By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – If the race for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat on the ballot next year were a day care, both U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Indiana, and U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indiana, already would be in time out.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
Messer and Rokita are the two leading candidates to square off against the incumbent, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana.
True products of the age of Trump, Messer and Rokita both seem to believe the prize always goes to the boy who is the worst-behaved. On a nearly daily basis, their campaigns send out statements or issue press releases in which they call each other or Donnelly names.
Somehow, they think this is persuasive.
Perhaps the low-water mark – so far, that is, because the signs suggest both these guys can dive even deeper in the sewage ditches – came when Rokita visited Kokomo, which has been hit hard by tornadoes in recent years, for a roundtable discussion.
“Even though we cannot predict God’s will when it comes to natural disasters, let’s prepare ourselves for God’s will,” Rokita said afterward.
Democrats, predictably, pounced and accused Rokita of being insensitive to Kokomo’s troubles. “Rubbing salt in the wound” was the phrase an Indiana Democratic Party strategist used.
That was not particularly dignified, but the response from the Rokita camp took the churlishness to a whole new level.
“Joe Donnelly’s pathetic puke spokesman doesn’t give a damn about victims of natural disasters. Donnelly is so desperate to distract from being a fraud who profited from jobs being sent to Mexico, he is willing to mock the beliefs of Christians,” said Rokita spokesman Tim Edson in a statement.
(Question for Edson: Do you kiss your mother with that mouth of yours?)
Edson was referring to an Associated Press report that revealed Donnelly, an outspoken critic of outsourcing jobs, had an ownership position in a family business that, yes, has taken advantage of cheap labor outside this country. Donnelly since has sold his interest in the business.
Criticizing Donnelly for hypocrisy was fair, but it could have been done with a little more – what’s the word I’m searching for? Oh, yeah – maturity.
Keep in mind that we’re still nine months away from the May primary and the general election is well more than a year distant. If the boys are being this nasty now, think about what they’ll be like when they’re desperate and running on the edge of exhaustion.
It isn’t pretty to ponder, is it?
There are a couple of things that are disturbing about this ongoing indulgence in boorish behavior.
The first is the assumption inherent in the Rokita and Messer approach – that Hoosiers prefer to make their decisions in the gutter. My roots in this state go back a couple centuries. I know people in Indiana are conservative, but they’re rarely impolite. They know the difference between being tough and just being nasty.
I doubt Messer and Rokita are fooling many people about where they fall on that scale.
The second is that, as campaign strategies go, this one is dumb – spectacularly dumb.
Rokita and Messer seem to think Hoosiers gave Donald Trump, for all his gaucheries and bullying, an overwhelming majority that helped elect other Indiana Republican candidates because, to paraphrase Sally Field, they like him, they really like him.
Maybe, but I suspect that most Hoosiers voted Trump because they’d rather pitch a tent on a toxic waste dump than vote for Hillary Clinton.
The strategy Messer and Rokita are pursuing is the one that created the only path Donnelly had to becoming a senator in the first place.
Donnelly had no chance of beating U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, in the 2012 general election – and almost no chance of defeating Richard Mourdock, the Republican who toppled Lugar in the primary.
But then Mourdock made statements so extreme – including some about bad things happening to people being God’s will, such as women becoming pregnant after being raped – that Hoosiers couldn’t abide them.
Democrats and Donnelly didn’t win that race.
Mourdock and Republicans lost it.
In more ways than one.
That’s the path Rokita and Messer are on now.
It’s a pity Senate campaigns don’t have time outs.
These guys really could benefit from a little quiet time.
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.