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Tuesday, December 7, 2021
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  • FORT WAYNE – Tuesday, November 2, 2021 was a vote in very blue states (i.e. non-competitive for Republicans) and the bluest of blue cities (e.g. New York, Boston, Minneapolis). The marquee races for the national media were for governor of Virginia and New Jersey. In 2020, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in Virginia by 450,000 votes. In 2021, Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin won by around 65,000 votes. In New Jersey in 2020, Trump lost to Biden by 725,000 votes. In 2021, the race for governor was pulled out by incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy by a miniscule margin out of 2.35 million voters. Virginia has gone from red to purple to darker blue. Supposed Democrat base voters are increasing every year; Republican base voter numbers are declining. Virginia was on the verge of becoming a Democrat base state. New Jersey was also becoming more Democrat. Republicans were losing congressional seats and largely irrelevant in statewide elections. If these two stories were the only ones from election night, it would be tempting to just look at the over-arching trends of no Trump and the continuing muddled disaster of the Biden presidency and say it was a referendum on boring Republican candidates minus Trump who rode a wave of anti-Biden. But there were, in fact, other stories as well.
  • FORT WAYNE – The right to vote is so closely connected to protecting the right to having an honest vote that the two subjects cannot be separated. Furthermore, it is always a partisan issue because the Democrats jockey for perceived advantages (which vary by time and place) and so do Republicans. To make claims that one party is more political on the issue merely demonstrates one’s personal partisanship. A policy so potentially critical to political success is hardly conducive to the “moral high ground” that both sides claim. Before plunging further into this “hot” discussion, let me state a couple of what I think are obvious positions, though many Republicans dispute the first and many Democrats dispute the second one.

  • FORT WAYNE – Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has written a book titled “On the House: A Washington Memoir.”  Here is a simple review of the book: He still doesn’t like Donald Trump. Based upon my 16 years of interaction with him it accurately reflects Boehner’s political career, and – whether written solely by him or with lots of help from a professional writer – it sounds like John Boehner did in personal, small group, or public discourse. I stress those points because as someone who loves to read political history and memoirs, finding a book by someone inside of politics that is both accurate and not full of fake posturing for history is rare. John Boehner has decided to be remembered as John Boehner. Political best-sellers are usually of two types: 1.) Books by famous people that sell well because of the author’s name but are a slog to read. Few people even get to the mid-point. 2.) Books by commentators who get people excited but have never been inside of a room where the decisions are made, and probably couldn’t even get elected to a dogcatcher position by their neighbors. Even political history books these days are dominated by “wokeness,” not history. Because Boehner is fundamentally transparent about the process, it provides some good insight into how leadership works at all levels of government, not unlike private business, educational institutions, and all social organizations.
  • FORT WAYNE – Mary Trausch-Martin faced a dilemma. She was aggressively supporting Congressman Todd Rokita in a three-way Republican primary for U.S. senator. Mary is what would have historically been called a Republican activist, a lead volunteer at the heart of the party. She does nothing moderately. She has strong opinions on  just about everything. Mary was also the vice chairwoman of the 3rd District Republican Committee. When Mike Braun, a candidate competing with Rokita, asked Mary for potential contacts at some meet-and-greet events in DeKalb and Steuben counties for his campaign, and then asked her to basically set them up, she was faced with the dilemma: Should she help him? When parties were dominant, as opposed to candidate organizations, there were differing expectations. The county parties could offer jobs and had quasi-publicly funded resources. Some public funding was direct (e.g., 2% club), some indirect (e.g., license bureaus), and other means were pressure-forced indirect (e.g., pay-to-play contracts). 
  • FORT WAYNE – In the late 1960s, when I began in politics as a teenager, Orvas Beers was the king of the Allen County Republican Party. Keith Bulen of Marion County was sort of the Orvas Beers of central Indiana. He represented a more populated area but had to share more of his power.  Back in the old days of spoils – the gains of patronage, political profits and power – maintaining control of a county political party was easier. The big bosses of the state could gather and make a deal. Back then, the important things in Indiana (tied to jobs or, say, bank deposits) weren’t left to the risks of primaries. Conventions (more later on the modern version, the caucus nomination system) could be controlled by the “bosses” gathering in smoke-filled rooms to pick their favorites, later ratified by delegates. 

