Friday, July 29, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The 2016 Final Stage Begins

With the close of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia,
stage 2 of the 2016 presidential election contest ended, and
the finals of stage 3 are now underway. It will last three months,
and there is little doubt that they will be long and politically
rocky months.

Hillary Clinton received her historic nomination, and her
convention went well enough that she should receive, as Donald
Trump did from his convention, a notable bounce. Philadelphia
was not without controversy and conflict, but the Democratic
establishment has appeared to pull itself together for the autumn
match with the upset Republican winner who has disrupted U.S.
politics so far. Mrs. Clinton did choose a moderate, Tim Kaine,
as her running mate, and the choice was generally well-received.

What remains in both parties are large disaffected groups.
Establishment and moderate conservatives have only partially
accepted Mr. Trump. Some will stay home or not vote for
president; others will vote for the Libertarian Party candidate.
Left of center Bernie Sanders liberals have only partially
accepted Mrs. Clinton. Some will stay home; others will vote
for the Green Party candidate or the Libertarian Party candidate.
Some voters from each party will cross over to vote for the other
party’s nominee (but they will be likely relatively few).

An interesting reversal of tone took place at the Democratic
convention. The liberal party, under President Barack Obama,
has eschewed the notion of the United States as an “exceptional
nation” for the past eight years. In Philadelphia, attempting to
contrast themselves with Mr. Trump’s “dark” message, the
Clinton campaign has suddenly embraced patriotism and
Reaganistic optimism (thus defending the state of the nation).
The “victimhood” theme expressed by Democrats in recent
years is now apparently to be replaced with a message that
everything is going well.

Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech was portrayed by the liberal
media as not only “dark” but “negative.” His theme of “Make
America Great Again” was rebutted with speeches about how
the nation is still very great --- not a theme of Mr. Obama’s
administration. Actually, Mr. Trump is only doing what
challengers always do (Bill Clinton did it in 1992; Mr. Obama
did it in 2008), that is, complain about the other party’s regime.

The true question, however, is not whether Mr. Trump was too
negative or Mrs. Clinton was too positive. The realpolitik
question that needs to be answered in the next three months
is which candidate, and which party, will best fulfill the hopes,
and quell the anxieties, of the majority of voters on the left,
right and center. I have pointed out for many months that aside
from loyalist party regulars, there is an historic and
unprecedented “mutiny of the masses” taking place across
ideological lines in 2016. This phenomenon has defied the
predictions and expectations of partisans and pundits alike,
and will probably continue to do so.

Mr. Trump continues to be “outrageous,” jarring and disruptive
in public; Mrs. Clinton continues to try to “safely” appeal to
everyone at the same time. These are two very different
approaches which fit their political personalities. The
unanswered question is which person and which approach will
be most credible and persuasive to voters in November.

Answers will come, but I caution that those answers are not
yet clear. They perhaps won’t be clear until the contest is

Ignore the polls. Roll with the punches. Prepare for anything.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 25, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Democratic Convention Begins

The 2016 Democratic national convention has opened in
Philadelphia in an atmosphere of some unanticipated
tensions as the release of Democratic National Committee
(DNC) e-mails reveal possible bias in the presidential
nomination campaign by the DNC. Chair Debbie
Wasserman-Schultz has resigned, effective this Thursday,
and will apparently not appear at all at the convention (in
contrast to GOP chair Reince Priebus who spoke frequently
at his convention in Cleveland.

Although Senator Bernie Sanders has endorsed Secretary
Hillary Clinton following their bitter nomination battle, many
of the Vermont senator’s supporters who are DNC convention
delegates are not yet likewise resolved to vote for Mrs. Clinton,   
and the e-mail controversy has seemingly exacerbated this.

The media made much of several prominent Republicans who
deliberately avoided the GOP convention, but there are a number
of Democratic U.S. senate candidates (in tight races) who are
avoiding Philadelphia.

Donald Trump, according to several polls just released, has
received a larger-than-expected bounce from his convention,
although most of the media was quite critical and skeptical
about the events in Cleveland and Trump’s own acceptance
speech which was almost universally described as “dark” and
pessimistic (and unfavorably contrasted with Ronald Reagan’s
speeches decades before).

There was a welcome lack of disturbance and violent protest
in Cleveland, and the Lake Erie city received many kudos for
its performance in hosting the convention. It is hoped this benign
hospitality will be repeated in Philadelphia, a city which votes
overwhelmingly Democratic in presidential elections.

Hillary Clinton will be making, as did Donald Trump at his
convention, the most important speech of her political career
on Thursday. Many prominent Democrats and Hollywood
figures are expected to make remarks.

This year the contrast in national conventions and the
contrast in presidential nominees might be particularly
instructive to the result of the contentious election campaign
that will almost certainly follow.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


The Republican national convention is underway, and the
next phase of the presidential election has begun.

