The Outstater: The Timidity of the Indiana GOP

September 14, 2015

by Craig Ladwig

This being both football and election season, a gridiron analogy for the Indiana GOP seems apt. It has long been said that Republicans here play politics “between the 40-yard lines” — these days, “stopped dead at midfield” is more like it.

Rare is the Indiana Republican willing to articulate the difference between public-sector and private-sector collective bargaining, a difference that both accounts for the mediocrity of education and threatens to bankrupt our cities. That’s an issue at the 20-yard line headed for the goal.

Our adjunct Fred McCarthy notes that the GOP candidate for Indianapolis mayor is proposing to hire precisely the same number of new police officers as his opponent, and with the same fudge as to where the city might find the money to pay for them and their eventual pensions. Nor are Indianapolis Republicans able to take advantage of public disenchantment with economic-development schemes such as tax-increment financing or sweetheart deals with billionaire owners of sports teams.

And the governor? He’s in Japan on another “job-hunting” mission.

A county chairman once explained all this to me. The Indiana GOP’s strength has been in an election-day apparatus that could get out a sufficient number of rank and file to win most local elections. When difficult issues were raised, however, issues outside those 40-yard lines, it tended to bring out . . . well, low-information voters who threaten the hand-picked candidates as well as upset the base.

But that GOP apparatus is no more. In Fort Wayne, a city once counted on to negate the Gary vote, it is at best 50-50. And Indianapolis soon will be entirely in Democratic hands, not that anyone will be able to tell the difference.

Tom Huston, another adjunct, threw out a challenge that tests the very seriousness of the GOP. If it means what it says about winning a reasonable percentage of the Black vote, urge its candidates to speak out against same-sex marriage. That would be a wedge issue for Republicans, according to a YouGov poll:

“The growing conflict between religious liberty and gay rights might in time create space for Republicans to grow their take of the black vote. It won’t happen overnight, but our survey shows that the Democratic coalition isn’t as lockstep on gay marriage as it likes to portray itself as being. They’d better be careful about taking socially conservative Black opinion for granted, especially once it’s someone beside the first Black president trying to sell them on the new orthodoxy.”

A clear majority, including 53 percent of Blacks and 58 percent of Latinos, believes that the right of religious liberty is under threat, the poll found. Among Democrats generally just 33 percent say so, compared with 81 percent of Republicans.

Stephen M. King, another adjunct weighing in on this general subject, offered what will serve as our conclusion: “Political parties today are antiquated organizations that do not have the financial, organizational and goal-oriented wherewithal to compete with the hundreds of thousands of 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.”

Wait, this just in: A Fort Wayne candidate has posted a picture of his winning entry in the gourd division of the Grabill Country Fair. So football may not be the best analogy after all. It’s an off-Broadway musical, a stanza from the “Fantasticks”:

Plant a cabbage.
Get a cabbage.
Not a sauerkraut.
That’s why I love vegetables.
You know what you’re about.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.



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