Thursday, September 3, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend Update 1

KLINE UNEXPECTEDLY RETIRES
The announcement by Minnesota 2nd District Republican
Congressman John Kline that he would not seek re-election in
2016 was a surprise to most political observers. The powerful
chairman of the U.S. house committee on education is a close
friend and ally of Speaker John Boehner and a congressional
leadership insider. The 2016 race in MN-2 now goes from safe
GOP to toss-up with slight lean to the Republicans. There will
now almost certainly be a number of candidates from both
parties in the race, but Mr. Kline had no obvious political heir,
and the DFL (Democrats) no obvious frontrunner. This could
become one of the closest and most hard-fought races in the
nation in 2016. Watch for political fireworks ahead.

FIORINA WILL BE BIG DRAW IN 
NEXT GOP DEBATE
Now likely to be the 11th participant in the next Republican
presidential debate at the Reagan Library in California on
September 16, west coast businesswoman Carly Fiorina will
probably the most anticipated debater in the GOP crowd,
especially after she easily won the “also-ran” first debate in
Cleveland and has been so effective as a critic of Democratic
frontrunner Hillary Clinton. She will have to share the stage,
of course, with some other big personalities, including Donald
Trump and Chris Christie, as well as early popular voter favorites
Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Scott Walker, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush.
Ted Cruz also is an aggressive debater and it should be quite a
show.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY AVOIDING 
DEBATES
Presumably to protect Hillary Clinton’s lead, Democratic National
Committee (DNC) leaders have so far appeared to avoid debates
among their announced candidates for president. Former Maryland
Governor Martin O’Malley brought the issue up at the DNC summer
meeting in Minneapolis, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took
up the issue soon afterwards. Mrs. Clinton is not known for either
her public speaking or debating skills, and her supporters
understandably want to shield her from too much TV exposure.
Should Vice President Biden enter the race, the DNC would find it
difficult to continue the ban. Mr Biden is a good speaker and debater,
and would probably insist on more debates than now scheduled.
The lack of Democratic debates also allows the GOP to dominate
the free TV airwaves and the headlines, something that might
enhance GOP voter turnout in the primaries and the general election.

IRAN DEAL TO AVOID 
CONGRESSIONAL VETO
With the announcement by retiring Democratic Senator Barbara
Mikulski that she would support the Obama administration’s “deal”
with Iran, it now appears almost certain that the deal will go through.
While U.S. house and senate Republicans, joined by a very few
Democrats have a maioriy in both houses against the deal, opponents
lack the two-thirds majority to override a certain presidential veto.
Some observers, however, have called it a Pyrrhic victory for the
Democrats since from now on any failure by Iran to keep its word
on the deal could make those Democrats who vote for it very
vulnerable to voter backlash. This is exactly what happened to many
Democratic incumbents who voted for the unpopular Obamacare
legislation in the mid-term elections in 2010 and 2014.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY FOUNDERS 
ARE ERASED
The two founders of today’s Democratic Party, President Thomas
Jefferson and President Andrew Jackson, are being erased from the
annual dinners of many state Democratic Parties. This is presumably
happening because both were slave owners. So was George Washington,
the “father of the nation,” and Benjamin Franklin, “the brains of the
American revolution (although Franklin later freed his slaves). If this
trend continues, our history books will have the nation’s beginning
mostly created by anonymous persons.

SOME REPUBLICANS WORRY THAT 
TRUMP WILL HURT PARTY
Many establishment Republicans are worrying out loud that the
candidacy of Donald Trump will hurt the party’s ticket in 2016.
Trump has just now signed a pledge that he will not run on a third
party ticket, but the GOP establishment remains in an anxious
state since early frontrunner Jeb Bush continues to fade. Some
political observers, however, are suggesting that Mr. Trump will,
on balance, help Republicans in 2016. Either way, actual voting
remains almost five months away.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.




Tuesday, September 1, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Let Carly Debate In Prime Time (SEE UPDATE BELOW)

The Republican National Committee (RNC) and most of the
17 announced GOP candidates for president face an imminent
choice for the next presidential debate at the Reagan Library
in California in mid-September.

This debate will be broadcast by CNN, and the network has
indicated it might determine who will be in the debate by some
questionable standards. Instead of a larger number of polls that
was the standard for the first debate broadcast by Fox News in
Cleveland, CNN will “cherry pick” fewer polls --- with the
result that businesswoman Carly Fiorina might be excluded
again. In Cleveland, Mrs. Fiorina was the clear winner and
standout of the “also-ran” debate (her poll numbers then
were too low to qualify for the main debate). Since that time,
her numbers have risen significantly. Her performance on
the campaign trail, and not just the fact that she is the only
woman in the GOP campaign, makes it obvious and
mandatory that she should be included in the next prime
time debate.

