INDIANAPOLIS – Nationally, Republicans are without a leader, without a message, and without a plan. The party is having a difficult time defining exactly what it stands for in the waning years of the Obama Era and seems intent on waiting until a presidential nominee emerges to figure it all out. Ironically enough, Indiana Democrats are in a similar position.
In fact, both parties have the same 2014 strategy: We’re not the other guy. Republicans in targeted federal campaigns are focusing much of their attention on bashing President Obama and highlighting their opponents’ verbal missteps rather than on positive ideas for the future. Indiana Democrats are playing the same game. They are hoping voters default to them because Republicans already have supermajorities in the State House and Senate. But the parallels don’t end there.
With Evan Bayh’s protracted flirtations with a third run for governor now (finally!) behind us, Democrats are without a leader to champion their cause. At the moment, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz is as close to a leader as they have, and talking to some of the party faithful you come away with the sense that they wish that wasn’t the case. Ritz is popular with a few important Democratic constituencies, namely teacher unions, but she leaves a lot of Democrats annoyed and perplexed at her office’s ineptitude.
Republicans around the country are likewise stuck. There’s chatter that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney might make a third run for the presidency, but the most talked about Republicans of the day are Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Like Ritz, they cater to important Republican constituencies, but aren’t close to laying a claim on party leader.
Without a single leader, or a group of leaders accepted by all factions of the party, the loudest and harshest voices in both parties have been able to hijack the message, and both sound the same. The message coming from the Indiana Democratic Party has become reminiscent of the “Party of No” Republicans we hear about on Capitol Hill. Indiana Democrats have opposed Gov. Mike Pence and Statehouse Republicans on nearly every measure from the economy to education to healthcare. If it’s an idea proposed by the governor, liked by the speaker, and supported by most Republicans, chances are Democrats will cry “no” to any television camera pointed their way.
And in those interviews, they use talking points that do little but stoke the base of their party and alienate middle-of-the-road voters. They are like a child run amok with a toy label maker, sticking an adhesive moniker to everything in sight. “Tea Party!” “Extremist!” And so on, and so forth. Opposition and negativity are the first words spoken rather than any ideas that will help Indiana grow.
Their opposition is so fierce that when former Gov. Mitch Daniels and State House Republicans pursued right-to-work legislation in 2011 the entire House Democratic caucus absconded to Urbana, Illinois, for five weeks. Their leader at that time, Pat Bauer, suckered them into a losing battle and the bill ultimately passed the following year.
Republicans on the national level are in the same boat having been down the road where a single voice can bring government operations to a halt. Of course, when a Republican veers off course and makes inane comments, they are quickly chastised by Democrats, the media and the public, and made to atone for their verbal sins. But in Indiana, when a Democrat called Daniels an “idiot” and said Hoosiers “clap and bark like a bunch of trained seals,” little hay was made. In fact, that person was nominated to run for governor! (Hint: It’s John Gregg).
Finally, neither national Republicans nor Indiana Democrats has a plan for the future. If Republicans do in fact capture a U.S. Senate majority in November, what do they plan to do with it? Oppose Obama some more? The U.S. House of Representatives, already with a Republican majority, has passed hundreds of bills that will help create jobs in our country. Those bills have died in the Senate at the hands of Majority Leader Harry Reid. But even if Reid is demoted, and Republicans pass the bills out of the Senate, Obama will more than likely veto them and we will find ourselves back in the same place as we are today.
Again, that sounds like Indiana Democrats. They could potentially gain a seat or two in the General Assembly, but where does that get them? State Chairman John Zody recently said his party is focused on the long-game, which sounds more like reality than a strategy. Without a plan for what the party will do in the future, voters are unlikely to give them a chance.
Clearly, the better option is to just sit back and wait. It’s a lot easier than working for the win.
Pete Seat is senior project manager at the Indianapolis-based Hathaway Strategies and author of the recently published book The War on Millennials. He was previously a spokesman for President George W. Bush, U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and the Indiana Republican Party.