  • FORT WAYNE – Every politician – at least those who win elections – understands the power and importance of media in all of its forms. People who try to influence politicians tend to understand it somewhat but often tend to think that money, personal relationships and other methods are dominant. Then they often wonder why their ideas do not prevail. There is an adage that I have believed all my life, in business and politics: Information is power. So where does one get information? If you are trying to influence people to buy what you are selling, whether it is a person, a piece of furniture or an idea, you need to understand where they are getting their information. It is obvious that primary sources of information evolve with technology changes. Political information in America evolved from newsprint to radio to television to today’s news niche chaos. America is a nation of information junkies which new technology has advanced, not reduced. 
  • FORT WAYNE – Censorship of political speech is not new. In fact, in world history freedom of speech is rarer than censorship. In the United States, expanded freedom of speech and freedom of the press (the corollary of free political speech) are among the hallmarks of what makes our nation different. The focus of this is not whether Donald Trump should get his Twitter finger back, though it is certainly a current, visible example of our nation once again re-defining censorship. Traditional media, in every decision, must pick and choose what to cover. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television have space and time constraints. So even does social media, in different ways. One of the biggest constraints is simple; consumers also have time constraints. When Adolph S. Ochs in 1897 put “All the News That’s Fit to Print” on the masthead of the New York Times, he meant it as a statement that stressed the “all” meaning not just partisan newspapers, often owned by candidates, parties and interests jockeying for political control. “Fit to print” is how they sorted themselves from scandal sheets that truly did and still do produce “fake” news, not news called fake by people who disagree with it.

  • FORT WAYNE – Here are the impacts of the second impeachment of former president Donald John Trump: 1.) Chants of “Kill Mike Pence” from large numbers of conservative rioters, at more than one location, was spine-tingling and chilling. Those who watched it in context will likely never forget it. The absurd anger was scary and ugly. This should have been a wake-up call to every Indiana Republican elected official. Mike Pence had been a loyal ally of President Trump until Trump asked him to directly violate the Constitution. “Hang Mike Pence” could easily become any elected official when confronted by a “hang anybody not 100% with us” mob. Indiana Democrats only need to worry when they become politically relevant again. Democrats in other states, however, should also be worried about the increasing willingness of mobs to be incited by exaggerated political rhetoric. Continued out-of-control rhetoric will have escalating consequences. 2.) Vice President Mike Pence was likely the biggest “winner” from the impeachment trial. It is far too early to say whether he will benefit politically. However, in the eyes of history he will become a legend in the story of the only assault on the Capitol of the United States by Americans. The second highest official in the nation. A man betrayed by his president. Eerily close to potential serious bodily harm. Guardian of free elections. A true profile in courage, not a rhetorical one. Even liberals are likely to give him credit because it makes Trump seem worse.
  • FORT WAYNE – The political fallout from the U.S. Capitol riots will continue to emerge for some time, months and possibly years, and vary over the longer haul from the immediate. Here are some guesses on impacts in different areas, but everything is always dependent upon unforeseeable variables as well. 1.) False claims of fraud likely destroyed election reform in the short-run. When President Trump called people to Washington to “persuade” Congress to overturn the electoral vote, and the mob storms the U.S. Capitol Building and terrorizes Congress, they made election reform toxic in the short-term at least. Real concerns that actually need to be discussed so future elections aren’t stolen, not trumped-up allegations about unproven fraud, have been subsumed by false ones. Instead of reform and putting the Democrats on the defensive, reform instead will likely be dismissed by a public increasingly sick of all the fighting as just more Republican unsubstantiated whining about Trump losing. It is also not an investigation when you have announced your conclusion in advance of any evidence. 2.) Republican primary challenges to pro-impeachment voters. Those who voted for the second impeachment of President Trump will likely have primary challenges if they run for reelection. Given that those who voted for impeachment probably were already less than worshipful to Trump, they probably would have had a primary challenger anyway. Perhaps their challengers will be more qualified than expected, but that is still unknown. 