CNN, in previous years of presidential debates showed an
obvious bias to the liberal (Democratic) candidates, and if the
network succeeds in excluding Mrs. Fiorina from prime time
this year, it will have succeeded so again. Should the network
insist on keeping her from participating with nine other (male)
candidates, the RNC and the candidates have a remedy that is
not only just, but could work to he distinct advantage of the
GOP. (It also would be in the spirit of the late President Reagan.)

That remedy would be for the individual candidates, all rivals
of Mrs. Fiorina, to refuse to show up for the CNN debate. It
would be not only a grand gesture, but one that would be
well-received by voters of all parties. (The RNC could then
reschedule the debate with another network.)

Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ben
Carson and Chris Christie, I think, would be especially
well-served by coming to the defense of Mrs. Fiorina, as
would the RNC.

Let’s see if any or all of them have come to the same conclusion.

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UPDATE - SEPTEMBER 2, 2015

Shortly after my post of yesterday, CNN informed the Republican
candidates for president that it had changed its rules for inclusion
in the primary debate at the Reagan Library. The new rules state that
any candidate who is in the top ten of the major polls either before
the first debate in Cleveland or in the period after that debate, will be
invited to participate in the CNN primary debate. In effect, this
probably insures that Carly Fiorina will be in the debate, as will
Chris Christie who, in recent polls, no longer is in the top ten, but
was a debater in Cleveland.

This means that there will probably now be 11 candidates in the
California debate. The CNN decision, which came after widespread
pressure from numerous sources, has been well-received, and will
bring a new and aggressive voice in the GOP debate. Mrs. Fiorina,
whose poll numbers have recently risen sharply, will probably now
rival Donald Trump in pre-debate interest, as will Ben Carson who
has pulled even with Mr Trump in recent Iowa polls.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Has O'Malley Found A Voice?

Former  Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has labored
without success to catch the attention of 2016 Democratic
Party voters to date, but he might have at last found an
opening to launch his candidacy for real.

At the 2015 Democratic National Committee summer meeting,
in Minneapolis at which all the announced major Democratic
presidential candidates spoke, it was Mr. O’Malley and not
frontrunner Hillary Clinton or so-far principal challenger
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who made the headlines.

Mr. O’Malley did this by asserting that the DNC is trying to
rig the 2016 race by scheduling very few debates before the
beginning of the primary elections. He contends that this not
only is prejudicial against him and the three other challengers
to Mrs. Clinton, but also gives a big advantage to Republicans
who have scheduled more debates, the first of which drew an
historically large TV audience. He is obviously correct in his
critique.

As a former mayor of Baltimore and former governor of
Maryland, not to mention a past warm endorsement from Bill
Clinton, Mr. O’Malley, a traditional liberal, might be characterized
as a member of the Democratic Party establishment. His
campaign for president so far might be described as an
establishment effort. Needless to say, he has gotten nowhere.
Now openly critical of his party establishment, including party
chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, he has rediscovered the old
truism about the squeaky wheel (currently epitomized in the other
party by Donald Trump).

With fellow rival Bernie Sanders getting most of the headlines,
Mrs. Clinton continuing to sink in most polls, Joe Biden’s
entrance in the race now dubious, Martin O’Malley has seen an
opening. Now we’ll find out how much he wants to be president.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 28, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The "Furious Majority" Or Factum Non Verbum

In 1968, it was said there was a “silent majority” of voters.
In 1994, there were news stories describing an “angry majority”
of voters. In 2015, the voters are not just angry, they are “furious.”

No more proof than the early success of the presidential
campaigns of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie
Sanders should be needed, but there’s more evidence. In at least
one major poll, conservative physician Ben Carson is in second
place. Neither Trump nor Carson have ever been elected to
office. And there’s more. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina is doing
well, and Vice President Joe Biden, hitherto not taken seriously
as a 2016 presidential candidate, is being widely urged to run.
Although she has said she won’t run, Senator Elizabeth Warren
clearly has very significant support in the liberal grass roots.

Only Biden in this group would be classified as “establishment,”
and he probably won’t run because the Democratic Party elites
still prefer the “sinking” Hillary Clinton and are pushing him out
of the way.  Jeb Bush, the early GOP frontrunner, and clearly the
establishment candidate, is fading in the polls despite his name
recognition and huge amounts of money raised for his campaign.

