SOUTH BEND – The email update came with this subject line: “Still a ‘former Republican.’” It came from former Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, elected and reelected to that office as a Republican. He also was a top assistant to Dan Quayle, when Quayle was a senator from Indiana and then vice president.

Zoeller for decades was an unwavering conservative Hoosier Republican. Then, in his view, the Republican Party at the federal level wavered away from him. During an interview a month after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Zoeller, leaving office after his second term as attorney general, described himself as “a former Republican.”

In his email update, Zoeller said: “Now, a few years later, it’s abundantly clear that the GOP is not likely to return to the party I joined anytime soon.” With further email exchanges and a long phone conversation, Zoeller explained why he is a “former Republican” when it comes to the presidential election but still a Republican in state and local politics.

He will vote for Joe Biden. Why?

Zoeller said that President Trump doesn’t fit his definition of a conservative Republican. Not with expanding rather than limiting federal government, sharply increasing the national debt, rejecting past Republican concerns for Free World alliances and fair trade and displaying a divisive demeanor, the exact opposite of the approach of past Hoosier Republican leaders such as Sen. Dick Lugar.

“Joe Biden provides the best alternative to restore some stability and credibility to the executive branch of our federal government,” Zoeller said. “It will be a difficult task to begin to heal the divisions at home and abroad and will require collaboration and an understanding that governing is public service and not a business venture.”

He said the result of turning to Trump, seen by many voters as someone outside government to blow up everything in response to understandable unhappiness, shows that experience with and understanding of government are important. Now, he said, Biden’s years in Congress and as vice president provide “the experience to begin the difficult work of regaining some measure of bipartisan support in Congress and trust with international leaders and hopefully with the American public.”

But Zoeller stressed that he doesn’t blame Trump for all that’s wrong. Nor is he a fan of the Lincoln Project, through which Republicans opposed to Trump ridicule the president with TV ads as savage as Trump’s own attacks.

Lack of civility and unwillingness to compromise in Washington to solve the nation’s problems developed before Trump was elected and won’t necessarily disappear with a Trump defeat, Zoeller said. “Being against someone through ridicule doesn’t motivate me,” he said, dismissing the Lincoln Project.

Zoeller still identifies with the Republican Party in areas where he doesn’t see the GOP wavering away from him. “It’s important to distinguish between national and state political leadership,” Zoeller said. “In Indiana, our state Republican elected officials have, for the most part, provided positive leadership and results. So, I still consider myself a Republican at the state level. The federal elected leadership for both parties has become divisive and government has been dysfunctional for some time. It’s been a bad time in Washington, and so I don’t support either political party at a national level.”

But he finds it necessary to vote for Biden as a needed alternative, the only alternative, to President Trump.

Zoeller acknowledged he is freer to say these things than are some Republicans in elective office who may well agree with his views. He now is a consultant and counsel with nonpartisan causes, including chairmanship of the World Trade Center effort in Indianapolis to attract business opportunities.

The “former Republican,” still a conservative Hoosier Republican, wants the GOP nationally to return to support of the federal system of the Founders – checks and balances and rights of states – trumping Trump. 

Colwell is a South Bend Tribune columnist.