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Sunday, November 19, 2017
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  • SOUTH BEND – Republican strategists plotting to defeat Sen. Joe Donnelly have attacked the incumbent Democrat as standing in the way of President Trump’s agenda. Q. Will that strategy change after the results of the election Tuesday, especially with the anti-Trump flavor of the big Democratic wins in Virginia? A. No. At least not yet. Q. But will the Republican nominee who runs against Donnelly really want to be viewed as foursquare for Trump’s agenda? A. Right now, the two Republican congressmen regarded as top contenders for the party’s nomination, Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, battle for support of the Trump base, so sizeable in the presidential vote in Indiana, with both claiming to give that foursquare support. Each tries in an already nasty battle to find some inkling of disloyalty to Trump by the nomination opponent.
  • SOUTH BEND – “I’ll never speak to you again,” said Donald Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, in an angry call to Robert Costa following Costa’s story in the Washington Post about Trump’s refusal to give a definitive answer on the birther issue. Speak, however, he would. Often. During the campaign and after. Even calling from the Oval Office to give Costa an exclusive about the decision to give up on a Republican plan to overhaul Obamacare: “Hello, Bob. So, we just pulled it.” Costa, who spoke informally Thursday with University of Notre Dame journalism students over lunch and in a question-and-answer session, is regarded as the national political reporter who best knows President Trump. Costa, a 2008 Notre Dame graduate, is a national political reporter for the Post, an analyst for NBC and MSNBC and moderator of “Washington Week” on PBS. How did he get to know Trump so well, sometimes the only reporter flying on Trump’s campaign plane? It wasn’t with puff pieces. Costa told of one time when he spent the day with Trump during the campaign, finally getting the promised exclusive interview on the plane.
  • SOUTH BEND – Mayor of South Bend never has provided a national political base – until now. Now, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is featured more often in major national publications and on national TV than any member of Congress from Indiana or, for that matter, more than most members of Congress anywhere. Almost always it’s with portrayal of South Bend’s mayor as an emerging Democratic Party leader, maybe a future presidential candidate, even though he lost in his first venture into national politics earlier this year as a candidate for Democratic national chairman. In losing, he won more national attention. So, what is his goal? Locally, he says, it’s completing his parks investment program, a new part of “the South Bend story” he tells about in the national interviews. Nationally, it’s funding a political action committee. A PAC? Isn’t that something for big-money special interests, not exactly fitting the image of Buttigieg in those stories in Time, the New York Times and the Washington Post and in appearances with Charlie Rose and Seth Meyers? “I’m very skeptical of the creation of super PACs as a policy,” Buttigieg says. “But if they are going to exist, if the big special interests get to have them, then I think someone speaking up for ordinary people ought to have one, too.”
  • SOUTH BEND – Many Democrats, smug in belief that they know what’s right for the nation, are sure that voters throughout the nation know they’re right and that President Donald Trump is what his own secretary of state called him. So, they are convinced that 2018 will bring big Democratic election gains – control of the House and maybe even of the Senate, where the seats up for election make it tough, though still possible. Don’t the shifting demographics of the country, and seeming determination of Trump to insult and alienate so many of the growing segments of the population, make big Democratic wins inevitable and threaten the future of the Republican Party? Well . . .A year ago today, many Democrats, smug in belief that they knew what was right for the nation, were sure that voters throughout the nation knew they were right and that Trump, with the Harvey Weinstein image of that time, would never be president.
  • SOUTH BEND –  Mel Hall is a data guy. When he was chief executive officer of Press Ganey, the South Bend firm grew to collect data for more than half of the hospitals in the nation on consumer evaluations. Hall had this sign in his office: “In God we trust. All others bring data.” So, it’s no surprise that Hall commissioned a poll for data on political prospects in Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District before announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in that district, now represented by Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski. Hall says the poll shows that the 10-county district is indeed Republican flavored, as intended when it was drawn in Republican-controlled redistricting. The GOP advantage in percentages, he says, could be “plus 9, plus 10, plus 11.” Of his chances of defeating Walorski, Hall concedes that strictly on the basis of the political data, “It’s not a slam dunk; it’s not likely.”
  • SOUTH BEND – President Donald Trump is doing no favors for Republicans seeking to defeat Sen. Joe Donnelly. Republican contenders are trying to tear down Donnelly’s image as a moderate Democrat, likening him to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. And then Trump invites Donnelly to dinner at the White House, clearly identifying him as one of the moderates who might be willing to reach across the aisle for bipartisan agreement on tax reform. The president shared the thousand  island dressing and views on middle-class tax relief with Donnelly during the dinner last week. Donnelly was seated next to Trump at the affair, attended by a bipartisan group of senators, four Republicans and three Democrats. Vice President Mike Pence and other key administration officials also were there. In a telephone interview, Donnelly said the discussion “was really productive and businesslike,” not like the sharp partisanship on display at a White House luncheon to which he was invited earlier in the administration.