Why is this all happening?

American voters are perennially unhappy with politicians, so why
is the current “fury” to be taken more seriously than the “silence”
or the “anger” in previous presidential elections?

The answer is the result of a number of circumstances, but most
notably the chronic failure of current government to restore
general economic well-being and confidence, the apparent
“dishonesty” of most political rhetoric, the persistent and
increasing lack oftransparency in the conduct and management
of government bureaucracy, and voters’ growing insecurity about
the nation’s role in the world. These are taking place with elected
and appointed officials of both parties, and there is very little
evidence that much is being done about it.

It is being exacerbated by the Obama administration’s cavalier
attitude to problems arising from undocumented immigration,
its unilateral withdrawal from the U.S. role of leadership in the
world, and by the uneven domestic economic recovery.

This has given Republicans a temporary advantage, but should
they win in 2016 and fail to produce visible gains, the advantage
will shift right back to the Democrats.

Not only are the left and the right “furious” with Washington, DC,
so is the unheralded but vital political center, the key element in
deciding who wins the White House in 2016. (Historically, populists
in the U.S. came from the far right or the far left, but recently,
“centrist populist” such as Jesse Ventura and Ross Perot have arisen
to disrupt American elections.)

The establishments of both parties would like the Trump, Carson,
Sanders and the Fiorina to go away, and almost certainly they will
try to make this happen only by discrediting the candidates. I think
this is a huge political miscalculation. I think it will infuriate voters
even more.

The resolution of the political “disruption” can only happen if the
“establishment” candidates begin paying attention to what is truly
upsetting voters.

My high school motto (McDowell High School in Erie, PA) was
Factum Non Verbum” (“The Deed Not The Word”). I did not forget it.
When a Latin phrase endures for so long, it would be only a matter
of time when it made lots of sense one more time.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is John Kasich First Tier?

Governor John Kasich of Ohio is certainly a first tier
presidential candidate in terms of his experience, his
intelligence and the strategic electoral importance of his
home state. The question yet to be answered:  Is he is a
first tier campaigner?

I think we are about to receive that answer from some new
polls in early and key primary states. Governor Kasich was
the last major Republican contender to formally enter the
contest, but he performed well in the first debate in Cleveland,
and many observers even called him the biggest winner of this
initial confrontation of the large number of GOP hopefuls.

At that debate, of course, much of the attention was on
businessman Donald Trump whose neo-nationalism populist
message has dominated the polls since, and drawn large crowds
wherever the New York billionaire has appeared.

Republican strategists have simultaneously been searching for
an ideal “anti-Trump” GOP candidate to stem this phenomenon,
and give the conservative party a more likely successful ticket in
November when the key electorate will be the huge number of
independent-centrist voters who do not affiliate with either major
party.

The candidacy of early frontrunner, former Florida Governor Jeb
Bush, has been floundering since the debates in which he did not
stand out. His caution and inability to project a sympathetic
personality has left his campaign, at least temporarily, in the
doldrums despite his high name recognition and the huge amount
of campaign funds he has raised.

Likewise in at least temporary decline is Governor Scott Walker
of Wisconsin who after emerging as a first tier candidate in Iowa
earlier this year, has stalled in the polls and failed so far to project
his personality into his campaign. Governor Walker needs to win
the Iowa caucus where he has been leading to remain in the first
tier.

Some have thought that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey,
with his obvious communication skills and charisma, would be the
“anti-Trump” figure to take the billionaire on, and re-emerge as a
first tier candidate, but so far this has not happened. Senator Marco
Rubio of Florida is another potential first tier candidate who might
successfully replace Mr. Trump at the top of the polls. Young and
charismatic, his campaign has yet to catch on. Business executive
Carly Fiorina impressed many with her performance at the “second
tier” debate in Cleveland, and with her impressive speaking style.
Her poll numbers have risen, but so far she has been more the
“anti-Hillary” candidate, and has yet to notably confront Mr. Trump.

All of this leaves Governor Kasich with an extraordinary opportunity.
He not only served in the U.S. house for several terms, but rose to
become one of its top experts on economic policy, leading his caucus
to significant achievements in balancing the budget, curbing spending
and raising fiscal responsibility. After his congressional career, he
returned to Ohio to become its governor where he became one of the
GOP statehouse leaders of reform during the Washington miasma
of the past Obama administration years. In 2014, despite Ohio being
considered a contested battleground state, he won a landslide victory
in his re-election as governor. With Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa,
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin being among the key states in the 2016
presidential election, Kasich’s Buckeye State could deliver some
much needed electoral votes to the GOP ticket.

