GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Over the years, alliances and issues change, but Indiana Republicans like to battle over differences. The fact is, so do Indiana Democrats. Every state does this. We just do it better. Contentious times on issues lead to divisions within and among parties. So do controversial individuals and internal power struggles. In 2020, we have all those things.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has a few huge advantages in his reelection campaign. The biggest is our state’s modern history of stability through all chaos.  The Indiana gubernatorial two-party victory margins were: 1984 (5%), 1988 (6%), 1992 (25%), 1996 (5%), 2000 (15%), 2004 (7%), 2008 (17%), 2012 (3%), and 2016 (6%). Two facts jump out: 1.) the three wide margins (1992, 2000, and 2008) were reelection campaigns of Governors Bayh, O’Bannon and Daniels and 2.) otherwise, for nearly four decades, the two political tribes in Indiana have been fairly evenly matched. The Republicans have won only one race with a margin of more than 7% since the Ronald Reagan sweep year of 1980.

However, it takes a ground shift for an Indiana governor to lose a reelection campaign. In fact, no elected governor (Joe Kernan had been elected as lieutenant governor) has EVER been defeated for reelection. 

Then there is the matter of money. The Republican Holcomb-Crouch ticket is the equivalent of commercial bank and the Democrat Party ticket of Myers-Lawson is a piggy bank. 

The under-ticket of state legislators is dominantly Republican. So are most county officeholders. President Donald Trump and Hoosier Vice President Mike Pence are likely to carry Indiana, even if Trump carries only five states. This not only provides pull, but helps straight-ticket voting.

In other words, cracks or not, Gov. Holcomb and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch are likely to prevail by a respectable margin. But that does not mean that issues and the expanding absurdities of President Trump’s personal behavior could not present some moments of angst if Trump continues to implode (the past two weeks have been a disaster).

Three Indiana divisions add to the general Trump-caused chaos. 1.) The gas tax increase to pay for roads 2.) COVID fights and 3.) the bitter attorney general contest. 

The gas tax issue tends to split conservatives between more traditional conservatives and more libertarian ones. Traditional conservatives, while skeptical of all government, generally oppose expansion of federal power but are not necessarily opposed to state and local government initiatives. Libertarians are more skeptical of all government.

Libertarians, in general, don’t like any tax. Traditional conservatives oppose federal tax hikes, but they tend to pick and choose more at the state and local level. For example, if you want roads without potholes or roads that connect new growth to existing roads, it has to be paid for. One standard Republican tax is a user tax.

The more libertarian, anti-government activists blame Holcomb for the increase in the gas tax. While they haven’t been very forgiving about it, his COVID policies mostly replaced and expanded the anger among that faction.

It is hard to sort out specific policies that angered his Republican critics, though masks are clearly the symbol. In general, it is anger at COVID and the exaggerations pushed by the media. 

It is the classic case of believing something is exaggerated until one sees it personally; kind of a doubting Thomas sort of thing. But the wrinkle is this: Skepticism has been carried to the next level with an assumption by the critics, that when someone you know got sick or died, that the reason (COVID) may not be the real reason, that the Chinese did this to you on purpose, that Trump is the only person who tried to protect you … in other words, there is some sort of giant conspiracy. Therefore masks, social distancing, banning assembly, etc are all part of this plot to make us serfs.

The fact that the president himself was seriously ill and now many of the top officials in our government have tested positive seems to have hardened the position of the diehards, though it has rattled pretty much every other American.  

In fact, if one reacts defiantly to an infected federal government, you are a Trump diehard. It has nothing to do with Supreme Court nominations or even defunding the police: You have become a Trump diehard. 

However, the question is not the diehards; it is about past Trump voters who find the Democrats increasingly leftist policies reprehensible but Trump also increasingly reprehensible. Will they stick with the Republican Party?

Holcomb, as a governor, couldn’t just tweet COVID away. He had to make decisions. Every decision was going to tick off, well, about half the people or more. It has been a tricky path. 

One poll suggested that the Libertarian candidate was viable. That would require another column, but I think the combination of polling accuracy problems, lack of understanding of straight ticket voting, and other distortions suggest that spoiler Libertarian vote may increase slightly but not cause Holcomb to lose. 

The removal of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, the best pro-life public advocate to have ever held that position and an across the board defender of conservative principles, further upset those already upset plus additional social conservatives. 

There are several reasons that I believe Todd Rokita will not only win the attorney general contest, but win comfortably even though his opponent is a very viable candidate. One Rokita strength is that he is a committed advocate of pro-life principles. No committed pro-lifer could justify a “no” vote. It would be putting personal frustration over saving babies.

Secondly, law and order, specifically supporting the police and the courts, may be the most critical Republican concern right now. The attorney general is the most important post related to that issue, though the governor and every state legislator is also important. Every conservative understands its importance. 

Cracks or not, there is likely to be some Republican slippage. Some of that damage is a long-term problem in Indiana as well as for Republicans nationally, such as suburban slippage (like in Hamilton County), female alienation by Trump, and increasing alienation of minority voters in all sub-groups including those once Republican (e.g. Asian-Americans).  A white male party is not viable. However, unless Trump continues to free fall, Republicans are likely to have a good year, if not a great one, in Indiana. 

But, as every Republican knows, waking up in the morning and checking the news is a bit of adventure these days. 

Souder is a former Indiana Republican congressman.