By Brian Howey
INDIANAPOLIS — Republicans are staring at a mid-term electoral disaster in 2018, both here in Indiana and across America’s amber waves of grain.
After a hostile takeover by Donald Trump in 2016, this president has spent the year assaulting an array of institutions ranging from the Republican Party, congressional leadership, U.S. intelligence agencies, American allies abroad, to the judiciary and the news media.
Last month, the voters of crimson-red Alabama rebuked him and top political adviser Steve Bannon by sending Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate. It came in the most Republican state in the nation and where Trump won with a 28 percent plurality in 2016, even more than the 19 percent plurality he rolled up in Indiana. Trump had backed Roy Moore despite allegations ranging from pedophilia to sexual assault and harassment. The Republican National Committee also backed Moore.
We watched as U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, told WXIN-Channel 59, “I’d be comfortable with Roy Moore.” The rationale? A number of Republicans, evangelicals and Rokita cited abortion. “This is a man who’s 100 percent pro-life like myself,” Rokita said. Moore just dated 14-year-old girls as a 32-year-old man.
To which conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks observed: ’“What shall it profit a man,” Jesus asked, “if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?’ The current Republican Party seems to not understand that question. Donald Trump seems to have made gaining the world at the cost of his soul his entire life’s motto. The rot afflicting the GOP is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational.”
NBC News exit polling revealed Trump’s approval/disapproval rating in Alabama stood at 48/48 percent. That compares to Trump’s Indiana approval of 47/51 percent in a Public Opinion Strategies Poll for the Indiana Realtors in November. A Monmouth Poll on the congressional generic has Democrats leading by an unprecedented 51-36 percent margin, while Quinnpiac puts it at 49-37 percent.
The Indiana GOP establishment has not only acqiuesced to Trumpism, perhaps out of blind loyalty to Vice President Mike Pence, but it has refused to criticize his often boorish, untruthful and offensive rhetoric.
There will likely be a price to pay. It is a similar to a fateful scenario in 2012 when Hoosier Republicans jettisoned its leading vote-getter in history, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, for the firebrand Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the primary, only to watch that Senate seat end up in the hands of Democrat Joe Donnelly.
Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody, who announced the party has candidates in 57 of 100 House districts lined up and more in the pipeline, told me on of Roy Moore, “The president of the United States has campaigned for him. The RNC has invested in him. It’s not just about Alabama any more. This is about a moral direction of one of the major political parties in the United States, and it is not going in the right direction.”
Former Republican congressman Mark Souder added, “It is really clear what happened in Alabama, and it should cause great worry to Republicans. Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville are Republican areas that showed some swing potential in the past. They went Democrat. The rural areas — core Trump country — stayed with Moore overwhelmingly. This is another warning sign of internal wars ahead. A Republican must win both the higher-educated suburbs and the rural areas to win in most areas that have potential of swinging.
Souder added, “The fight ahead looks much tougher for Republicans but, honestly, had Judge Moore prevailed, he might have been a millstone that took everyone down with him. Democrats were just deprived of a huge potential asset.”
Perhaps. But it isn’t just Alabama where Democrats are outperforming. In special elections this year in Kansas, Georgia, Montana, South Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia, Democratic congressional and gubernatorial candidates all did far better. In the 4th District of Kansas, CIA Director Mike Pompeo won in 2016 with a 31 percent margin; his replacement won by just 7 percent. In OMB Director Mick Mulvaney’s South Carolina seat which he won by 20 percent last year, his replacement won by 3 percent.
Trump’s Gallup approval/disapproval stands at a disaster-making 35/60 percent on Dec. 8 to 10. Running with Trump fuming above them, Republicans up and down the ballot are facing fallout.
Looking back at modern Indiana mid-term elections with a first-term president, in 1990 with President George H.W. Bush at 58 percent approval, Democrat Secretary of State Joe Hogsett defeated popular Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut and Democrats retook the Indiana House. In 1994, with President Clinton at 52 percent approval after the failed HillaryCare and passage of gun reforms, Republicans picked up three congressional seats and the Indiana House. In 2002, with President George W. Bush at 62 percent approval, Republican Chris Chocola won an open congressional seat, but Democrats won the Indiana House.
And in 2010, with Obama approval at 44 percent, Republican Dan Coats picked up Evan Bayh’s Senate seat, Todd Young won in the 9th CD and the Indiana House went from a 52-seat Democrat majority to 60 seats for the GOP.
In the Trump presidency with his toxic job approval and reckless rhetoric, suburbanites, women and African-Americans are rekindling the kind of coalition that fuels Democrat victory.
Twitter that one, Mr. President.
Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at howeypolitics.com. Send comments to [email protected] republic.com.