Like generals who keep fighting the previous war, Indiana's Republican candidates in the U.S. senatorial primary have pinned their hopes on rerunning the last election.
Donald Trump won big in Indiana; U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita and businessman Mike Braun are all about the things Trump was in 2016. Build the wall. Drain the swamp. Punctuated by internecine personal attacks.
In a conversation with our editorial board, Rokita called the primary a “cleansing” that ensures whichever candidate emerges to take on the incumbent, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, won't be vulnerable to any October-surprise-style revelations during the general election campaign. It's also possible the bruising back-and-forths about such distractions as former party affiliation, length of time in Washington and supposed affinity for tax hikes will diminish all three candidates.
The dig-into-the-past strategy, combined with their efforts to become the “Trumpiest” candidate by embracing his style and agenda, allow them little room on the stump for nuanced discussion of policy. Asked in Monday's debate what should be done about DACA and the Dreamers, the three barely acknowledged the plight of those brought here as young children before pivoting to the general issue of immigration. None of them offered much sympathy for Indiana farmers caught in the crossfire between Trump and the Chinese on trade. None was interested in looking at restrictions on sales of semi-automatic rifles; all favored letting teachers be armed; and all thought the Iran nuclear deal was just the worst.
Even voters with them on all the hot-button issues are left with the dilemma of which candidate to support.
Extended an invitation a month ago, Messer was unable to meet with us before our endorsement deadline. The 49-year-old Messer is a former legislator and lobbyist who has represented the 6th Congressional District since 2013. He told a New Haven audience earlier this month, “I'm a person of faith, and I'm a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment conservative that supports the Trump agenda,”
Rokita, 48, has been 4th District congressman since 2011. He describes himself as a fighter who has taken on tough issues, such as championing voter photo IDs when he was Indiana secretary of state. If there is a furthest-right candidate on immigration, it's probably Rokita, who not only wants to limit both legal and illegal immigration but to make English the official language and start “slapping handcuffs” on mayors who operate so-called sanctuary cities.
Braun, 64, is a former school board member and state legislator who built a successful national company in his hometown, Jasper. Braun believes he can use the lessons he's learned as a businessman to fashion better policies on such issues as health care.
Though his positions on most issues are cut from the same Always-Trump cloth as his opponents, Braun has run his campaign with less vitriol. His engaging TV spots, for instance, contrast sharply with Rokita's “Fight Back” ad, which makes it seem as though Indiana's two most pressing problems are kneeling NFL players and crazed rioters.
Trump enthusiasts can't make a bad choice in this GOP primary. We endorse Braun, who may be able to leaven his hard-right views with some real-world common sense in the fall campaign.
Mike Braun *