisans the Republicans, in a bind. George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservative” message elicited snickers from some corners of even his own party, but it’s precisely that message that would most appeal to younger voters and could bring them to conservatism en masse. Elections are about feelings. Voters want to feel good about their vote, or in the case of 2016, less bad than they would feel in voting for the other candidate. That’s why pollsters ask a lot of questions related to perception. Where do people think things stand today? Are we on the right track or the wrong track? Facts be darned, how do you feel? Whether right or wrong, it drives the vote.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - What is the establishment? It’s the dirtiest word in politics today – even worse than that naughty rabble-rouser “compromise.” Makes you sick just reading it, no? But do people know what the word really means? Here are four things you need to know about the establishment before the next time you use the word: There’s a Republican establishment and a Democrat establishment. First, before anyone’s head explodes, let’s clear the air and understand that both major political parties have an establishment, regardless of the other points below. There are Republicans and Democrats who court candidates, raise dough and sway votes. There’s no mutual exclusivity here. So when you hear a Republican scream about the establishment, remember it goes the other way, too. The establishment is engaged, outsiders are disengaged. The folks who attended Thursday’s Vigo County Lincoln Day Dinner (at which I was the keynote speaker) and the Lake County Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday (which I will attend) are the establishment.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – He could have been a contender. He could have been the nominee. He could have been president. But on Sept. 21, 2015, Scott Walker did the right thing; he dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination for president. Where would we be today if others had followed his lead? The reasons for Walker’s abrupt withdrawal were aplenty. He struggled with questions of gravitas, his poll numbers were falling, and supporters were increasingly squishy. The driving force, though, was the campaign’s absurdly high burn rate. Walker’s team grew too big, too fast and they couldn’t keep up with their overhead in those emerging stages of the campaign. And I almost contributed to the problem. In March of last year, shortly after Walker launched into orbit following an impressive Iowa Freedom Summit speech, I was summoned to Madison, for a meeting with the governor. Arriving at the pseudo campaign office in the basement of the governor’s mansion, I got a glimpse into the burgeoning and blossoming operation, which made later news of financial issues unsurprising.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I’m a day late and a dollar short, but let me add to the chorus: Donald Trump cannot be the next president of the United States. I write those words first and foremost as a concerned American. But I also write them as a Millennial who will, along with my generational cohorts, be forced to clean up a Trumpian mess if he is allowed to advance any further. Call it whatever you want, but to me Trump’s rise is the last gasp of a generation trying hard to maintain an iron grip on the presidency through nativist exceptionalism that demeans and discriminates. It may help to drum up the populism to drive up the crowds, but the adverse effects are being felt around the world. The British Parliament on Monday, despite having no authority to actually act on the matter, debated whether or not Trump should be banned from setting foot on their soil in response to an online petition demanding so.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In the mind of Dr. Ben Carson, a Muslim is not qualified to be president. In the mind of Bill Kristol, Ben Carson is not qualified to be president. And in the mind of André Carson, one of two Muslims in Congress, if his fellow followers can’t be president, maybe neurosurgeons like Ben Carson shouldn’t be either. Regardless of what any of these men believe, all three are highlighting an age-old debate about the unregulated stipulations of what constitutes a person who is “presidential.” So what, exactly, makes one presidential? The constitutional requirements are simple and to the point. An individual seeking the presidency must be a natural born citizen of the United States, no younger than 35 years old and a resident of the country for at least 14 years. That’s it. Oh, and contrary to Dr. Carson’s personal preference, no religious test can be used to determine eligibility for that or any other office.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Donald Trump went into the second Republican presidential debate underwater in favorability ratings but surprisingly buoyant in horse race match-ups against his competitors. While the resiliency of those numbers confounds political prognosticators seeking logical solutions to this political mystery, Trump’s rivals determined it was time to knock him from his perch. What those would-be heroes – a group I like to call the Justice League Republicans – did was dare to reject a societal obsession that has become a political reality and their risk, so far, is paying off. Americans simply love villains and in Donald Trump they have found one. Now, I understand not everyone possesses the same definition of what constitutes a villain. In politics, especially, villainy can be subjective. The villain is always the other guy (or gal) in the race. In the case of Trump, however, his villain bona fides are perhaps subjective but corroborated in both empirical and anecdotal data.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – When you can’t follow the rules, change the rules. That was the strategy of Carly Fiorina’s campaign as it struggled to cope with the reality that she might fall short of a spot on the main stage of the second Republican presidential debate. But she made it. And her team has one Hoosier in particular to thank. The journey began on April 20 in the ballroom of a downtown Indianapolis hotel where the former Hewlett-Packard CEO rocked the house in front of 800 Hoosier politicos at the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series annual event. Among those present that afternoon was Indiana’s Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann. An unabashed supporter of women in the political arena, Ellspermann was a natural audience for Fiorina’s story of overcoming obstacles and building a successful career. So it came as only a slight surprise when on June 29 Fiorina’s campaign announced that Ellspermann would serve as the campaign’s Indiana co-chair. In that announcement, Ellspermann said Fiorina would “place problem-solving before politics, a behavior Americans desire and deserve.”

