CARMEL – There’s a storm cloud rising in Indiana Republican politics and we may get an ugly glimpse of it in the coming year leading up to the 2022 and 2024 elections. Perhaps it is because of an embarrassment of wealth and the inevitable expansion of the Republican base, but overwhelming success many times breeds discontent when the party’s leadership does not move party and public policy at the same speed and direction demanded by its new activists.

In my mind there are four types of Republicans: Fully committed Republicans who do the hard work of the party and who support our candidates whether we agree with them 100% or not; casual Republicans who lean in the direction of the party but need to be courted and cajoled into contributing time, money or even turning out to vote; opportunistic Republicans, who for personal benefit seek office or party leadership because it’s just darn difficult to be a Democrat in Indiana; finally, those true believers who have a political philosophy that they attempt to use the Republican Party for purposes of spreading it to the masses.

On Election Day or during the election marathon that politics has now become, each of these groups adds votes to the bottom line, so all are critical to the Republican political dominance in Indiana.  The marriage of these four groups has led to many successful outcomes, yet, at times, it has been a bumpy and troubled marriage.

In the last 20 years the Republican Party has witnessed a percolating power struggle at times between its conservative religious base, the Ron Paul libertarian movement, Tea Party revolution and the Trump wave. The Republican Party, which was formed in a tiny schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1954, is a slowly evolving organization whose organizational objectives have greatly changed over time. This is true of the Democratic Party also.  

The Republican Party has been given up for dead many times along its illustrious history, only to rise like a phoenix when it was least expected.  Radically transformative at its inception, the party has leaned to the conservative perspective since the 1964 Goldwater beating.

It is a pretty safe bet to say that there aren’t many liberals calling themselves Republicans, and the moderates are normally bifurcated philosophically between economic and social perspectives. It is an uneasy and tense relationship that brings Republicans together in a common goal at election time. On Election Day, we normally set our differences aside and vote for the party that most nearly represents our individual interests. We rarely register our philosophical differences by voting for the Democrats.  

The worst we may do when we are angry is not vote for a particular office or just stay at home.

The battle currently brewing in the Republican Party is between traditional organizational Republicans and a hodgepodge of religious conservatives, libertarians and Trump acolytes. We got a view of this struggle during the 2020 gubernatorial election when we saw an immensely popular Republican governor, Eric Holcomb, vilified as a tyrant for introducing pandemic regulations and labeled a RINO (Republican in Name Only) for not supporting draconian legislation demanded by social conservatives. This fight could have had severely negative outcomes had it not been for the almost complete absence of Indiana Democrats. Holcomb romped to a big victory bolstered by many a Democrat vote.

The 2020 election witnessed unconscionable acts of political treason, as some Republican office holders openly endorsed the Libertarian candidate instead of their own party’s nominee for governor. Most notable in this treasonous conduct was State Rep. Jim Lucas, who along with State Reps. Curt Nisly and John Jacob sowed discord amongst the electorate.

This electoral revolt spilled over into the legislative session as both Indiana House and Senate leadership could not stop attempts by its most conservative and reactionary members to deliver a political black eye to Gov. Holcomb by passing an obviously unconstitutional legislative effort to strip him of his emergency powers by allowing the legislature to call itself into special session. This Cromwellian gesture will be resolved bloodlessly, but it is an indication that trouble is brewing.

The next year will witness two battlegrounds in the fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. The Indiana legislature, without the time-consuming task of passing a biennial budget, will be free to wander off into the weeds looking for ways to promote a myriad of philosophies, some quite extreme and at loggerheads with our governor.  

I believe next year will also see some political blood spilled at the GOP State Convention. We’ll see some contested races and their outcomes will be decided largely based on who backs whom. I look for the kind of battles we witnessed during the 2008 convention when Ron Paul activists expressed their displeasure with the GOP establishment by backing attorney general candidate Greg Zoeller over Jon Costas, who was supported by Gov. Mitch Daniels and a host of Republican illuminati.  

The rebels were successful in that convention battle and the same forces could butt heads again in 2022.

It is a difficult task to reconcile the need to expand the Republican tent as much as possible with the need to speak with a coherent concise philosophy. Party growth inevitably leads to philosophical differences. In the Indiana GOP, economic and national defense conservatives who are socially moderate must sometimes mesh with social conservatives who may or may not care one hoot about budgetary constraints or the number of aircraft carriers.  

Libertarian Republicans must play nice with those who would restrict the personal behaviors of Republicans on reproductive issues or on matters of marital choice.  It makes for lots of interesting organizational dynamics and leaves party leadership juggling quite a few bowling pins at the same time.

Republicans are learning a very harsh lesson about what happens when we fail to work for a common goal and allow sideshow issues to keep us from presenting a unified voting front.  We end up with a president who is attacking every last issue and institution that Republicans hold dear.  

Indiana Republicans need to make sure that intraparty political issues do not spill over into our future elections and help to dismantle what we have worked so hard to build over the last 16 years. To gently mangle what Gov. Mitch Daniels once said, “We cannot let perfect become the enemy of the good.” 

Dunn is the former chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.