  • FORT WAYNE – These last few weeks have been a particularly tumultuous political brawl in our democratic Republic. Wednesday it changed to sustained violence. Excuses must stop. It is well past time to stop defending and excusing incendiary rhetoric that resulted in such behavior.  It is one thing to raise concerns about potential fraud in voting. There were policies implemented in an attempt to get around the dangers of COVID that were potentially vulnerable to large scale cheating. But “potentially” is not the same as actual fraud. Ballots in the challenged states were counted and recounted. There were 50 some court cases dismissed, without even being viewed as meritorious enough to have a trial. It became increasingly apparent, in legal terms, that the effort was not about proving fraud, but using the courts to convince supporters of President Trump that the election was stolen. No evidence, but because the courts dismissed the cases it was portrayed as de facto proof that the system was protecting itself from Trump. It was a cover-up. Then the states certified the results. Every state. Whether governed by Republicans or Democrats, every single state verified the results. In 2012, Mitt Romney received 47.2% of the popular vote for President. In 2020, Trump received 46.9%. Trump claimed that was because of California, which of course has been part of the count since it became a state in 1850. It is, in fact, the most populous state by far. But it should be noted that election victory comes from winning the Electoral College. This brings us to last night. The cause of the mob riot and attempt to seize our nation’s Capitol Building was the belief – falsely alleged again by Trump just before the riot – that the election was stolen. The constant attacks on the credibility of our government as a swamp, as untrustworthy in all respects, has fueled an anger that just boiled over. 
  • FORT WAYNE – Regardless of what happens next in his life, the last four years have been a remarkable experience for Vice President Mike Pence. There have been 48 vice presidents in U.S. history. Former Vice President Joe Biden will become only the third to be elected to the office since Abraham Lincoln (the other two were Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush). The others first achieved office through the death of a president. In other words, being vice president is not a safe ticket to the presidency. However, Vice President Pence was unique among vice presidents. Most vice presidents had roles similar to the colorful description given the position by former powerful House Speaker James Garner that it “wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.” In other words, even powerful figures on Capitol Hill like Garner and later Lyndon Baines Johnson, watched that power be sapped away by aggressive presidents with clear agendas and a cadre of individuals who understood government and how to utilize its power as a team. President Trump had some potential problems from the very beginning. He was clear on a few things he wanted; for example, a wall along the entire southern border, withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of no more foreign wars, limitations on free trade, and an emphasis on nationalism not internationalism.

  • FORT WAYNE – Important fact number one: Al Gore did not concede to presumed President-elect George Bush until Dec. 13, 2000. The political system survived. Of course, that was Gore’s second concession. He took his first one back until the process went through the courts. Surely the media would not prefer that Donald Trump had conceded and then taken it back after supporters raised issues of fraud? It is important to establish some more basic points. A president-elect is designated after the Electoral College votes and before a president is sworn into office. It is not anointed by the media. By all evidence presented thus far, and likely to be presented, former Vice President Joe Biden is the presumed president-elect. This isn’t a repeat of 2000, one state with an incredibly close count, but a fairly decisive apparent win though with many narrow victories for Biden: Georgia 0.3%, Arizona 0.3%, Wisconsin 0.6%, Pennsylvania 1.2%, Nevada 2.4% and Michigan 2.6%. Given the closeness and the extraordinary changes in voting patterns, an election not primarily determined in private voting booths on Election Day, the apparent losing candidate has a right to pursue legal questions that arise. The fact that the media is demanding an immediate coronation is not professional journalism. Neutrality was lost earlier, but even feigned neutrality – nodding here and there to fairness – has been abandoned for overt cheerleading, complete with tears. Vice President Biden, on the other hand, has remained publicly calm. He has a commanding lead, understands that no proof of significant fraud looms, and has confidence in the legal system.
  • FORT WAYNE – Election day and election night were for much of my life intense experiences of adrenalin rush, excitement and tension. My first thrilling experience was in 1980. I was standing in front a television set, watching Ronald Reagan win the presidency and Republican Senate candidates topple one Democrat legend after another, including our Congressman Dan Quayle upsetting Sen. Birch Bayh. It was a Republican wave. In 1994, I was part of another Republican wave (a tsunami), when I upset Congresswoman Jill Long as part of the Republican Revolution in the U.S. House, when for the first time in 40 years Republicans took control. The Dems had held power for so long, as new Speaker Newt Gingrich said, we found rooms we didn’t know existed in the Capitol Building. The Dems thought they could continue their blue wave of 2018 this year, humiliating President Donald Trump, winning control of the Senate, and advancing to a more stable control of the U.S. House. Instead they ran into a purple wave. Here is how you define a purple wave: You have red areas (definition: Indiana) and blue areas (definition: California), and among them you have a bunch of states that cast millions of votes, yet the next day (e.g. Wisconsin, Michigan) the presidential candidates are separated by less than 1%. 