  • SOUTH BEND – Which party now is going the way of the Whigs? Political pundits have pontificated about that for decades, actually since 1854. That’s when the Whig Party, once one of two major parties and dominant in the 1840 presidential and congressional elections, disintegrated – split over slavery and stuck on less relevant issues. It quickly ceased to exist. Now, once more, come prognostications about which party is going the way of the Whigs. Some analysts in the press, in political science, in think tanks, in bars, say it is the Republican Party. Theory for demise? That it cannot survive the divisive and bizarre presidency of Donald Trump, who alienates so many segments of the population, including the growing number of Hispanic voters, African-Americans, the young and on and on. Also, Republicans have total control of Congress at a time when polls show total contempt for Congress. And the GOP seems mired in issues of the past instead of what voters want for the future. The Democratic Party theory for demise? That it was so inept that it lost to Trump and still concentrates more on Bernie vs. Hillary than on a unifying message to keep Trump from winning again over an inept opposition.
  • SOUTH BEND – Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, author of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on presidential succession and disability, guided it to approval by Congress in 1965 and final ratification by the states two years later. For some reason, the amendment is now in the news. Bayh, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on constitution amendments, said the amendment was “necessary to provide a way to deal with two problems of presidential succession.” One was frequent vice-presidential vacancies. When President John Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson became president in 1963, it brought the 16th time the office of vice president was unoccupied. The Constitution had not provided for a way to replace a vice president between elections.
  • SOUTH BEND – When Vice President Mike Pence returned to Indiana for the unveiling of his official portrait as governor, the Democratic National Committee fired off a statement criticizing Pence for pushing health care changes that would be “devastating for Indiana.” No surprise that the DNC criticizes Pence. But the title the Democratic organization gave to Pence was a surprise. The statement began: “The presumptive 2020 presidential candidate Mike Pence returns today to his home state . . .” For Pence, that’s the unkindest cut of all. The last thing Pence wants right now is to be viewed openly as a presumed candidate for president in 2020. It’s not that Pence wouldn’t love to be the 2020 Republican presidential nominee. It’s not that he isn’t raising funds and organizing to be ready for that possibility. It’s not that a majority of Republicans in Congress wouldn’t prefer Pence over Trump as their 2020 nominee – or as their president right now. It’s that Pence must avoid being presumed openly and widespread as a candidate for president rather than again being the loyal, supportive vice-presidential running mate as Trump seeks a second term.
  • SOUTH BEND – While today I defend Republican Congressman Luke Messer, it’s about one very misguided type of attack. So, don’t interpret it as favoring Messer over Todd Rokita, the other Republican congressman seeking the party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate. Either would be a formidable opponent for Sen. Joe Donnelly, the Democrat who seeks reelection in 2018. Neither would be another Richard Mourdock, the nutty Republican nominee Donnelly defeated to win a first term. A Mourdock type could slip between Messer and Rokita to win in the Republican primary, and there are far-out prospects seeking to do so. But chances are that Donnelly won’t be that fortunate a second time. Now, to defending Messer in one area where he has been attacked in an unfair, but potentially damaging, way. Messer is criticized for relocating his family – wife and three kids – to suburban Washington after election to Congress in 2012. Good for him. Good for his family. Good for Congress.
  • SOUTH BEND – Most people can take a joke. Some can’t. Make fun of them in a punch line, and they don’t laugh, don’t smile, don’t joke back. They punch back, angry, vindictive. In “Devil’s Bargain,” new best-selling book about President Donald Trump and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, author Joshua Green, national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, poses the question of whether Trump ran for president because he couldn’t take a joke. Well, it was a series of jokes that Trump didn’t take well. It was on April 30, 2011, at the White House Correspondents’ dinner in Washington. That’s a swank event attended by elite of government, business, society and entertainment. The president traditionally attends, taking a lot of ribbing and then responding with humorous remarks of his own, usually poking fun at himself as well as at the news media and political officials and other important people in the room. Trump was in the room. He was invited to sit at the Washington Post table. He was then a TV celebrity who was toying with running for the Republican nomination to oppose President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection. And he was getting national attention with his “birther” charges, perpetuating the fake news that Obama really wasn’t born in the United States.
