By Robert Vane
Given its utter dominance of statewide and local political offices, it would seem a bit deranged to assert that Republicans in Indiana are in trouble and the Democrats are poised to end its decade-long losing streak in the Hoosier state.
Yet, I keep reading and hearing about how much trouble the Republican Party faces in Indiana. Is there any foundation for this view or is it just wishful thinking on behalf of beaten-down Democrats, fervent anti-Trumpers, semi-conscious hippies, and malcontents suffering from Twitter overload?
The Democrats have not won a statewide race in Indiana since 2012 (Joe Donnelly and Glenda Ritz — both of whom were soundly defeated in their respective re-election efforts). Republicans have won five consecutive gubernatorial elections (the longest streak since the GOP won five straight from 1968 to 1984).
More than 85% of all county-elected officials throughout the state are Republican, and I’ve yet to encounter a single sane person who believes U.S. Sen. Todd Young will be defeated in his re-election effort this fall.
The Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate have maintained supermajority status since the national GOP landslide in 2010. A Democrat hasn’t won the statewide offices of secretary of state, auditor of state, or treasurer of state since current Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett left office in December 1994.
The most popular movie in December 1994: “Legends of the Fall.”
In sum, all the numbers point overwhelmingly in one direction: The Republican Party (specifically) and Republicans (generally) are in the most advantageous political situation of any Hoosier political organization since the American Civil War and its immediate aftermath.
But … The chatter coming out of our state convention this summer has many of us Republicans worried.
While we all know that political winning streaks are never permanent and the reported death of any political party is always somewhat exaggerated — if the Democrats can rebound from the Civil War and the Republicans can win the presidency one term after Watergate, then anything is possible — Republicans in Indiana are flirting with a philosophy bordering on a mix of unproven conspiracies and philosophical nihilism.
The delicate balance needed by any party to remain popular with swing voters was certainly missing in Indianapolis. A majority of delegates clearly were in a mood to flex their right-wing muscles and create an environment that embraced some of our more recent national embarrassments.
Yes, Jan. 6 was a national embarrassment of epic historical proportions. Nothing – absolutely nothing – as it relates to the 2020 presidential election justifies what happened that day in the United States Capitol. The only saving grace was the patriotic actions of our own Vice President Mike Pence, who risked his life to do his constitutional duty.
Not even Democrat John C. Breckinridge, who served as vice president under James Buchanan and became a general in the Confederate Army, refused to certify the results of the 1860 presidential election — even though he knew that Abraham Lincoln’s presidency meant civil war.
We Republicans in Indiana are living in wonderful political times. It started 20 years ago when Jim Kittle became chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, and we’ve only lost four statewide votes since then.
But could Republican proven winners like Mitch Daniels, Greg Ballard, Dan Coats, Susan Brooks, Richard Lugar, and Eric Holcomb win the endorsement of the delegates who populated our most recent state convention?
If your answer to that question is “no,” then that’s an indictment of our collective mindset rather than a criticism of the superb accomplishments and service of the people listed above.
Are all of us merely RINOs who want to maintain our history of speaking to the needs of — and winning the votes of — people who don’t agree with us on every issue? If we don’t agree with the MAGA grassroots movement, does that mean we are no longer welcome in our own party?
If we keep winning elections, then the easiest rebuttal to certain concerns is “the voters have spoken.” However, I’ve worked for Republican organizations, candidates, and elected officials, and I know for a fact that burning bridges is not the same as building them.
It wasn’t long ago that Democrats won four consecutive governor’s races, held a United States Senate seat, controlled the Indiana House of Representatives, and held a majority of our congressional seats. We should not be so deluded to think it couldn’t happen again.
It’s been a helluva ride, but one that could go off the rails if Republicans willfully discard our ability to convince all Hoosier voters that addressing their primary concerns is our primary mission.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections.
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Robert is the former communications director for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and the Indiana Republican Party. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army and owns the public relations firm Veteran Strategies, Inc.