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Sunday, September 20, 2020
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  • 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.  
  • FORT WAYNE — F. Scott Fitzgerald issued a book called “Crack-Up” in 1945. He made an observation that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Conservative writer R. Emmett Tyrrell wrote two books in the 1980’s called “The Liberal Crack-Up” and “The Conservative Crack-Up,” in which he discussed the incongruities within each movement. They, in his words, “resuscitated the term” F. Scott Fitzgerald had used. In other words, neither internal contradictions nor the seeming eminent break-up of political parties is a new concept. In recent state and city elections in Indiana, the Republican Party, particularly in the suburban and higher-income areas, is showing some very sharp fissures. The Democrat Party divisions could not have been more sharply illustrated than when the far-left flank shockingly toppled incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley of New York in a primary. He was a top favorite to be the replacement for leader Nancy Pelosi, until he was purged.

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  • FORT WAYNE – In a year when introducing yourself as an incumbent mayor in many Hoosier cities was akin to being known as the carrier of a transferable, incurable disease, Mayor Tom Henry romped to a fourth consecutive victory with over 60% against a relatively strong candidate (e.g. smart, organized, very well-funded).  It is the sixth straight Democrat triumph in the Fort Wayne’s mayoral race. In other words, there has not been a Republican mayor in the 21st Century.  The only two Republicans to have won in the last 50 years (since Harold Zeis in 1967) – one-term Robert Armstrong in 1975 and Paul Helmke in 1987 – were greatly aided by legal problems of the incumbent Democrats. Helmke won three times, and only left office in 1999 to seek and win the Republican nomination for the United States Senate. Yet some Republicans continue to peddle the falsehood that Fort Wayne is a Republican city. It is not.
  • FORT WAYNE – The U.S. Senate election in Indiana was perceived to be a pivotal showdown for control of that body. It was supposed to be another test of the Republican-lite strategy employed by Evan Bayh to carry Indiana, a method he conceived after watching his father fall in an upset to Dan Quayle in 1980.  What is hard to remember, even for those who remember that there were two Bayhs, is that the time span from 1980 until now is the same amount of time between Truman’s transition to Eisenhower and 1980. Things change, even in Indiana. Since Evan Bayh was crushed by Todd Young in 2016, the question lingered: Would Joe Donnelly become the new Evan Bayh?
  • FORT WAYNE - On thing will be certain next Tuesday: If Mike Braun defeats incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly, it will be Trump who won the race. The president is making sure that is clear to everyone by making repeated appearances in Indiana, including stops the day before the vote. Obviously, internal polling – far more frequent (probably daily), possibly by the Brad Parscale operation – is optimistic that Braun will win or it is unlikely that the president would risk his political reputation on Indiana. His advisors also clearly understand that turnout is the key, or he would not be appearing in Fort Wayne on Monday night. There are some interesting subtexts going on as well. Normally when a key battle is in the home state of a sitting vice president, the closing arguments would be from the vice president. Clearly, Trump wants this victory to be seen as his victory, not that of Mike Pence. The vice president has changed his personal emphasis since joining with Donald Trump. Mike Pence recognized the potency of Trump as a brand. In government, as he was in business, Trump is obsessed with the brand “Trump.” He wants it to be seen as his version of classy and, most importantly in his mind, be perceived as a winner. Everything must be the best ever. He makes no apologies. He just keeps moving forward with new greatest things and assumes people will forget any past mistakes.  
  • FORT WAYNE – Will this nonsense never end? Joe Donnelly’s brother moved a plant to Mexico, like many other such plants. Joe earned some income and then sold his stock. It was a small percentage of his income. Oh yeah, and the axe he uses in an ad appears to have been made in Mexico. Mike Braun’s company sold auto parts made in China and Mexico. Like every other auto parts store. And some of the boxes were even labeled in Chinese and English!  These incessant ads that badger us if we try to watch television or listen to the radio, since they cancel each other out, now turn on “He lied, but he lied worse. No, he lied worse. No, you lied more.” They act like six-year-olds facing off in front of their parents. Beyond these inane ads, there are a few other things going on in the campaign. 1.) Braun’s campaign is among the worst Senate campaigns in my lifetime. I’m not saying that he is wrong on issues, not qualified to serve as senator, a poor businessman, or anything else. Just that he has run an awful campaign. No grassroots, little money beyond his own, and after his terrific primary ads, in the fall campaign they’ve been terrible, or boring.