  • SOUTH BEND – Whether Mike Pence will become the next president of the United States – and if so, when – is the subject of widespread speculation. Theories on when Pence might become president range from election in 2024, as President Trump is completing a second term, to a much quicker move to the Oval Office, when Trump is impeached or resigns after proclaiming he already has made America great again. Electability is debated. Some political analysts figure that Pence will be viewed as a stabilizing figure in a chaotic Trump administration, thus electable. Others see the vice president as already tainted by standing so closely with Trump as troubles mount, thus making him unelectable. Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman writes that a President Pence will come soon because of Trump’s “biggest blunder,” choosing Pence as his running mate.  Chapman theorizes that most Republicans in Congress would rather deal with a President Pence, and even Democrats would prefer “a mentally stable right-wing puritan to an unpredictable, thin-skinned narcissist.” So, he says, if Trump continues strange behavior amid more startling disclosures, members of both parties will impeach and oust Trump. That “biggest mistake” by Trump, Chapman says, was picking Pence, someone well known in Congress and seen by so many as a better alternative.
  • SOUTH BEND – You know Joe. Most folks in this part of Indiana know Joe Donnelly. But millions of dollars will be spent to tell them that, really, they don’t. That’s the nature of political campaigns. And Donnelly is regarded as one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators up for reelection next year, providing extra incentive for Republicans to concentrate all out on defeating him. The main reason national political analysts list Donnelly as so vulnerable is that President Trump won Indiana by nearly 20 percentage points. Trump turned Indiana into one of the reddest of red states, with Democratic candidates running statewide having no chance. Donnelly would have had no chance if running in 2016. He has a chance in 2018, with no presidential race overshadowing all else and in view of a high approval rating. A recent poll by Morning Consult, a polling partner with Bloomberg and other major media, found Donnelly with 53% approval, just 25% disapproval.
  • SOUTH BEND –  For Democrats to win control of the House next year – possible, though not yet probable – they must upset some Republicans entrenched in “safe” seats, such as Rep. Jackie Walorski in Indiana’s 2nd District. Walorski is targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But so are many other Republican incumbents, most of them in districts in which they appear to be more vulnerable than Walorski. She is regarded as “safe” in most national evaluations. And why not? She won a third term in 2016 by nearly 62,000 votes, carrying nine of the 10 counties in the district and just barely losing in St. Joseph County, supposed bastion of Democratic strength. Walorski, however, is a target because of other past elections. She lost in her first race for Congress in 2010 to Joe Donnelly, who then was the incumbent congressman, and won in a squeaker for a first term in 2012 in a race with Brendan Mullen. Polls showed high negative perceptions of her back then.
  • SOUTH BEND – Mayor Pete Buttigieg seeks a stronger voice in national politics with the launch of a PAC to help local and state candidates around the nation to deliver a winning Democratic message. The mayor gained favorable recognition with his impressive bid for Democratic national chairman. He appears on network TV and is called on for major speeches. One is in Iowa, that first-in-the-nation caucus state. But Pete needs a different approach if he is to have real national impact. He needs a modern Twitter approach. Look what that has done for President Trump. Oh, sure, Pete has a Twitter account. But it’s not like Trump’s. Mayor Pete tweets politely about nice things in South Bend, promoting the city. Too nice.
  • SOUTH BEND - The “mean” health care bill passed by House Republicans could be a key issue in the nationally important U.S. Senate race in Indiana next year. It will be if Sen. Joe Donnelly has anything to say about it. And Donnelly, the Democratic incumbent facing a very tough race, already is saying a lot about it, calling the plan not just mean, but disastrous. The House Republican plan could be a key issue in Indiana because Donnelly’s Republican opponent is likely to be a Hoosier congressman, either Todd Rokita, 4th District, or Luke Messer, 6th District. Both are angling for the GOP senatorial nomination. And both voted for and praised passage of the House health care bill. The description of the bill as “mean” comes now from President Donald Trump. But didn’t Trump pressure House Republicans, many skeptical about what was in the bill, to pass it anyway? Yes.
  • SOUTH BEND –– The focus of the political stethoscope, for so long examining the poor health of Democrats who voted in Congress for Obamacare, shifts now to measuring the prospects for political health of Republicans who voted for Trumpcare. A health care plan, especially if complicated and pushed through without the public or even supporters in Congress really understanding the effects, can cause terrible health problems for those who vote for it. Democrats learned that. Will Republicans now learn the same lesson? There is no doubt that Trumpcare will be a major issue in the 2018 elections. Polls show it is unpopular, just as Obamacare was when Republicans hammered it and Democrats to win congressional elections. Now, ironically, just as Republicans control Congress and the presidency and can repeal it, provisions of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, have become popular. A Gallup poll shows 53% approval of Obamacare, highest favorability ever, for the first time over 50%. So the GOP is having a difficult time figuring out how to dump it without severe health care and political health woes.
