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Monday, October 22, 2018
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  • 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?

  • FORT WAYNE  – Every Notre Dame fan fully understands that a book can dramatically influence the result of a contest.  And it pretty much is the same way that Ian Book’s pass did: You throw it out there and even if it’s not completely accurate, if those grabbing it use sharp elbows and muscle, it can be useful in determining the outcome. Whether the recent book, “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff, is an early catch in a very high-scoring game, or a critical one at a pivotal time, cannot be determined at this point in the 2018 political cycle. The president and the administration have done everything possible to make sure it exceeds projected sales with everything from attempted legal suppression to Stephen Miller’s subtle criticisms (“grotesque work of fiction” and “garbage author of a garbage book”). Given the fact that the author admits to inconsistencies and shaky accuracy himself, the president’s immediate tirade against Steve Bannon when his quotes were leaked in advance, is a tad confusing. Presidents don’t generally attack fiction books as if they were fact, though we all understand that we have a rather unconventional president. After all this kerfuffle passes (the word seems appropriate here), several of the things still standing may impact Hoosier politicians: The separation of Trump and Bannon and pro and con impacts on Vice President Mike Pence. 

  • FORT WAYNE – Over the last week, rumors began to surface that House Speaker Paul Ryan might retire. In Politico, the suggestion wasn’t subtle.  Their featured magazine piece was headlined: “Paul Ryan Sees His Wild Washington Journey Coming to An End.”  The piece did not leave any wiggle room.  “Ryan has made it known to some of his closest confidants that this will be his final term as speaker.” Before discussing the impact further, let me unpack that statement: 1.) An assertion that bold (i.e. no “might be” or “possibly”), in the middle of contentious Washington, can discredit a publication if not rooted in any truth.  In other words, Politico is fairly certain of its source(s). 2.) It means they likely have several sources which could be anything from overhearing people in the restroom or at a restaurant to a staffer, member, or lobbyist.  The assertion doesn’t claim to be a direct source. 3.) It could have been a trial balloon leaked by the speaker’s office as a “head’s up people, at some point this is going to happen” or even as a threat to get people in line for the tax and appropriations debates. In other words, he’s getting tired of political Groundhog Day.