  • FORT WAYNE – Here are some thoughts on the final days. 1.) The final debate was Trump’s best. It stopped his polling slide, at least temporarily, that had accelerated after his bullying performance in the first debate and the further confusion after he skipped the second. His gains, however, were not large and may have come too late. 2.) The Senate races are interesting, both because of the importance of Senate control but also as indicators of the presidential race. Before the final debate, it seemed as though the Democrats would have seized Senate control had that been election day. Since the debate, the Republicans have gained 2-4 points in key seats, making the Republican maintenance of control riding heavily on two Georgia seats and the North Carolina race. Minnesota has become surprisingly close in some polls and a strong candidate in Michigan is at least competitive. Iowa and Arizona are again basically tied.  3.) Trump has more intensely loyal supporters. So did Goldwater and McGovern. Intense support does not always correlate to representing wider support. Trump, unlike the aforementioned, does have a second group: People who don’t particularly respect him but fear the policies of his opponents. Trump also has a larger core (i.e. the Plains states, Indiana and most of the deep South) than Goldwater and McGovern did. And there are a large number of states that are still competitive in the Great Lakes (including Pennsylvania), Texas and Florida (which are now the second and third largest states), as well as scattered others (e.g. Arizona).
  • GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Over the years, alliances and issues change, but Indiana Republicans like to battle over differences. The fact is, so do Indiana Democrats. Every state does this. We just do it better. Contentious times on issues lead to divisions within and among parties. So do controversial individuals and internal power struggles. In 2020, we have all those things. Gov. Eric Holcomb has a few huge advantages in his reelection campaign. The biggest is our state’s modern history of stability through all chaos.  The Indiana gubernatorial two-party victory margins were: 1984 (5%), 1988 (6%), 1992 (25%), 1996 (5%), 2000 (15%), 2004 (7%), 2008 (17%), 2012 (3%), and 2016 (6%). Two facts jump out: 1.) the three wide margins (1992, 2000, and 2008) were reelection campaigns of Governors Bayh, O’Bannon and Daniels and 2.) otherwise, for nearly four decades, the two political tribes in Indiana have been fairly evenly matched. The Republicans have won only one race with a margin of more than 7% since the Ronald Reagan sweep year of 1980. However, it takes a ground shift for an Indiana governor to lose a reelection campaign. In fact, no elected governor (Joe Kernan had been elected as lieutenant governor) has EVER been defeated for reelection. 

  • FORT WAYNE – The appalling presidential debate was certainly an embarrassing spectacle for our nation. Two old men, who worked to remember their talking points and leaned heavily on insults to cover it, seemed more like fighting school children, who in frustration with their inability to make a point, resort to name-calling. Given that one of two is going to be the next president, let’s attempt to discuss – without yelling and interrupting – some of substance of what each candidate tried to say on some key issues. COVID-19: If you feel COVID-19 was handled poorly by the federal government at the very beginning, Biden clearly won this point. Trump appealed to the skeptics and to those who fear that continuing enforcement of tough restrictions is going to destroy their livelihood. The stubborn refusal of Trump, and many of his supporters, to focus on masks, even to the point of mocking Biden’s rather posturing use of them, may become actually the most telling factor over time among swing voters. Also, Trump’s blabbing to “Rage”  author Bob Woodward on what he knew early about the issue but did little (in spite of his claiming otherwise) to demonstrate any targeted leadership, may gain some traction but gets largely lost in Biden’s muddled messaging.