  • FORT WAYNE – A modern-day Rip Van Winkle, who just woke up and started to watch ads on television for the Indiana Senate race, might fairly conclude that Hoosiers are obsessing over how to choose between a candidate who had stock in a company run by his brother that had a plant in Mexico and one whose auto supply company sold parts made in China.  While I know some of you may have been losing sleep over this dilemma, it is obviously somewhere between 98% and 100% irrelevant in this race. It was apparent from the day the media first reported about Mexico Joe’s stock and his sale of it, that the ads would be coming. It was also apparent – in fact, I predicted it during the primary campaign – that anyone owning any automobile parts business (actually any retail store) would be vulnerable to a “you sell parts made in China” slam.  But all choices of what ads to run are instructive – about the candidates, about their allies, and frankly about us, the voters.  First, the obvious: Race matters, just talk about it indirectly. John Mutz lost his close gubernatorial race largely because of an ad that attacked him for bringing in a Japanese plant to Tippecanoe County, back when such things were inflammatory. It was a winking reference, but it was effective. Had it been more direct, it could have led to backlash. Instead, it effectively raised the point. The Japanese were getting our money.  

  • FORT WAYNE – In a contest in which two candidates were jockeying to prove who liked Trump best and a third who is actually like Trump, it is not surprising that Donald Trump again won an Indiana primary. The battle of the three Wabash College grads was not pretty. On the Tuesday night, I was watching the five o’clock news on WANE-TV and something dramatic seemed to be missing. Then I realized what when an ad for a colonoscopy came on and it seemed almost refreshing.  Here are initial observations on the Tuesday results of the Republican Senate primary. The Basics: 1. Having a geographical home base still matters in a competitive race, though not as much as it once did. Congressman Messer did very well in his congressional district but fared poorly elsewhere. Congressman Rokita’s best areas were in his congressional district and Lake County, his county of birth. He didn’t do as well as Messer did in his home base, but he competed closely with Braun across northern Indiana (where Messer was swamped) and competed well in southwest Indiana. Braun won by large margins in southwest Indiana, winning his home county of Dubois with 84% of the vote. He showed more hometown strength than either of the congressmen. He also won 2/3 of the counties in the state and finished second where he didn’t win. Most importantly, Braun won all of the big counties except Lake. 

  • FORT WAYNE – This week we received an over-sized card from Mike Braun featuring this quote in bold letters: “I’ve Always Been A Lifelong Republican.” His ubiquitous television ads make the same proud – but false – claim. If the TV show were still around, he’d be featured on this week’s episode of “I’ve Got a Secret.” The Indianapolis Star  reported back in December that Dubois County records show that at least since 1996 (their records only go back 25 years) and until 2012, Braun voted in Democrat primaries. There is a myth that Indiana has some variation of California’s open primary system, where voters can just vote in any primary they wish. In fact, while we don’t register by political party, there are rules. Here is a clear summary of Indiana law from the website of “Open Primaries”: 1. “Affiliation with a party is not required to vote in primaries. However, voters can only choose the primary ballot of the party who received a majority of their votes in the previous general election and voter records are kept as public information. 2. If a voter did not vote in the last general election, they must “intend to vote for the majority of the nominees on their desired party’s ballot.” 3. Voters can be challenged by another eligible voter on suspicion of perjury. 4. This system is an attempt to get voters to vote along party lines but is not easily enforceable.” In other words, if Mike Braun did not vote for a majority of Democrats in the fall elections from 1996 to 2012 – as he publicly claims – he could be sued for perjury.
  • FORT WAYNE – The intense, bitter Indiana Republican primary for the United States Senate nomination has apparently come down to a choice between one of the cardboard cutouts or a Democrat. Or perhaps one of the Swamp Brothers. Given these choices, combined with Trump successfully dominating everyone’s daily lives and general lack of interest in any other politics, it is not surprising that in spite of being inundated with advertising of all types, an extraordinary number of likely voters remain undecided. Furthermore, I personally think the undecided vote is understated. There is a new type of undecided – the weekly switcher. From people I talk to, and as indicated by erratic polling, voters are still going back and forth among the options. One reason is that voters believe that politicians won’t tell the truth about themselves and the media is so biased that it is untrustworthy. Only the negative ads tell the truth and thus everybody must be terrible. 