  • FORT WAYNE – In the late ’60s and early ‘70s, I was a counter-culture college student, battling the leftist lemmings who condemned America and trashed our flag. The Evil Empires were Red China and Bolshevik Russia. In 1970 the movie “Patton” was released, one of my favorite movies. My Young Americans for Freedom friends and I would stand up and cheer to the irritation of everyone else present when Gen. Patton delivered these memorable lines, “Well, the war shouldn’t be over. We should stop pussyfooting about the goddamn Russians! We’re gonna have to fight them sooner or later anyway. Why not do it now, when we got the army here to do it with?  Instead of disarming these German troops, we oughta get them to help us fight the damn Bolsheviks!” His military and political superiors were even less supportive than the irritated movie theater crowds were when we stood up and cheered. So, when I walked around Red Square in 1998, it was with severely mixed feelings. As a kid I had watched on our family’s black and white TV set as Soviet military forces paraded down Red Square, aware that in our basement we had an area with a survival kit to hopefully survive a nuclear hit from the Evil Empire. By the 1990s, major changes had begun occurring in Russia. 
  • FORT WAYNE – Did you hear about the Trump staffer who was fired yesterday after being heard humming Tim McGraw’s hit song, “Always stay humble and kind?” Fake news. It is safe to say that when the president of the United States becomes Don Rickles with hair and no smile, the king of the insult, anyone singing that song at the White House would be doing so ironically. The critics of the president are, if anything, worse. What is extraordinary is how bottom-dwelling nasty liberals have become, justified with an air of superiority and a condescending tone to those who don’t laugh at their meanness. The vice president of the United States cannot attend the most popular play in America without being lectured by the cast. He cannot leave a football game, which he attended to honor Peyton Manning, not observe players disrespecting the nation, without getting torn apart by liberals trying to prove they can be the meanest king of the mountain.
  • FORT WAYNE – President Trump has been racking up some political wins these recent weeks. The fact that he often talks like some crude guy sitting at a bar rather than the president of the United States can obscure his successes. So can the obsessive desire of his critics that he is seen as failing in everything. The pundits tried to explain away Trump’s rise in polls by saying it was because he cut a deal with Schumer and Pelosi. That’s just silly. The Democrats who view him as a sexist, racist, war-monger and buffoon would not respond to a pollster that he is doing a good job even if you pulled off every one of their fingernails.  Which raises the critical point that there is no evidence that in a re-vote for president that the Democrats would win. The ups and downs in the polls are caused by the voters who supported Trump even though he was not their preference. Let me go through some “victories” for Trump for which he gets little credit, and which many political pundits seem to think are losses. He understands that he has to keep the two major parts of the side that doesn’t want Democrats to govern somewhat united even if the so-called analysts do not understand this. Thus some victories look like losses to the biased.  
  • FORT WAYNE – One of my favorite expressions is that while history may not repeat itself, often it rhymes. Hurricane Harvey is not Hurricane Katrina. The scale of costly damage may, however, exceed it. Depending upon where hurricanes come ashore, and obviously the category level based upon wind, the impacts vary wildly. Also, as any watcher of weather knows, generally the warnings far exceed the actual impacts. Generally. For most of my life, not to seem unsympathetic, my interest in hurricanes was mostly related to Notre Dame pummeling the University of Miami. Where I grew up we worried about tornados and rivers flooding, and if we were going to get a snow day. Water in northeast Indiana provides us with some of America’s best soil for agriculture and most of the natural lakes of Indiana. Some rivers run to Lake Erie, some to Lake Michigan, and the Wabash River system heads to the Mississippi River and out to sea at New Orleans.  Different Army Corps of Engineers divisions work with our region, and, if you are in office for 16 years, you learn to know them all. After 9/11, New Orleans also came of particular interest because of potential terrorism, both because of its importance to the oil/petrochemical interests and because of its port, the gateway to the entire Mississippi River Valley.
  • FORT WAYNE – “It’s not what you know but who you know.”  While researching the history of Tammany Hall and its relationship with professional baseball, I came across an interesting little book titled, “Ethnicity and Machine Politics,” by Jerome Krase and Charles LaCerra. It is a history of how the Madison Club dominated Brooklyn politics from 1905 to 1978. In the 1970s, club member Emmanuel “Manny” Cellar was the senior member of Congress.  Other Madison Club members included then-New York Gov. Hugh Carey, New York City Mayor Abe Beame, New York State Controller Arthur Levitt, and Speaker of the State Assembly Stanley Steingut. It was a small, but very powerful, political club reminiscent of the Tammany Club across the East River. One insight in particular jumped off the page, turning the original quote with which I started this column on its head. “It is not who you know but rather, who knows you.” Power and influence is signified not by your name-dropping, but whether people in charge know you by name.
  • FORT WAYNE – President Trump’s completion of his four-year term may depend upon two things: The Republicans maintaining control of Congress, and being on good terms with fellow Republicans. Recently, those things aren’t going so well. Certainly no Democrats are going to bail him out. He can divide his supporters but there are no signs of adding any new ones. Some discussion of the history of impeachments provides insight about the arguments that continue to unfold. A few things are very clear. No vice president that survived a presidential impeachment went on to win a presidential election. Vice Presidents Andrew Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Al Gore never won at the national level post-impeachment. It isn’t impossible that Vice President Pence could win nationally should President Trump be impeached, but he would be an American original. It is also clear that Trump threats of retribution at critics will have no impact on his potential of being impeached. If the Democrats win control of Congress, threats against them will only strengthen them among their base.
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  • Trump wanted to shut down U.S. border with Mexico
    “Close the whole thing!” - President Trump in a stormy Oval Office meeting about immigration. The Washington Post reported that aides talked Trump out of shutting down the U.S.-Mexican border, telling him it would curtail $600 billion in annual trade. Chief of Staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton reportedly had a “profane” argument that prompted Kelly to storm out of the White House. Meanwhile, an immigrant caravan coursing through Mexico is becoming a late mid-term campaign issue. Trump said in rally in Mesa, Arizona Friday night, "Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs."
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  • It's Oct. 20 and it's weirdly green in Brown County
    In another year of Category 4 hurricanes ravaging the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, wildfires devouring hundreds of thousands of acres in the American west, and a landmark United Nations report painting dire consequences of climate change coming as early as 2040, this has been a strange, strange autumn down here in Brown County.

    It’s Oct. 20, and it’s still green. There is very little color here in what should be the heart of what locals call “leaf looker” season. The golds, yellows and reds are mostly missing. And most of the leaves are still on the trees (though today’s high winds will change that a bit). Looks like peak color will come next weekend. No matter the color, c'mon down! 
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher.
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