  • FORT WAYNE –  Most people would consider this to have already been a rather contentious election cycle. The death of America’s favorite liberal Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bade Ginsburg, as the absentee ballot process has begun, should calm things down. Yeah, right. While in historical terms this one lacks wars and assassinations, or even an economic collapse, the personal anger and tribal divisions are high. In the past, the basic stability of the system has enabled us to withstand chaos. But to this writer, some worrisome trends that attack our systems’ core are greater risks than most issues we are debating. Here are several examples: A declining trust in the legal system. This has been an anchor of maintenance of order. Without order, there is no freedom. Defunding the police, or reducing funding in high crime areas in particular, is a corollary to this problem. Direct attacks on capitalism, with growing support for socialism. Our capitalist system has been critical to the material condition of modern man worldwide. The collapse of the goals of traditional morality. This is across the board, not just the sins we commonly think of, but also flagrant lying and refusal to acknowledge it when caught, coarseness in public debate, casual opportunistic thieving as legitimate protests evolve into uncontrolled opportunities to steal, an unwillingness of local governments to enforce or even cooperate with enforcing federal laws they don’t like, and many more manifestations.
  • FORT WAYNE – It wasn’t the governor who defeated Curtis Hill, though he was not a Hill advocate. It was not the state chairman or the party organization. It took a strong candidate like Todd Rokita to win, but it was not Rokita who defeated Hill. The winner at the 2020 Republican Convention was the ABC coalition: Anybody But Curtis. In spite of an extraordinary record, in my opinion, and his campaign skills, ultimately his personal behavior defeated him. Been there, done that. Conspiracy theories are the mainstream these days, on the left and the right. And theoretically, a state convention – a virtual state convention at that – should be a political boss’s dream. But it is not even clear that they even control delegates anymore, who used to be handpicked to reflect the local party’s convention goals. Grassroots organizations matter much less in congressional races and certainly are not as relevant in statewide races. They become media hooks for television cameras, newspaper stories, and radio clips. Of course, none of them is as relevant any more either. Money matters. Lots of it. Self-funders are increasingly important.   But if there is anyplace that the older system should matter, it should be in a convention especially if there is not a clear delineation of who is the Trumpiest.
  • FORT WAYNE – Traditional media grassroots reporting has shriveled. Without large congregations of people, not to mention the waiting on results that often come days later, predicting results is on even more unstable ground. The Indiana Democrats, in hindsight, provided one of the most exciting convention contests in Indiana history. Former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel defeated Portage State Sen. Karen Tallian, 1057 to 1009. When 2,000 delegates vote and the margin is 48, it is a cliff-hanger by any definition. Had 25 voters switched, Tallian would have won. Some 17% of the delegates didn’t vote, which means around 300 of them. I’ve done many, many whip counts.  Nothing is more difficult than not knowing who is voting in a close contest.  Narrowly nominating Weinzapfel over Tallian did spare the Democrats the illogical slate of two of their top three candidates being from The Region. It should raise some concern among Republicans because it means that, albeit by only a switch of 25 voters, the Democrats may not be as focused on making strategic mistakes this year.  But the two Democratic candidates at least represented some chaos control the Republicans do not have. Attorney General Curtis Hill and former Congressman Todd Rokita have both won many elections and have somewhat defined support. Were this a primary, and barring millions being spent by any challenger (a huge assumption in this era), they would be the clear favorites.  But it isn’t a primary; it is a chaotic COVID “Kind-of-Convention.” I’ve tried to analyze Facebook endorsements and chatter for the four candidates that include Nate Harter and John Westercamp. This does not include all of them but was representative through June 24. It does shed light.

  • FORT WAYNE — President Donald Trump has had a good week. The political standards have been lowered, so to phrase it another way, compared to any alternatives, the President has had an excellent week. It is reflected in polling numbers closer to 50s than the 20s.  In addition to the on-going strength of the economy, three things led to this mini-boom for Trump. 1.) The Democrats’ utter and complete failure on impeachment; 2.) His comparatively disciplined State of the Union address and; 3.) It was Democrat chaos. We’ll discuss those in order. Impeachment was cheapened by the Republicans going after President Bill Clinton. Disgust with his personal behavior and repeated abuses of his power, led to an anger that translated into a “gotcha” over his personal behavior and attempts to cover it up. The focus was on the first count of second-degree perjury and, unless you hated Clinton so much that you didn’t care, it was merely a partisan exercise. Republicans knew going in that conviction was impossible.  In 2019-2020, the Democrats, frankly, did something even more misguided. The underlying motives were the same: They hated Trump, they believed he did a host of things wrong that were worse than the alleged Ukrainian abuses of power, and they knew that a Republican Senate was not going to convict.  
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