For those who do not attend one of these national
conventions, but instead are watching it on television, the
event is a Rohrshach test. If the convention is being run
by your political party, you see it in a sympathetic way.
If it’s the other party, you are inclined to see it other than
sympathetically. For partisans, conventions only very rarely
change minds. Many viewers, however, are undecided, and
for these observers, the speeches and coverage of a national
political party convention might make some difference.

I have attended many of the national conventions of both
parties (and even of third parties) since 1988, and I know
first-hand from these experiences over the years that these
political pageants are becoming less and less relevant to
the decision-making of voters. This is primarily due to the
repeated lack of suspense about who will be nominated,
and by the growing disinterest in the propaganda which all
conventions try to convey.

In 2016, however, we are going through a once-in-a-generation
political transformation, a “mutiny of the masses.” In the
case of the Republican Party, it has nominated an unexpected
and flamboyant non-politician, Donald Trump. The GOP
convention, thus, has perhaps a heightened interest, and for
a contrast, it will likely create a heightened interest in the
Democratic convention which will follow it immediately. The
Democrats, during their primary/caucus season, had their
own “mutiny” candidate, Bernie Sanders, but he fell short, and
the liberal party will nominate a long-time and well-known
political figure, Hillary Clinton.

Already, the conservative party convention is breaking
traditional rules, and that is the direct reflection of their
nominee Mr. Trump. While not an experienced politician,
Mr. Trump knows public relations, entertainment and
audiences. The convention in Cleveland shows his imprint.

Most pundits and commentators, while having differing
political views, are used to traditional conventions, and
many, both liberal and conservative, have clearly been taken
aback by Trump innovations and regarded them negatively.
Complicating the response have been a few glaring fumbles,
most notably the convention speech by Mr. Trump’s wife.
Melania, who normally has not given speeches before large
audiences. She nevertheless made graceful remarks that
were well-received by most until it was noticed that a few
passages of what she said were uncannily similar to remarks
Mrs. Obama had made in 2008. Clumsily, the Trump staff
denied the gaffe, and the story became about the Trump staff
and not the speech. Two days later, a Trump speechwriter
admitted she had caused the problem by not checking Mrs.
Obama’s speeches for duplication. Apologizing, she offered to
resign, but Mr. Trump rejected her resignation. If this had
been done the day before, the story would have gone away.
On the other hand, two of the Trump children spoke effectively
on the second day in Cleveland, and GOP effort seemed to have
mostly recovered The convention, and the television audience,
of course, awaits Mr. Trump’s own remarks on the final day,
and then, three day later, the Democratic convention will begin
in Philadelphia.

The Hillary Clinton campaign is expected to conduct a more
traditional, and tightly run convention. Just as the GOP event
has made a strong focus on criticizing Mrs. Clinton’s record and
qualifications to be president, the Democratic nominee and
her convention program will likely make a similar focus on
Mr. Trump who has a far smaller political resume than she has.
Again, the emphasis will be twofold, that is, to inspire the
convention attendees while reaching out to the national
television audience.

Although the mainstream print and network TV media have a
noticeable liberal bias that usually favors liberal candidates
and policies, there are several large-audience radio talk show
hosts, opinion journalists, and the Fox News Network which
usually favor conservative candidates and policies. In 2016, the
broadcast coverage by the media seems to have tried to
include spokespersons and analysts from both sides, but the
media, from left to right, only gradually seems to be realizing
how different the 2016 campaign has been and is likely yet to be.

Much lies ahead. Mrs. Clinton will name a running mate, and
lead her own convention in Philadelphia. Domestic economic
and international political surprises, almost always more
numerous during a U.S. presidential campaign, will occur.
There will be innumerable polls, many of them contradictory
and, as I have previously argued, likely to be misleading or
inaccurate will be published.

The mutiny of the masses, however, will continue to make
any predictions about the outcome in November premature.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 15, 2016


There will now be endless second-guessing about Donald
Trump’s choice for his running mate. Indiana Governor
Mike Pence is being described as a “safe choice” and a
“reassurance to social conservatives.” In fact, he was the
clear favorite of the important pro-life constituency.

My preference was for another reported “finalist,” but as
I have frequently written recently, second-guessing the
presumptive New York Republican nominee for president
is very risky business for any pundit or so-called political

Attention will now shift to presumptive Democratic
nominee Hillary Clinton’s choice for running mate. She,
like Mr. Trump, has a number of possible choices.  Again,
I make no predictions, although I have written that Virginia
Senator Tim Kaine would be a good choice.

Over the next two weeks, the carefully-choreographed
major party conventions will unfold both inside and outside
the convention halls in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Inside
those halls, the narrative will be deliberate and controlled.
I suspect that the two conventions will try to tell a very
different story.