  • SOUTH BEND – Two decisions, evaluated together, have been great for Indiana. Donald Trump’s decision to select Mike Pence as his choice for vice president.The decision by Pence, when he was governor, to pick Eric Holcomb for lieutenant governor. Picking Holcomb wouldn’t have meant much if it were not for the later decision by President Trump to take Indiana’s governor as his running mate. With Pence gone from Indiana, Holcomb was elected governor. That thus far is great for Indiana. Holcomb is a better governor than Pence. And Pence is providing some stability and a calmer, more-informed voice for the administration in dealing with Congress and with the real world. He was instrumental in forcing out the dangerous Michael Flynn as national security adviser. He could be doing a better job for President Trump than he did for Indiana. Some readers won’t take kindly to any praise for Pence. There is room for criticism. But fair is fair. He does some things right. He hand-picked Holcomb to fill a lieutenant governor vacancy, putting Holcomb in position to win the Republican nomination for governor, to win the election and to be a good governor, a better governor than Pence, who had sagging approval ratings back when it appeared he would struggle for reelection as governor.
  • SOUTH BEND – What difference does it make? Sen. Joe Donnelly is the center of attention with the Senate drama over confirming Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Most Senate Democrats, but not Donnelly, sought to block Gorsuch. Republicans responded to refusal of enough Democrats to join in providing the required 60 votes for confirmation by blowing up that requirement with the “nuclear option.” What difference did it make that Donnelly was one of only three Democrats to vote for Gorsuch?  Well, it meant that the vote confirming Gorsuch, with one Republican absent, was 54-45 instead of 53-46. Clearly, not enough Democrats would join with the 52-member Republican majority to provide 60 votes to end a filibuster blocking Gorsuch and confirm him. It was clear also that Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell would use that “nuclear option” to end filibusters on Supreme Court nominees and allow confirmation by a simple majority. Gorsuch was going to be on the court, no matter what Donnelly did. He was no difference-maker. But what difference does it make for Donnelly as he faces re-election next year?
  • SOUTH BEND – With all the enthusiasm at South Bend’s baseball stadium and the excitement over related economic development, it will seem strange to many of the fans who so often pack the place that the stadium almost struck out. Naysayers, predicting that a stadium would be a failure, opposed it all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court and even sought criminal charges against city officials who built it. If opponents had prevailed, there would not have been a record regular season attendance of 350,803 for South Bend Cubs games last season. Instead, zero attendance. Nor would team owner Andrew Berlin be pouring millions of dollars into stadium improvements and a major mixed-use residential complex around it. He wouldn’t be here, already investing far more than the city spent to build the stadium in 1986-87. The Chicago Cubs would not have displayed their World Series championship trophy at the site. Without a stadium, the Cubs would have no affiliate here.
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  • Rokita revives residency issue against Messer
    "What's best for our family is living right here amongst our constituents, amongst our neighbors in Brownsburg, Indiana. You only have to look to [Richard] Lugar [and] Evan Bayh to see how the Indiana electorate treats someone who doesn't really live in this state and has lost touch." - U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita to WIBC’s Tony Katz, in reference to his criticism of U.S. Senate primary opponent Luke Messer, who moved his family to Washington while he serves in Congress. Messer told Katz, "The Hoosiers I talk to put their family first and they respect that a member of Congress would put their family first too.“ Sens. Lugar and Bayh lost Senate bids in 2012 and 2016 with residency one of the issues that came up during the campaign.
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  • The slitherly slope and redemption
    Here are some thoughts on the “Pervnado” that is sweeping Hollywood, Capitol Hill, newsrooms and statehouses, though things at the Indiana Statehouse have been quiet.

    Does it make a difference when a decades-old allegation comes up that the perpetrator apologizes? Particularly if there’s no specific evidence? We’ve watched Kevin Spacey, Sen. Al Franken and comedian Louis C.K. seek some measure of atonement for their inappropriate behavior, while Republican Alabama U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore, who has been accused of pedophilia, has not and remains defiant? Ditto for comedian Bill Cosby.

    As any crisis communicator will tell you, coming clean and being contrite is the better long term strategy even if one takes big losses in the short-term. And Americans have a penchant for redemption, as past controversial figures ranging from Muhammad Ali, Jane Fonda, Kobe Bryant to Barney Frank and even Presidents Clinton and Nixon eventually were restored some degree of trust and popularity.

    Is it inconsistent for U.S. Rep. Luke Messer to call for the resignation of Sen. Franken for one ribald photo and an inappropriate and slithery pass a radio personality Leanne Tweeden, while President Trump escapes a similar assessment despite a dozen or so similar complaints and the Billy Bush “Access Hollywood” tape?

    Just asking, as we watch many powerful figures tumble down the slithery slope.  - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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