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and one-time U.S. Senate candidate, found herself the talk of the town following an impressive performance in the first presidential debate of the 2016 cycle. Her crisp responses and sharp critiques of Hillary Clinton, Fiorina's go-to punching bag, earned her major plaudits from every corner of the media and political worlds. And rightfully so. But can she capitalize on this? There is undoubtedly a growing sense within the Republican primary electorate that Fiorina should be included on the main stage when the candidates next gather for two more rounds of debate at the Ronald Reagan Library on Sept. 16. But to get there she must overcome two big hurdles, turning fans into voters and CNN's debate requirements.
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  Our nation’s problems are bigger than Barack Obama. Yet, by the logic espoused by the most ardent opponents of the president and his agenda, he is the only thing that stands in the way of results. We only need to sit it out for two more years before rainbows and unicorns dance in the streets. But, that won’t happen. To bring about real action, Republicans, and our nation, have to move on from Obama before Obama moves on to his post-presidential life. Republicans need to realize that Obama won’t be here forever. He’s the favorite chew toy of many, but I’m not certain some are prepared for a world without him, a world where they have to actually do stuff rather than just complain all the time. That becomes complicated, though, when the president insists on signing executive orders that bypass the check and balance of the legislative branch. By playing a constitutionally questionable hand on the issue of immigration, Obama shrewdly forced Republicans to keep their attention focused squarely on him. He knows they’re obsessed. He knows he can withstand a few more blows to his approval rating. But they have to be smarter than that.
  • JACKSON, Mich. – Republicans in Jackson, Michigan, are familiar with refurbishing projects. One of them is their claim to fame, Under the Oaks, the park that marks the site of the first Republican Party convention ever held on July 6, 1854. When I first visited the site in June 2013, a boulder shaded beneath a cluster of oak trees to commemorate the event was covered in graffiti, in desperate need of a facelift,  a perfect metaphor for the national Republican Party. Visiting Jackson was the idea of a friend. He suggested the city of 33,000 because of its place in Republican Party history books. When I made that initial trek up there it was nearly 103 years to the day after William Howard Taft became the first and only sitting president to swing through Jackson when he dedicated the plaque affixed to the boulder under the oaks. Locals didn’t much care for discussing Taft’s visit because the most lasting memory was a series of disparaging comments he made regarding the relatively unassuming historical marker.   
