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What is an Indiana Republican now?

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What is an Indiana Republican now?

Jun 21, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Niki Kelly
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What is an Indiana Republican now?
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Indiana Republican leadership isn't jiving with its grassroots members around the state. (Getty Images)

Following Micah Beckwith’s surprising lieutenant governor nomination and Jim Bopp’s startling assessment of how it impacts the governor’s race, I have seen a lot of shade thrown about establishment Republicans and RINO’s.

Hearing Bopp — the Hoosier most directly responsible for Indiana’s anti-abortion moves in the last two decades and an ultra-conservative powerhouse lawyer — called a “Republican in name only” shocked me.

I wondered: what exactly is a Hoosier Republican these days and why are party members so divided?

So, I spent the last few days talking to delegates from the state convention to understand the split that has resulted in two consecutive repudiations of key GOP candidates.

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First, delegates in 2022 nominated Diego Morales over Gov. Eric Holcomb’s appointee, sitting Secretary of State Holli Sullivan. And this year, the delegates chose Beckwith over Rep. Julie McGuire, the choice of Republican gubernatorial nominee Mike Braun.

I spoke to around 20 delegates from around the state: large cities to rural towns; men and women; old and young. I spoke to those who supported Beckwith and people backing McGuire.

I did the interviews on background to allow them to speak freely, though many said they had no problem being quoted. They were candid and introspective. And I came away with four takeaways about the state of the Indiana Republican Party.

A personal touch

It was clear that Beckwith used a much more personal approach with delegates. This was buoyed by being able to campaign for months rather than weeks.

More than one delegate said they had multiple phone calls and in-person meetings with him. And when Beckwith saw them on the convention floor Saturday, he addressed them by name.

Couple that with the fact that Beckwith gave a strong speech, while Braun and McGuire were flat at best.

“I never really knew where Julie stood on those issues. Think about the floor speeches. Beckwith laid it out plain as day. Julie didn’t give a reason to vote for her other than she was Braun’s pick,” one delegate said.

Generational divide

A number of longtime Republicans believe the divide is somewhat generational.

The old guard are more polite and avoid harsh criticism, while younger Republicans are adopting a more aggressive nature. Donald Trump is an example of that, though several I talked to are not necessarily supporters of him. But they do think it’s time for a more outspoken GOP.

Policy basics

More than any other issue that arose in my talks was that the party’s establishment — interchangeably linked to those in the Indianapolis bubble — is focusing too much on growth and economic development and not enough on values, farmland, personal freedom and more. The controversial LEAP project is the poster child for this but certainly not the last of it.

“The establishment is focused on economics over the issues which Hoosier Republicans care most about,” one delegate said. “How about we focus those billions the IEDC is spending on small town/rural private businesses here in Indiana? We’d get a bigger bang for our buck and Hoosier families would benefit, not corporations.”

No respect

My last takeaway was brought up the most often by delegates unhappy with the recent Republican party leadership. But it has nothing to do with public policy.

Delegates described a top-down approach, in which they’re told by county chairs to get in line and not given respect for the grassroots efforts they make. They are the ones staffing phone banks and hauling yard signs around. And they see the leaders of the party as bought and paid for by corporations and businesses.

Beckwith was an outsider with no allegiance to that inner sanctum and delegates liked that.

“Many in the GOP don’t want to be led around by the nose. That doesn’t mean there is a ‘divide,’ it means the people are standing up for what they believe in, which should make our party stronger, not weaker, moving forward,” one delegate told me.