Unlike his rivals, Governor Bush and Governor Walker, Governor
Kasich has shown the skill to project his personality into the campaign,
including a certain informed candor that might measure well against
the bull-in-the-china-shop demeanor of Mr. Trump.

The next several weeks, leading up to and including the next televised
GOP debate, could be significant in the race for the Republican
nomination. John Kasich could be on the verge of breaking out into
the open to become a man to beat.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Most Underestimated Man In Washington, DC?

The most underestimated man in Washington, DC has a
very powerful position, and in an era of political stalemate
in the nation’s capital, he has accomplished a relatively
great deal. Nevertheless, his political opponents try to
dismiss him, many of his supposed political allies try to
belittle him, and most in the media just ignore him.

He is the speaker of the U.S. house of representatives, third
in line for the presidency, and perhaps the most adult figure
now in a city where grown-ups routinely act as children.

He even has a notable life story to tell, but since he is not
running for president, nor ever expressed an interest in doing
so, it is treated as just another bio and not enlarged into a
mythic tale.

John Boehner was the second of 12 children from a small
midwestern town in Ohio, the son of a bartender/bar owner,
and the first in his family to attend college. That was Xavier
University. After graduating, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but
was soon sent home with a bad back. He worked for a small
business, got himself elected to the Ohio state legislature,
and finally challenged a controversial incumbent congressman
of his own party, and won. He has won ten elections since then
either by landslides or with no opposition.

An ally of then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, he won a
surprise election to the house leadership, then became majority
leader. After the GOP lost their majority in 2006, he was
elected minority leader again until 2010 when a Republican
landslide brought his party back to power in the house and put
Boehner into the speakership.

Lacking a majority in the U.S. senate, and with a Democrat in the
White House, Boehner began his speakership cautiously. His
GOP majority in the house, furthermore, was divided and unruly.
His colleagues, over his advice, shut down the government in 2013
when the senate and President Obama would not compromise on
their differences, and the result was a public relations disaster.
Various factions erupted in the house caucus, and the new speaker
was often criticized for not doing more.

In 2014, with the mid-term elections imminent, Mr. Boehner
steered the house from another shutdown. The GOP then
increased its majority in the house and won back control of the
senate. Now controlling both houses of Congress, many
conservatives had hopes of quickly repealing Obamacare,
drastically cutting government domestic spending, dramatically
reducing entitlements and lowering taxes. Lacking large enough
majorities to overturn President Obama’s certain vetoes of these
measures, stalemate in Washington, DC has remained. Both
Speaker Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell have been criticized by some conservatives and some
GOP governors for not doing enough with their majorities to pass
the Republican agenda.

As he has every August for years, Speaker Boehner makes a
month-long bus tour through the country to raise funds for his
PAC (that funds close house races), recruit challengers to
Democratic incumbents, support his GOP colleagues, and to
rally Republicans in his role as the most powerful elected
Republican in Washington, DC.

This year, Boehner has a much more aggressive and positive
message than usual. Conceding the power of Republicans to
change many Obama administration policies is limited, Mr.
Boehner has nevertheless claimed many accomplishments for
the GOP. Some of them are notable, although the liberal media
has done little reporting of them, including limiting tax increases;
supported giving law enforcement new tools to fight human
trafficking; enacted reforms in job training, student loan programs,
Veterans Administration and Medicare; stopped the transfer of
terrorist detainees into the U.S.; improved U.S. foreign intelligence
capabilities; passed the most pro-life legislation in history;
approved new resources to improve veterans’ health care; banned
earmarks; enabled the U.S. to become the world’s largest energy
producer; and cut governments spending by $2.1 trillion. Two
GOP initiatives were of larger impact. First, the GOP Congress led
efforts to enact more than $2.9 trillion in entitlement reform, and
in rare cooperation with President Obama, passed trade agreements
and gave the president trade authority, The latter was opposed by
most Democrats, but was passed mostly with GOP votes and sent
to the president for his signature.

Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell assert that they have led a
do-something Congress, but underscoring the speaker’s message
on his bus tour this year is the central point that major change and
reform cannot occur without a Republican president.