  • INDIANAPOLIS – With the 2014 midterm elections now behind us, it’s time to take a look at the 2016 presidential contest. So let’s catch up on the latest. Florida Senator Marco Rubio won’t run for president if former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush does. But Bush, the brother of a former president and son of another, might not run if 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney does. Then there’s a decent chance 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, recently selected to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, won’t run if either Bush or Romney runs. Another Wisconsinite, Scott Walker, the governor who has found himself on the ballot three times in four years (and prevailed each time), seems poised to run himself. But his decision might hold off other Midwestern governors from doing the same. Oh, the speculative chess match of presidential politics.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - An estimated $4 billion will be spent on the 2014 elections, an all-time midterm cycle record. This money is being used to support candidates, attack candidates, and try to persuade Americans to show up at the polls on November 4th. And yet, historically low voter turn-out is expected across Indiana and nationwide on Tuesday. In most areas, officials expect their cocooned party base will show up, just not in huge droves as they would in a presidential election year. More middle-of-the-road voters, however, will probably stay home, even though they are the ones who could tip the balance in many contested races. Why stay home? Well, politics is a big turn-off to a lot of people. Shocking, I know. All that spending has proven to do is drive Americans further away and make them feel like voting is an endorsement of a few bad actors when voting should be an opportunity to send a message to the politicians who need to stop their childish antics.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Nationally, Republicans are without a leader, without a message, and without a plan. The party is having a difficult time defining exactly what it stands for in the waning years of the Obama Era and seems intent on waiting until a presidential nominee emerges to figure it all out. Ironically enough, Indiana Democrats are in a similar position. In fact, both parties have the same 2014 strategy: We’re not the other guy. Republicans in targeted federal campaigns are focusing much of their attention on bashing President Obama and highlighting their opponents’ verbal missteps rather than on positive ideas for the future. Indiana Democrats are playing the same game. They are hoping voters default to them because Republicans already have supermajorities in the State House and Senate. But the parallels don’t end there. With Evan Bayh’s protracted flirtations with a third run for governor now (finally!) behind us, Democrats are without a leader to champion their cause.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Feel like there’s no intensity to the 2014 campaign? Don’t tell that to Hoosiers who get their news from Chicago, Cincinnati or Louisville. Hotly contested races in Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky are producing voter annoyance and fatigue in parts of Indiana, providing a ceiling for both parties working to parlay their work in 2014 into gains in 2016. This year, the problem is especially pronounced in other parts of Indiana as the names Bruce Rauner, Alison Lundergan Grimes and Ed FitzGerald become more familiar to some Hoosier voters than the people who will actually appear on our ballots. Rauner, running against Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn; Lundergan Grimes, the challenger to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky; and FitzGerald, the Democrat trying to unseat Ohio Gov. John Kasich; find themselves in competitive and costly races.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Hillary Clinton’s comment that she and former President Bill Clinton were “dead broke” upon leaving The White House in 2001 set off a media firestorm. She was criticized from every angle for being  out of touch with the American populace. Republicans scoffed, pointing out that the Clinton clan was making plenty at the time and that since then Mr. Clinton alone has raked in well over $100 million in fees on the lecture circuit. Coupled with Mrs. Clinton, who pulls in $225,000 per speech herself, the duo has a net worth estimated at upwards of $50 million. Democrats were equally aghast, furious that their presumed standard bearer could be so reckless and disingenuous in trying to be one of us. But the larger point to me is why? Why is she trying so hard to be “one of us”?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – On the presidential level, Americans have shown a preference for executive experience in their candidates. After U.S. Senator Warren G. Harding ascended to our highest office in 1921, only two presidents, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, were elected directly out of Congress and with no executive credentials. In contrast, within the same time period, five of the 11 individuals who were elected president on their own had most recently been governor of their state. In Indiana, however, Hoosiers have shown a deeper appreciation for legislators and less for local executives,  namely mayors, for statewide and federal office. Not a single elected governor in our state’s history previously served as a mayor (Joe Kernan served, but was never elected) and neither of the two major political parties has nominated a former or sitting mayor as a first-time candidate for statewide office since Democrat John Fernandez’s bid for secretary of state over a decade ago. At the federal level, a paltry 17 out of 349, or just under 5 percent, of U.S. House and Senate members from Indiana were once hiz- or her-honor.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – On the same weekend Indiana Democrats gathered in the Circle City for their biennial convention, Evan Bayh sat snugly behind a glass topped table on the set of Fox News Sunday in Washington, D.C. As he opined on topics such as Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming book and the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange, John Gregg shook the hands of adoring crowds of the party faithful, many wearing stickers declaring their support for repeat Gregg gubernatorial run in 2016.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Democrats were supposed to be in a state of permanent suspension awaiting word from Washington, or Muncie, or wherever Bayh is at any given moment, about his own potential return to the Statehouse. After 20 years of Republican control of the governor’s office, Bayh’s election to the post in 1988 was a sign of Democratic resurgence. But Indiana Democrats, with Bayh’s implicit endorsement, got caught up in a cult of personality. Everything was about Evan ... that is until now, in what might be the world’s first truly mutual breakup since a famous episode of Seinfeld pioneered the idea that two parties could amicably part ways.
