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Tuesday, April 24, 2018
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  • 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.
  • FORT WAYNE – As kids, my sister Nancy and I sorted returnable pop bottles at our family’s general store for 35 cents a day. It may not seem like much, but I could purchase a box of baseball card packs for about $1.75, which is where my money went. My parents tried to lure me away from baseball obsession by offering to pay half of any non-fiction, non-sports books I purchased. Early business acumen led me toward history and political books. But our family was in the furniture business, not politics or baseball. So my dad decided to pay me a dollar for each motivational record I’d listen to.  Things like “Acres of Diamonds” and “Think and Grow Rich.” The real money bomb was an entire album of KISS talks: “Keep It Simple Stupid.” The U.S. Navy originated the phrase to stress that simplicity should be the goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. My dad had been a naval officer so obviously was attracted to the idea. Me, not so much. My good friend Steve Largent used to joke that if you asked Souder what time it was, he told you how they built the watch.
  • FORT WAYNE - Another special congressional election. Another Republican victory. More pained analysis from liberal commentators and Democrat analysts. What in the world is wrong with the stupid voters: don’t they understand that President Trump and the congressional Republicans are about to destroy the entire world?  If not by next week, at least don’t bank on being able to celebrate Labor Day. The initial “lessons learned” analysis of Karen Handel’s 5.2% victory by the national figures who don’t wish the Republicans well is very encouraging to conservatives and Republicans. The lessons the liberal Democrats have learned is, apparently, nothing whatsoever. 1) They wanted to reduce expectations, to stop taking victory laps before the people voted. But in the 6th CD of Georgia that was difficult. Money wasn’t the question. It was the most expensive congressional race in American history. Familiarity and name identification for the Democrat candidate was not the problem. So much for the money excuse. 2) Turnout wasn’t the problem. Special elections usually are low turnout affairs. Not this one. Furthermore, early voting occurred in extraordinary numbers. The Democrats were disappointed with the narrow margin among early voters for their candidate. They were supposed to have a huge enthusiasm edge. Whoops.

  • FORT WAYNE – In 1998, our accompanying Navy doctor and I skipped out on our CODEL’s evening dinner and bowling alley excursion in St. Petersburg, Russia, so we could explore the area around our hotel. We had spent several days in Moscow in scheduled meetings with the Russian Duma, as well as other government leaders there. We ventured out a hotel side entrance and quickly realized that it wasn’t like the reasonably well-lit thoroughfare. There were lots of crowded homes, with men sitting or standing on the stoops underneath an occasional dim streetlight. Furthermore, it was snowing. Meeting with the family of a local Duma member, Galina Starovoitova, who had been gunned down on her doorstep because of her government criticisms just weeks before, had enhanced our self-preservation concerns. We agreed to a hasty retreat. It seemed far too much like a scene out of “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  In fact, looking at a map the next day, we were but a few steps from Dostoyevsky’s former house. Which explains why it felt like a scene out of his book. Over the years not only did I return to Russia, but had several delegations of Russian leaders visit northeastern Indiana and had meetings with various Russian groups in Washington. While Russian history, like the novels produced by its legendary writers, is dense and complicated, it nevertheless is fascinating. However, like other hopeful glimpses of freedom in nations with totalitarian histories, one can easily mistake temporary openings for substantive change.
  • FORT WAYNE – Every day we get lectured by the media and Trump critics that he is not “draining the swamp” as promised.  In fact, he is expanding it. The key is how one defines the swamp. To liberals, the swamp is a place that looks like Okefenokee. Stagnant water, with partially submerged trees dominated by clinging Spanish moss. To them, the smooth flow of government is stagnated by business interests. Their lobbyists strangle the trees, feeding off a corrupt system. This is the core view of Bernie Elizabeth Warren. Libertarian conservatives would prefer D.C. reverted back to its days of original swampland. To them, the “swamp” means all the buildings of intrusive government workers that have now expanded the swamp of big government out to the surrounding beltway and beyond. But what did the swamp mean to the Trump core? The 25% to 35% of Republican primary voters which enabled him to have the largest faction over and over again? He reached 50% only as Republican voters opposed to him were faced with fewer choices and found him preferable to, say, Ted Cruz. In other words, the Trump political operation was not built upon a majority but a plurality that grew as the choices narrowed. 
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  • Former Sen. Coburn endorses Mike Braun
    "I am pleased to support and endorse Mike Braun, Indiana Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Like myself, Mike is a social & fiscal conservative who supports term limits. As a successful businessman, Mike brings the very knowledge and background that is badly needed in our U.S. Senate today. Mike's opposition to deficit spending and pork barrel projects together with his proven leadership abilities will make him a highly effective U.S. Senator." - Former Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, endorsing Mike Braun for the U.S. Senate Republican nomination. Braun said, "I'm beyond honored to have earned the support of one of my idols in the U.S. Senate, Tom Coburn.”
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  • A changing tide on medicinal marijuana
    CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has changed his mind on medical marijuana. He writes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a hardliner against pot, saying, “I feel obligated to share the results of my five-year-long investigation into the medical benefits of the cannabis plant. Before I started this worldwide, in-depth investigation, I was not particularly impressed by the results of medical marijuana research, but a few years later, as I started to dedicate time with patients and scientists in various countries, I came to a different conclusion.”

    And that conclusion? “Not only can cannabis work for a variety of conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and pain, sometimes, it is the only thing that works. I changed my mind, and I am certain you can, as well. It is time for safe and regulated medical marijuana to be made available nationally. I realize this is an unconventional way to reach you, but your office declined numerous requests for an interview, and as a journalist, a doctor and a citizen, I felt it imperative to make sure you had access to our findings.”

    Gupta’s special report on “Weed 4: Pot vs. Pill” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday. It comes as James Higdon writes about “Legal Marijuana’s Big Moment” coming when former Republican House Speaker John Boehner “flipped” on the topic and became an adviser to a medicinal marijuana group. As the late John Lennon might have put it, strange days, indeed. - Brian A. Howey, publisher

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