Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Rokita made history the other day.
He became the first candidate in the history of the Indiana Debate Commission to decline an invitation to appear with his rivals in an open, independent forum.
Rokita says he has his reasons to duck the commission’s April 30 debate against fellow Republican hopefuls Luke Messer and Mike Braun.
“The Rokita campaign believes debates in the Republican Primary should be hosted by conservative and Republican organizations which get into the issues Republicans care about, not leftist propaganda and gotcha questions from liberal media figures, liberal college professors, or other parties interested in attacking Republicans and re-electing Joe Donnelly,” the campaign said in a press release.
On one level, Rokita’s reasoning makes no sense.
The moderator for the April 30 debate is Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, a conservative talk radio host, blogger and lawyer who never has met a Republican he didn’t like. If Rokita and his brain trust are deciding people such as Abdul have no place in the GOP, then he and they are shrinking the Republican tent down to microscopic size.
On another level, though, Rokita’s rationale raises at least two troubling questions.
The first should be worrisome to Rokita’s raging followers.
Rokita’s campaign slogan is “Defeat the Elite.” In his first television campaign ad – in which he presents himself as a kind of Hoosier Rambo, albeit in pleated slacks, tasseled loafers and a button-down shirt – he pledges to vanquish the liberal establishment and “confront the elite.”
Just how he plans to do that by running away from them is a puzzle. Normally, confronting someone, anyone, involves, well, actual confrontation.
Like in a debate.
If Rokita’s supporters think they’ve found a guy with the grit and guts to mix it up, they may want to think again.
He’s looking like a guy with a jaw made not out of glass, but delicate, easily breakable crystal.
He not only cannot take a punch, but he apparently can’t even tolerate the whisper, the suggestion or even the hint of a slight tap.
But that’s of concern only to people who already plan to vote for Rokita.
For those of us who are still shopping around for a candidate, what’s bothersome is Rokita’s implied argument that he intends to be a senator only for those Hoosiers who agree with him and his narrow ideology.
In theory, elected officials are supposed to strive to represent all the people in the states or districts from which they come, regardless of whether those people voted for them or not.
Yes, in practice, when they’re in office, Republicans tend to place a higher priority on addressing concerns raised by other Republicans and Democrats most often opt to move other Democrats to the front of the line.
But only those office-holders devoid of a sense of duty and enflamed with an arrogance that overwhelms common sense would argue that they have no responsibility to consider the views of any of their other fellow citizens.
Who are also known as taxpayers.
But that’s essentially what Rokita and his campaign are doing.
And maybe that’s the best hand they’ve got to play.
Thus far, Rokita hasn’t shown that he can handle high-stakes pressure, particularly when the spotlight is on him.
His introduction to the national stage came when he tried to flirt his way out of a question he didn’t want to answer by telling a female CNN anchor she was “beautiful” rather than addressing the subject.
Neither the anchor nor most of America found that amusing.
If his political instincts aren’t any better than that, Rokita and his handlers are wise to keep him away from live microphones and any other circumstances that require thought.
The April 30 debate and the republic will go on without Rokita’s participation.
There, of course, will be an empty space where Todd Rokita should be.
But only the most discerning viewers are likely to notice the difference.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.