This election is a strange one, the man who served as the Senate’s president pro tempore for 26 years told me over the air.
“It’s going to be studied for a long time,” he said.
That’s because the lessons from the 2016 campaign are so many, so varied and, at times, so contradictory.
At the national level, outsiders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders – two men who otherwise have little in common – have staged challenges to their respective parties’ establishments. Trump, a nominal Republican, has claimed the GOP’s presidential nomination. Sanders, a provisional Democrat, at the very least has dragged Hillary Clinton toward more populist positions.
Here in Indiana, though, it is the establishment that has shown strength.
In the heated primary to claim the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat made vacant by the retirement of Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, U.S. Rep. Todd Young, R-Indiana, prevailed over a tea party favorite, U.S. Sen. Marlin Stutzman. Young’s victory came with the backing of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and much to the relief of the business wing of the GOP, which wasn’t looking forward to moving into the fall campaign with both Trump and Stutzman carrying the party’s flags.
Closer to the ground, current Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, fought off primary challenges with decisive victories. Long prevailed over a social conservative and tea party favorite upset about the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled the 15th century was over and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens have these things called rights. Kenley knocked back a challenger whose vision for the state that didn’t extend much beyond the road in front of his house.
Perhaps the perfect example, though, of the countervailing pressures at work within the Republican Party this election year has been Gov. Mike Pence, who spun through the primary season like a weathervane trapped in a cyclone.
First, under great pressure from social conservatives both in Indiana and around the country, Pence endorsed Trump rival Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, with all the enthusiasm one normally reserves for a colonoscopy:
I kind of like all the candidates but I kind of, sort of, maybe, possibly, just might like Cruz a tiny bit more than the others – I think, that is, if it’s okay with you.
When Cruz’s campaign came to a flaming end here, almost without pause Pence hopped over to Trump. He said he would support the billionaire. The motivation for the governor’s reasoning was clear:
I’m for Trump now because I really, really, really can’t afford to offend any potential Republican voters.
That is true.
One of the more illuminating stories of this campaign year has come courtesy of the Indianapolis Business Journal
. The IBJ
reported that many traditional Republican donors and previous Pence backers either are sitting on their checkbooks this gubernatorial go-around or have cut their contributions to the governor by substantial amounts as he faces re-election. The business wing of the GOP, in particular, hasn’t been happy about the governor’s tendency to ignore their concerns about the way Indiana’s indulgences in regard to gay-baiting might affect their interests. These folks aren’t progressive, but they do pay close attention to the bottom line.
Secure in the knowledge they have the votes in the Indiana General Assembly to stop any wild-eyed idea a Democrat – even one as housebroken as Pence’s opponent, former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg – might have, these moneyed movers and shakers are sending the governor a message. The message isn’t subtle:
You need us more than we need you.
Thus, we Hoosiers head into a general election in which Trump, the leader of the national Republican Party, wages war with the party’s establishment while Pence, the leader of the state party struggles mightily to make peace with that same establishment.
So, find a seat and buy some popcorn.
This election probably won’t be inspiring.
But, like a Three Stooges short, it’s almost certain to be entertaining.
Perhaps former Indiana Senate leader Robert Garton said it best.