The Trumpian dilemma for Hoosier Republicans

NASHVILLE, Indiana — The official word from Gov. Mike Pence’s embattled reelection campaign whenever Donald Trump says something outrageous, like accepting “congrats” in the wake of the Orlando massacre or suggesting that President Obama has committed treason, or saying that a Hoosier with an IU law degree is really a “Mexican” is to say that he is “laser focused” on the Indiana economy and job creation, where he is having considerable success.

This laser focus was briefly obscured at the Indiana Republican Convention when in his booming voice just a few second after starting, Pence urged delegates to ensure that Indiana becomes “the first state on the board to make Donald Trump the president of the United States.” It was an emphatic endorsement.

He spoke these words after conservative House Speaker Paul Ryan cited Trumps “textbook racism” on the Judge Gonzalo Curiel controversy. It came after conservative Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Trump “doesn’t know a lot about the issues and had not displayed the requisite “seriousness of purpose” to be president. The 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney warned, Republicans that a “President Trump” could normalize racism, misogyny and bigotry in the national conscience.

Why would Gov. Pence attach his dingy to what appears to be the political equivalent to the RMS Titanic?

He sees that Trump 53 percent Indiana primary victory last month that came despite his own endorsement of Ted Cruz. Pence needs the Trump voter. Having said that, it’s five months from the election, and Pence is still working to secure his Republican base. Any incumbent whose reelect is 36 percent, his job approval is in the low 40th percentile and is still seeking to keep the base in place is in a world of hurt.

Pence’s predicament is that he already has that angry white male vote. What he needs to defeat Democrat John Gregg are Lugar Republicans, suburban women and independents. These voters view Trump like a rat in a baby crib.

What we learned this past week is instructive. If you’re a Hoosier Republican, it is unclear which factoid is the most alarming. It could be Hillary Clinton’s $42 million to $1.3 million cash-on-hand advantage over Trump. There are a number of Indiana congressional campaigns with more money than Trump. It could be that Clinton has out-raised Trump in Indiana $1 million to $58,221. It could be her 100 percent dominance in swing state TV advertising. It could be the distinct dive in the polls giving Clinton a 44-38 percent lead over Trump before she has fully coalesced the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. Perhaps it is her 700 to 69 staffing advantage or that Trump has not only canned his campaign manager, but has no communications director, though he did bring on the credible Kevin Shaw Kellems of Indiana to begin surrogate management. Perhaps it’s University of Virginia Prof. Larry Sabato’s new Crystal Ball Electoral College map that gives Clinton a 347-191 advantage.

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, a resolute conservative who is a former aide to U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and Rep. Mark Souder, observed: “Beneath Trump’s historically low approval ratings – 29 percent in a recent Post/ABC News survey – is an even more disturbing development. After securing the nomination, Trump’s support among Republicans rose, in many polls, to the mid-80s; not spectacularly good, but an indication that the GOP was rallying. In recent polls, Trump’s Republican support has dropped to between 70 and 80 percent.”

NBC Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd mined down into what could be Trumpian ballot drag. In that ABC/Post poll, 65 percent of Republicans view Trump favorably and 34 percent unfavorably (Clinton stands at 75/25 percent with Democrats as she works to bring in the Sanders wing). “So the problem isn’t just how a party sees Trump. It’s how Republicans see the party itself.”

Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who polled for me in 2012, cites Trump’s “Achilles’ heel is the political arithmetic.”

“One of my favorite pollster stats is Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama by the same proportion among whites that George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis by in 1988. Bush won the popular vote by eight points. Romney lost the popular vote by four points,” Yang explained. “The college-educated white woman is a symptom of the broader point. It’s really hard for a Republican to win white voters by more than what Romney and Bush won white voters by, 20 points, 59-39 percent. The voting-age population in 2016 will be 31 percent minority. It’s hard for me to see how the math works for Trump if he doesn’t win whites by 30 points, which would be really hard, or make inroads into that minority population.”

The wall Trump wants to build, and the one he is really building, with more than 70 percent of Latinos aligned against him, is a wall between himself and victory.

Gerson points to the irony of all of this. “He ran attacking the Republican ‘establishment’ at every turn,” Gerson said. “Now, since he has neglected to construct his own national campaign, he is completely dependent on the ‘establishment’ to provide his political ground game.”

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.

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