As almost always happens, the summer of a presidential
campaign year is filled with domestic and international
drama. If anything, the 2016 cycle is even more volatile and
unpredictable than the cycles of the recent past. The account
of this cycle so far is that U.S. voters, as well as voters in many
democratic states in Europe, South America and Asia, are
deeply unsettled and anxious about the present and future.
This “mutiny of the masses” on the right, left and even the
center is being expressed again and again in the voting in

I don’t know if the summer of 2016 is going to be hot, but it
will be long.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


I was having dinner with a friend the other evening, a
friend who happens to be a solid liberal Democrat who
is thoughtful and experienced in politics. He began
complaining about Hillary Clinton, whom I am sure he
will vote for in November. His complaint was not about
her policies, but about the way she talks in public. She
becomes unpleasant and not credible when she tries to be
"oratorical,"  he said in so many words. “She should just
speak like the person she really is,” he said exactly.

I have had similar conversations with Republican friends
in recent months as they complained about the mannerisms
of conservative candidates they otherwise liked, but whom
they felt were speaking in an exaggerated or inauthentic way.

I’ve thought about this before, in years past when I covered
mostly Minnesota politics and dealt with the successful
and colorful political personalities of Republican Senator
Rudy Boschwitz, Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, and
Independent Governor Jesse Ventura. None of them fit the
stereotype of the usual Gopher State politician, nor did any
of them hold political views that were necessarily shared by
most Minnesotans. But each of them was generally perceived
as being who they really were and advocating what they truly
believed. It is true that Mr. Wellstone later defeated Mr.
Boschwitz, but only under extraordinary circumstances in
which one was seen temporarily as being more authentic than
the other. They each were unusual personalities who broke the
political rules at a time when the Minnesota voting public was
tired or frustrated with politics as usual.

There can be a lot of smoke and mirrors in political speaking.
The complaint about Mrs. Clinton is not that she does not
hold serious views, but that she does not communicate her
views effectively. The same could be said about many (but not
all) of the Republican presidential candidates who lost in 2016.

It cannot be fairly said that this was a problem for Donald Trump.
Unlike his opponents, he spoke directly and successfully to his
party’s voters. Many criticize him for being crude, politically
incorrect or ill-informed, but the bottom line is that he persuaded
more grass roots Republicans to vote for him than for any of his

A lot of establishment conservatives, none of whom supported Mr.
Trump, now want him to sound more “presidential,” more
dignified --- in effect, more establishment. But Mr. Trump did not
turn politics upside down in 2016 by being conventional, so why
will he do so now?

I did not see the Trump upset coming; he was far from being one
of my favorite candidates in 2016. I find some of what he says
either factually wrong or inappropriate. But so far, many voters do
not agree with me. They seem to like the persona he presents, a
persona, I might add, that is consistent with his entire adult life.
Donald Trump is not suddenly putting on new airs.

We seem to be in a political moment when the best asset in political
communication is to try to be who you are, and not as someone you
 think you should be.

My Democratic and Republican friends who sense this, too, are not
being disloyal. They will still likely vote for their party’s nominee,
But they also share the widespread distaste for political huffery and

This is just another sign of what a rare and complicated political
year this is.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 11, 2016



British Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, one of two
remaining candidates to replace retiring Prime Minister
David Cameron, has withdrawn from the contest, leaving
Home Secretary Theresa May as the only aspirant for
the post. Mr Cameron has just announced that he will
resign on Wednesday instead of in October, and will meet
with Queen Elizabeth II on that day to formally retire and
recommend Mrs. May as his replacement. Mrs. May will
become only the second woman to hold the office of British
first minister (Margaret Thatcher was the first). Although
Mrs. May was a low-profile opponent of the the recent Brexit
referendum, she has pledged firmly to honor the majority
decision of the voters of the United Kingdom to withdraw
within the next two years (or before) from its membership in
the European Union (EU). Mrs. Leadsom had been a leading
and outspoken supporter of Brexit, but she trailed significantly
in the first two ballots by fellow members of parliament.
A nine-week campaign between Mrs. May and Mrs. Leadsom
had just got underway when the energy secretary
unexpectedly withdrew.


