The Outstater: Could You Win a GOP Primary?

June 6, 2015

For the use of the membership only (609 words)

Have you ever wanted to run for office? Ever wanted to convince a friend to run for office? Let’s conduct a reality check to test the political waters:

  1. Are you running against an incumbent especially liked by old Republican regulars?
  2. Are you going door-to-door rather than relying on big-media advertising buys?
  3. Have you refused an invitation to participate in a rigged debate sponsored by a local television station?
  4. Does your opponent have the endorsement of either the Indianapolis Star or the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette?
  5. Is the local GOP chairman supporting your opponent, however tacitly?
  6. Has your opponent adopted the issue positions recommended by the Indiana Republican State Committee?
  7. Have you kept your opponent from getting to the right of you on any issue, rhetorically or actually?

As you have guessed, the questions reflect particular changes in Indiana Republican politics. These days, in seriously contested primaries, the support of the local GOP chairman may not mean much. Nor does one from certain editorial boards. And what the state central committee thinks is especially irrelevant.

Once the Indiana Republican Party could rely on a strong election-day turnout from a vaunted apparatus, and that was true regardless of the candidate. The job of the party chairman was to dampen issue fights between elections and compromise on any policy challenges that might pop up. The idea was to suppress general interest so the apparatus could prevail. Matters of principle tend to rile them up, to paraphrase a former Allen County GOP chairman.

A political scientist and adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, Dr. Stephen M. King, notes that well-funded factions have co-opted this strategy. These groups (the gay lobby is cited) defuse, devolve and disaggregate traditional political interests, Dr. King says, fighting the party for scarce resources and even scarcer political support:

“Political parties today are antiquated organizations that do not have the financial, organizational and goal-oriented wherewithal to compete with the hundreds of thousands in interest groups that form coalitions and networks, that team with public opinion polls to meet self-seeking private interests as opposed to community-seeking public interests.”

The Indiana GOP seems oblivious to the problem that King identifies. Its election strategy is pretty much what it was a generation ago — dampening issue differences and compromising policy, and then depending for victory on a party apparatus that no longer exists.

Sometimes it suggests the pathetic. Two recent state GOP chairmen stepped back on the political stage only to demonstrate tin ears. Their semi-endorsement of the most liberal rated member of the Indiana congressional delegation fell flat. The parade that the ex-chairmen thought they were leading had turned off on a side street.

Which brings us to those great populist educators, the metropolitan newspapers. For good reason or bad, they have come to think of themselves as advocates of “correct” policies rather than honest arbiters of the political debates. As a result, their endorsements, compared with outstate papers, have missed the mark spectacularly in recent years, the editors blindsided by one electoral upset after another.

For when you take on the role of advocate, you become less interested in facts or at least those that don’t fit a narrative. That makes it hard to be predictive, which, big media forgets, is why you have subscribers and viewers at all. And it follows that if readers can’t trust your medium, no matter the circulation, they are unlikely to trust the candidates promoted therein. Propaganda has its limits.

All of this considered, if you answered yes to the questions on the reality check, congratulations. You have a good chance of winning your primary. Now, on to the general election . . .

 

— Craig Ladwig

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