  • FORT WAYNE – On Sunday evening, all three GOP Senate hopefuls accomplished the first goal of a successful candidate: Don’t say something stupid that makes the debate relevant. Debates are something the media likes, not the candidates. WISH-TV has a long and distinguished news history in this state. WANE-TV in Fort Wayne has been a junior partner with WISH since it became WANE in the early 1950s, and has remained so, even as Nexstar and Sinclair take over the television world. There are some big differences between WANE and WISH however, starting with the fact that WANE is a CBS affiliate. WANE is and has been the dominant station in our market.  The chosen time for the debate didn’t matter much to WISH, but it preempted “60 Minutes” in Fort Wayne (not that I care but obviously some people do). What did astound me, given that decision, was the choice of moderators.  WANE-TV has at least six people who would have been superior panelists to those selected. Heather Herron, Brett Thomas, Terra Brantley, Alyssa Ivanson, Rod Hissong, and Pat Hoffman each do great work, and yet not one was utilized.  Who made such a decision?
  • FORT WAYNE – I’m not sure if it has leaked out yet, but Todd Rokita has officially changed his name on the Indiana primary ballot to Donald T. R. Trump. Not to be outdone, Mike Braun switched his to Donald Brawny Trump. Luke Messer may soon follow, possibly switching to Luke Usually Trump. He will decide before the final week of the primary. In Indiana, the Republican Senate candidates are clearly wagering that Republicans will rally around the President for at least another 30 days. They will worry about swing voters after the primary. At this point, only the video war matters unless it is very close. If it depends upon the ground war in a very close race, it is likely Rokita will win. If the vote is extremely low, Rokita will likely win. Almost universally, the small sample polls show Rokita closely battling undecided for the lead, with Braun his closest threat. Both factors may still be just “name identification” results, which is the major reason the race is so fluid. The other reason is a great fear that the “undecided” is actually an “I don’t care” polling result. However, if Rokita cannot keep up in advertising dollars with Braun or even Messer, this race could shift dramatically, and rapidly.
  • FORT WAYNE - Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to not seek re-election does not signal a political tsunami is about to engulf Republicans but it certainly suggests he doesn’t see things getting easier post-election. In other words, even if the Republicans continue control, the Senate is likely to be nearly 50-50 and the House Republican with few votes to spare.  Paul lived through that once already, when he was chief of staff to then U.S. Rep. Sam Brownback for the first two terms after the Republicans won control in the 1994 elections. In 1996 our margin narrowed, and Paul saw how we could leverage the leadership every day. On the other hand, we were a comparatively disciplined conservative group who took some wins to keep moving forward.  Many of today’s dissidents are frequently more inclined to practice scorched earth policies. Currently the speaker can lose nearly 30 Republicans most days and still prevail. If that becomes seven or less, as it was in the 106th and 107th Congresses, will the current group be able to practice any internal order?  In other words, if you are the Speaker, the only question isn’t whether a tsunami is coming or even whether the Republicans lose control. It is whether it is a position worth having even if the Republicans retain control.     

  • FORT WAYNE – Mike Braun may have won this primary with his “cardboard twins” television ad. If he does win, it is likely to go down as one of the best ads in Indiana political history. I say if, because there is still a month to go for the others to pull it out or Braun to blow it. But here are some of the reasons it is a terrific ad, perfect for these times.  1.) The cardboard twins concept. Congressmen Rokita and Messer do look a lot alike. Both are congressmen. They went to Wabash College together. Their voting records are nearly identical. Both have run for office many times. They are both ambitious. There are many more examples, but you get the point. 2.) The cardboard captures the image of Washington politicians. Most voters believe that everyone in Washington is about the same, that the Establishment (i.e. anyone who governs) practices groupthink as soon as they drink the water, and that all they do is spin things to win elections.    