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  On the foreign policy front, Hillary Clinton has no equal, at least on paper. Despite her questionable handling of the raid on our American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, her international relations chops are above and beyond those of any potential Republican candidate for president by virtue of her service as secretary of state. But the fluid and precarious situation in Ukraine, rising tensions in the Middle East and the importance of economic development each provide opportunities for would-be Republican candidates to move towards parity with the presumed Democratic frontrunner.  A president is not only chief of state, leader of a political party and driver of domestic reform, but also chief diplomat. Therefore, with Clinton in the race or not, it’s important for candidates to brush up on their knowledge of international issues and show that they have the ability to mix it up on the worldwide stage with leaders considering no one ever knows what’s lurking around the corner.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – White House press secretary Jay Carney’s desk is 50 feet from the entrance to the Oval Office and 50 feet from the podium of the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. This is no mere coincidence. The Office of the Press Secretary serves two bosses, the president and the press. That proximity to both can put the press secretary in an awkward position. Depending on whom you talk to, the White House is either in cahoots with the media or the two are in a constant battle over access to the president. Both of those arguments bubbled back to the surface last week, although one part happened inadvertently.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – There was some good news for Republicans in a joint New York Times/CBS poll last week. On the generic U.S. House ballot the party held a 42 percent to 39 percent lead over Democrats, meaning Republicans are on track to hold their House majority. Additionally, with solid U.S. Senate challengers in Arkansas, Colorado and Virginia having emerged, and open contests in South Dakota and West Virginia, even MSNBC host Chris Matthews predicted Republicans could pick up 10 – 10! – seats in the upper chamber in November. This could not come at a better time. Rather than playing in the minority, relegated to watching Harry Reid chuck Republican legislation in the nearest wastebasket, Sen. Dan Coats and his colleagues will have one hand on the steering wheel along with the House, while President Barack Obama remains the lone person trying to step on the brakes as his term sunsets.
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  • Rep. Brooks endorses Messer in GOP Senate race
    "Luke and I have been friends for a long time, and being his colleague and watching him work up close, I have no doubt he'll make a great U.S. Senator. We face tough issues as a nation and need Luke Messer in the Senate to meet those challenges and make Washington work better for Hoosiers. Luke is a proven conservative, but more than that, he is a respected and skillful leader who builds the relationships necessary to get our shared priorities enacted into law. His principles and strong communication skills have made him a go-to leader in the House, and those same attributes will enable Luke to deliver results when he arrives in the U. S. Senate. His record of fighting for school choice to create better education opportunities for tens of thousands of Indiana families and protecting veterans’ GI Bill benefits shows Hoosiers they can trust him to do the right thing and do it well.” - U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, endorsing U.S. Rep. Luke Messer for the 2018 Republican U.S. Senate nomination on Wednesday. Messer faces U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, attorney Mark Hurt, businessman Terry Henderson, State Rep. Mike Braun and educator Andrew Takami in the GOP primary.
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  • Mike and Hillary
    We’ve watched 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton make the rounds on her new book: “What Happened.” The reaction has been cringes from Democrats hoping to move on, a set-the-record mentality from some journalistic quarters, and taunts from Republicans. Vice President Pence has the best line of all, with this tweet Thursday morning: “The first book that has the question and the answer on the cover.” Good line, Mike, er … Mr. Vice President. It harkens back to those studio days near the Speedway and a retreat to Claude & Annies. - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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