Former Indiana Governor and Senator Evan Bayh will replace
the presumptive Democratic nominee Baron Hill for the U.S.
senate in the Hoosier State, numerous sources report.  Mr.
Bayh last ran for office in Indiana in 2004. In 2010, he surprised
local Democrats by announcing his retirement from the seat
now being contested in 2016. In 2010, the seat was won by
Dan Coats who had, in fact, preceded Mr. Bayh in the office.
Congressman Hill had been expected to lose the seat this
November to GOP nominee Congressman Todd Young, so
the announced switch has given Democrats new hope of
picking a senate seat, and possibly regaining control of the
U.S. senate. The surprise announcement also reveals the
serious maneuvering by both parties for senate control.
Earlier, GOP Senator Marco Rubio of Florida reversed
himself about retiring in 2016 (after his unsuccessful
presidential bid), and the presumptive GOP senate candidate
withdrew in Mr. Rubio’s favor. The hitherto open Florida
seat had been rated a likely Democratic pick-up, but now Mr.
Rubio is favored to win. In Indiana, Mr. Bayh reportedly has
a previously unused $10 million campaign war chest available,
but Congressman Young remains a formidable opponent.
Mr. Bayh had previously been on Hillary Clinton’s short list
of vice presidential running mates.


After reportedly being vetted to be Donald Trump’s possible
running mate, retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, appointed
by President Obama to be director of the defense intelligence
agency, said in a national TV interview that he is strongly
pro-choice on the issue of abortion. A registered Democrat
and a supporter of other progressive social issues, General
Flynn’s candidacy was immediately denounced by
conservative and pro-life leaders who vowed to block his
nomination at the Republican convention. A much-medaled
and experienced veteran officer, General Flynn is known to be
remarkably outspoken, and says he was forced to retire early
by the Obama administration for his hard-line views on the
war on terror. Like many non-political civilian figures before
him, Mr. Trump has been reportedly interested in having a
general as a running mate, but the passionate opposition to
General Flynn by the pro-life community would make his
nomination a presumptive non-starter. The national
Republican Party and its grass roots voters are
overwhelmingly pro-life.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 8, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Both Veep Choices Matter This Time

I have already written, during this election cycle and during
earlier ones, how exaggerated are the vice presidential
selections as usually treated in the media, and by voters
when they cast their ballots. There are obviously exceptions
to this commonplace, although they are few and historically
far between.

The most important exception happened 72 years ago when
President Franklin Roosevelt was pressured by Democratic
Party leaders to replace Vice President Henry Wallace on his
1944 ticket. For all his government and business experience,
Mr. Wallace was politically naive and weak. What only Mr.
Roosevelt’s physicians knew and only a few others suspected,
was that the president was dying, and unlikely to finish his
term. In fact, FDR only survived his fourth inaugural by less
three months, and the momentous decisions to drop the
atomic bomb on Japan and to create a post-war world fell on
a most unlikely politician, Harry Truman, who had been
hand-picked at the last minute by Roosevelt to replace Mr.

Mr. Truman did not have a college degree (he attended a
business college for one semester), had briefly co-owned a
failed haberdashery in Missouri, and had been associated
with one of most corrupt political machines in the nation.
But Mr. Truman had much personal integrity, intelligence,
courage, and was an avid reader of history. Although many of
FDR’s actions are lauded now by historians (and some now
severely criticized), his choice of Harry Truman might be one
his greatest decisions, and one that produced the greatest
lasting significance.

Our arguably greatest president (other than George
Washington) was Abraham Lincoln, and he, too, was faced
with a crucial choice for picking a new vice president for his
re-election. The Civil War was not going well for the North
in early 1864, and Lincoln’s Democratic opponent was to be
a controversial general he had earlier replaced. Republican
Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln decided, needed
to be replaced by a Democrat for the problematic re-election.
Lincoln settled on an erratic and alcoholic Andrew Johnson.
Although he himself thought he would lose, it turned out
that Mr. Lincoln won with relative ease after several
important Union victories just before the election, but as in
the case of FDR, Lincoln survived only about a month before
he died in office. Now president, Mr. Johnson was
ill-prepared for the post-Civil War period, and probably many
reconciliation opportunities were lost, setting up civil rights
strife that lasted well into the next century.

Those are perhaps the extremes, although President Nixon’s
choice of the corrupt Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew for
his vice president led eventually to Agnew’s resignation just
before Nixon’s own resignation in 1974, was also an
extraordinary disaster. Fortunately, a constitutional
amendment had provided for a sitting president to appoint a
vice president who had prematurely left office, and Nixon’s
choice was Gerald Ford, an honorable and decent man who
filled out Nixon’s second term.

Both the presumptive major party nominees in 2016 are about
70 years old. Mrs. Clinton has just narrowly avoided
indictment for her actions when secretary of state. Mr. Trump
has virtually no government experience. Both appear healthy,
but there are very few jobs in the world with more stress than
being president of the United States.

I very recently wrote a column stating that, all other
considerations aside, the number one qualification for vice
president is being able, on a moment’s notice, to assume the

We are days, perhaps even only hours, away from Mrs.
Clinton and Mr. Trump announcing their running mates.
There are only a limited number of truly qualified persons
in both parties to serve as vice president beginning in
January, 2017.

Let us all hope that, the strife of the nomination campaigns
behind them, each nominee makes a truly good choice.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.