Recently, Mr. Boehner led bipartisan congressional tours to the
Middle East and Central Europe to reassure our friends and allies
that the U.S. stands behind them. While not directly criticizing
current U.S. foreign policy (which Mr. Boehner clearly feels is not
very reassuring to those friends and allies), the speaker (who is not
known for previous foreign policy acumen) proved to be a skillful
spokesman and diplomat. His trips were largely ignored by the
U.S. media on both the right and the left, but were clearly
well-received abroad. Earlier in the year, Speaker Boehner took the
initiative of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu
to address the Congress, a move bitterly opposed by President
Obama who attempted to stop it. Mr. Boehner prevailed, however,
and Mr. Netanyahu’s appearance was a political triumph.

Not much of a public orator, Mr. Boehner remained on the public
sidelines in his first years as speaker, making few appearances on
talk shows and failed to develop an effective communications
effort from his office. Individuals and small groups in his own
caucus frequently criticized and challenged him, but only recently
has he insisted on more loyalty and support from his colleagues,
removing some members from chairmanships who refused to be
part of his leadership team. He has beefed up his communications
efforts, increasing appeared on talk shows, and been an outspoken
critic of Democrats, including especially Mrs. Clinton.

Although another government shutdown is looming, it is doubtful
Mr. Boehner and his colleague Mr. McConnell will let that happen.
It was avoided in 2013, and voters rewarded that in 2014. With the
all-important 2016 presidential and congressional elections only a
year away, the GOP leadership seems to know better than to
appear responsible for shutting the government down again.

When it became clear that John Boehner was going to become
speaker in 2010, I remember sitting with Newt Gingrich, and
asking him if he thought Boehner was ready to assume that office.
“No,” the former speaker said, adding quickly “But neither was I.”

The speakership could be one of the most under-appreciated high
offices in government, and it is certainly one of the most difficult
to perform well in, having constantly to keep often-disagreeing
members together to vote on policies that serves the larger needs
of the nation. It requires patience, strategic skill and a strong
commitment to the national interest. This is especially true when a
member of another party sits in the White House. Unlike during the
last part of Newt Gingrich’s speakership, the Democratic president
in 2015 is unwilling very often to negotiate and compromise, and
the result is prolonged and frustrating stalemate.

Considering all of this, whether or not one agrees or disagrees with
his politics, John Boehner has risen from his small town roots, to
become one of the most effective and statesmanlike house speakers
in modern times. It appears that it was a very good thing that he grew
up with eleven other brothers and sisters.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.




Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Are Voters Really Prepared To Do In 2016?

All the polls and all the signs indicate that American voters
are not only upset about the direction of the nation, but are
profoundly skeptical of virtually all elected politicians and
bureaucrats, especially those in Washington, DC.

In recent years, this negative feeling has been more or less
consistent. Some are suggesting that now in 2015 the cynicism
of voters is greater than usual. My friend Newt Gingrich has
just published an op ed in The Washington Times that cites
polls indicating that 75% of Americans think that corruption
is widespread in Washington, DC. From that, he suggests that
voters are prepared to break the political establishment rules
in both major parties and seriously consider candidates such
as Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina
and Ted Cruz to be nominated for president.

I agree there is widespread disillusionment, and observing
the disarray in the early stages of the 2016 presidential
campaign, the question immediately arises about what the
voters will do when the actual campaign begins circa early
January, 2016.

I am covering now my 12th presidential election as a journalist,
and while my readers know I have not been shy about making
provocative and contrarian predictions about national
campaigns (more than a few of these predictions have come
true), I remain skeptical about the nomination and election of
a true outsider to be president of the U.S. in 2016.

That is because the decisive vote in a presidential election
always comes from the political center. Michael Barone recently
wrote persuasively about the decline of the center left in the
Democratic Party. A case perhaps might be written about the
decline of the center right in the Republican Party. For the
moment, I would agree, both party bases are polarized to the
left and right respectively. But almost a third of the voters are
independents, centrists or non-affiliated, and I see no evidence
in polls or anywhere else that these voters are inclined to be
swept up in hard left and hard right movements, or in extreme
measures to resolve our national problems.

On the other hand, I would agree that the political environment
is unusually volatile, and that voters are no longer willing to
listen to political rhetoric as usual. So far, none of the
“establishment” presidential candidates in both parties have
seemed to figure this out, and they continue to do so at their
political peril.

I have written that political surprises lie ahead. It could be that
Mr. Gingrich is more prescient than now seems possible. There
are vacuums in both parties, and if history tells us anything,
someone will credibly figure out how to fill them.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.