Morris: Zoeller and GOP Duality

September 7, 2020


Hoosiers are, unfortunately, used to politicians who say one thing here and then become someone quite different out of town. They leave their three-piece suits in the condo when they visit home, donning jeans and plaid shirts while chatting with the common folk from the cabs of their shiny pickup trucks.

Still, we have to marvel at the boldness of former Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who not only takes such political dualism to a whole new level but doesn’t even try to be sneaky about it. Indeed, he proclaims it proudly.

In an interview with South Bend Tribune columnist Jack Colwell recently, Zoeller describes himself as “still a former Republican” at the federal level because the national GOP has “wavered away from him” and is not likely “to return to the party” he joined anytime soon. But he still considers himself a Republican at the state level because the GOP here has, “for the most part, provided positive leadership and results.”

And the reason for such agonizing inner conflict is, of course, President Donald Trump, who has created as much turmoil in his own political party as he has everywhere else.

It would be an understatement to say Zoeller is an anti-Trump Republican. He so detests the president that he plans to vote for Democrat Joe Biden as “the best alternative to restore some stability and credibility to the executive branch” and to facilitate the collaboration that can “begin to heal the divisions at home and abroad.” 

Now, I understand some of that, but not nearly all of it.

I get it that Trump is an abrasive and confrontational figure who has turned conventional politics upside down. I know that many people become disenchanted with the political parties they start out with. I don’t doubt that someone would go so far as to vote for the other guy; I do remember Reagan Democrats, after all.

And I share Zoeller’s lament that the GOP nationally has strayed from the checks and balances and rights of states of the federal system so wisely crafted by the founders.

What I can’t fathom is why anti-Trump party members don’t seem to consider all the things that have been accomplished from their agenda during the president’s first term. And what possesses Zoeller to make him think Biden would do more for that agenda? I can’t make “conservative Republican” and “voting for Biden” compute, no matter how hard I try.

But I have to admire his solution for the dilemma.

Some might say Zoeller is merely infected with the pathological assertiveness of a reality-denying age. Whites can proclaim themselves to be black or Native Americans. Men can call themselves women, and either gender can say they are both genders or neither. Rioters and looters can claim “peaceful protest” status,

But Zoeller is much cleverer. He doesn’t feel confined to a binary choice, having to decide between being a Republican or not a Republican. He can be either one, depending on where he is. He just has to remember whether has crossed the state line and which side of it he is on.

I am inspired.

As much fun as it is, I do occasionally get tired of being a curmudgeonly columnist – or, as one emailer kindly put it last week, “a bitchy old man” showing “complete stupidity” and making everything “about me, screw anyone else, me, me, me.”

It can be exhausting, but I don’t have to give it up altogether if I just make a trip across a state line now and then. I can go to Michigan, fire up a joint and vegetate for a week or over into Illinois and be an auxiliary gang member. I can slip into Kentucky and crack open a fifth or into Ohio and help topple a statue of Columbus.

And all the while, my secret self will be hidden away, ready to take out and deploy against unsuspecting readers, when I feel all rested and polished.

If I get good enough at the game, I might even end up in Washington. And it doesn’t matter who is serving as president or what the current governing philosophy is. I’m a columnist. I can be anti-anything.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at


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