  • FORT WAYNE - The Trump 2018 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize were deemed apparently fake. It does give one an idea of the unfolding Indiana Republican senate primary that Congressman Luke Messer’s possible nomination of Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize was actually posted on his website. Except that it was sort of fake: It was to give Trump the prize if he accomplished something that is unlikely to be done (North Korea agreeing to give up its nuclear capabilities). Messer’s statement was superficially silly. But like much of politics today, it was a statement with multiple layers. Beyond the headline was a shot at former President Obama’s receipt of the Nobel for “being a charming presidential candidate” according to Messer. Since it was awarded to Obama after he had barely served, it clearly was not based upon achievement. Obama shots still have some potency in primaries.  But Messer’s first line was really the only important one: “If North Korea talks lead to concrete action, President Trump should be well on his way to his own Nobel Peace Prize.” All people who understand politics know that the lead is just a plain old political maneuver to associate Messer in headlines with the president. 
  • FORT WAYNE –  It was my second reelection campaign for Congress. My Democrat opponent worked hard, but was unknown, underfunded and inexperienced. In other words, if you were the incumbent, a seemingly perfect candidate. Then came the first televised debate. My challenge was to stay on message while my opponent wandered, trying to capitalize on the fact that I was reliably controversial. Then, as I prepared to answer the moderator’s question I heard Mark Wehrle conclude his answer by stating that Souder brought “pawn shops and Hooters to Fort Wayne.” This came not only as a shock to me, but also to most viewers who thought of me as rather “Amishy.”  In other words, not a Hooters guy and probably not even a pawn shop person. 
  • FORT WAYNE – The candidates for the hotly contested Indiana United States Senate seat were certified just hours after the budget passed Congress and was signed into law by the president. The vote clearly outlined the battle lines which had already been drawn. It is increasingly difficult to see how the Republicans will maintain even their razor-thin margin of 51-49 in the Senate without recapturing the Indiana seat. This is astounding, and depressing, given that 25 senators who caucus as Democrats and only eight Republicans are among the third of the Senate up for election in this cycle. This was the cycle to gain ground, because the next two will be playing defense. This is also the vice president’s home state and a state that went overwhelmingly for President Trump in 2016. To outside observers, this ads to the perception that if the Republicans can’t win here, where are they safe? 
  • FORT WAYNE – Wow! The Senate Democrats really miscalculated their decision to shut down the federal government. It takes quite a bit of incompetence to take a political shellacking when battling an unpopular Congress and a president who confuses his own allies. They also strain credibility when they try to blame the Republicans and the president for the shutdown. Anybody interested in politics could watch the voting and listen to the endless droning about needing 60 votes in the Senate to move a bill. They know that it is a myth that the Republicans can pass whatever they want. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer compounded his problem and further walked on his own message by repeatedly stating that the Republicans needed Democrat votes to pass the bill. If the Republicans control everything, why are they forced to deal with you? Well, which is it, Chuck?

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  • Coats calls for bipartisan election oversight commission
    "The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture. We should see the challenge clearly in advance and take immediate action to respond. The most important part of an effective response is to finally, at long last, forge a genuinely bipartisan effort to save our democracy, rejecting the vicious partisanship that has disabled and destabilized government for too long. If we cannot find common ground now, on this core issue at the very heart of our endangered system, we never will. Our key goal should be reassurance. We must firmly, unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted, that it will matter, that the people’s will expressed through their votes will not be questioned and will be respected and accepted. I propose that Congress creates a new mechanism to help accomplish this purpose. It should create a supremely high-level bipartisan and nonpartisan commission to oversee the election." - Former national intelligence director and Indiana senator Dan Coats, in a New York Times op-ed published Thursday morning. 
     
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  • Woodward on why Coats didn't speak out on Trump
    Bob Woodward, the author of the new book “Rage” discussed the way in which President Trump diminished former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former DNI Dan Coats and why he thinks Mattis and Coats have not publicly spoken about the president. “It’s almost a book in itself,” Woodward said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday. “This was a man who was a senator from Indiana. He was retiring and he was offered this job from Mike Pence, and felt he could not say no. He went in with these Republican values and was stunned, shocked and, in a way, just ground down from Trump’s refusal to accept reality.” Woodward said that at one point Mattis and Coats talked after a National Security Council meeting. “Mattis says that Trump has no moral compass. And Coats says, ‘Donald Trump,’ their leader, ‘does not know the difference between a lie and the truth.’ They were in the latter phase of their lives. (Trump) pulled all of these stunts in a way that led them to the point where, in Coats’s case, his wife Marsha said to him, ‘Look, Dan, God put you in this job. You’re not just failing the country, yourself and your family, but God and you need to get organized.’ Trump expelled him when it did not serve Trump’s purposes.”  - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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