By MARK SOUDER

FORT WAYNE - On thing will be certain next Tuesday: If Mike Braun defeats incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly, it will be Trump who won the race.

The president is making sure that is clear to everyone by making repeated appearances in Indiana, including stops the day before the vote. Obviously, internal polling – far more frequent (probably daily), possibly by the Brad Parscale operation – is optimistic that Braun will win or it is unlikely that the president would risk his political reputation on Indiana. His advisors also clearly understand that turnout is the key, or he would not be appearing in Fort Wayne on Monday night.

There are some interesting subtexts going on as well. Normally when a key battle is in the home state of a sitting vice president, the closing arguments would be from the vice president. Clearly, Trump wants this victory to be seen as his victory, not that of Mike Pence.

The vice president has changed his personal emphasis since joining with Donald Trump. Mike Pence recognized the potency of Trump as a brand. In government, as he was in business, Trump is obsessed with the brand “Trump.” He wants it to be seen as his version of classy and, most importantly in his mind, be perceived as a winner. Everything must be the best ever. He makes no apologies. He just keeps moving forward with new greatest things and assumes people will forget any past mistakes.  

When Pence joined up with this brand, he knew that he would be, in a way, like the backside of an old 45 rpm record that had a number one hit and something else on the B- side. Vice presidents mostly are supposed to wait quietly unless the president dies or happens to call, filling in at funerals and traditionally campaigning in smaller states or those where their political party is strongest. Presidents go to big states with larger populations. 

In 2018, the battle for control of the U.S. Senate ironically has led to many key battlegrounds coming in non-swing states President Trump won by significant margins that normally would fall to vice presidential political duty. But we have a president who loves to campaign, loves the simplicity of sloganeering to cheering fans, and loves to have a day when winners are clear. Especially if it is him winning.

As for governing, it’s not much fun. People are always telling him that it is complicated, giving him things he’s supposed to read, and suggesting that perhaps he should listen more. Governing to this president seems to be by gut feel, emotion, certain preconceptions, advice from randomly selected acquaintances, and reinforced by people who know how to tell him variations of what he wants to hear. All presidents do this – all of them. But this president probably quadruples the normal mix of those factors compared to listening, reading and experience dealing with key issues.

The vice president has essentially traded his independent image for the right to quietly influence the government’s policies in several critical ways. Most importantly, he helps guide the president through details and personnel to implement things the president said he’d do or wanted to do. Some of those things were said because they were politically useful (e.g. socially conservative positions) and others for a blend of his previous views and political value (e.g., court appointments). In Donald Trump’s previous life, these things were not a big focus.  

There are also many smaller things. President Trump has opinions on health care, though historically they have been all over the map from left of Bernie Sanders to a more traditional conservative, free market approach. The secretary of the agency that has to actually guide the details of the massive agencies under Health and Human Services is Alex Azar of Indiana, along with Seema Verma of Indiana, whose area oversees 26% of the federal budget.  

The Hoosiers in the government are not the noisy ones. Think Dan Coats, who oversees national intelligence. They are smart, honest people who work to make things happen without stepping on the president’s credit when things go well. This is also true in foreign policy and military issues, and largely with views that match those of pre-Vice President Pence.

So here, in the days before Election Day, it is Donald Trump riding in to rescue Mike Braun and defeat the incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly, in a state where Donnelly – if he wasn’t Joe Donnelly – could be losing by 30 points.  Braun has almost no effective grassroots enthusiasm. His ads veer wildly between awful, mediocre and sometimes very good. He basically had two themes: I am a businessman and I wear a blue shirt, not a coat and tie.  

Donnelly mostly tried to sell that he wasn’t some crazy liberal Democrat, that he tried to get people to get along and find some sort of a middle way, and that he actually would sometimes work with the president. He also constantly harped about Braun’s blue shirt, which appears to have persuaded few but which actually reminded them that Braun wasn’t a stuffy businessman or politician. Some of his attacks on Braun’s specific business practices, however, did have an impact in spite of the blueness waste-of-time. The Mexico Joe and China Mike nonsense also just confused people. The attempt to turn the issue into about who was the biggest hypocrite failed as well. If they are such hypocrites, why did the recent poll show Donnelly with 52-41 favorable/unfavorable rating and Braun with 47-39 favorable/unfavorable? That is a rather astounding rejection of the campaign approach of both sides. Did people find these ads so false that they assumed if each man was being called hypocritical by the other, then both must be pretty honest men?

And why did the same poll that showed 52% viewing Donnelly favorably show him losing the race? It suggests that even though Donnelly is likable and viewed favorably as a senator, they want Republicans to control the Senate. That also is what seems apparent when talking to voters. As Election Day gets closer, the polling becomes more accurate and seeming poll contradictions can more easily be reconciled if supplemented by listening to voters, as well.

Mike Braun, like some other candidates, has been shielded from intense cross-examination. I would suggest that most Harvard graduates who build highly successful businesses are not stupid, incapable of answering questions. The problem was more that Braun is likely blunt and inexperienced in the nuances of campaigning. He also may be warm with his family and people he trusts, but no one is calling him gregarious and chatty. In other words, had I been his campaign manager, I too, would have stressed a simple strategy: Don’t make mistakes.  

It appears to me that Mike Braun will win because he didn’t make any significant mistakes in a heavily conservative state that also is a strong pro-Trump state. Turnout will decide it, but President Trump has done everything he possibly can to boost it. In the critical Republican area of northeast Indiana, the Democrat candidate for Congress has turned out to be very weak compared to Congressman Jim Banks. She raised lots of money, but a big win by Banks would likely back-off Democrats from repeating such a mistake again. Donnelly has no ballot assistance here, at any level, and the congressional candidate will likely be a drag on his vote here. 

Furthermore, Sen. Lindsay Graham, a month ago, was announced as speaker for the Allen County GOP Bean Dinner that was being held five days before the election. It was immediately sold out. Now with President Trump is also appearing here Monday night, a few days after Graham. Media coverage of the Trump event has been non-stop every day since the announcement. If these events, plus Congressman Banks and down-ballot GOP strength in all the region’s counties, don’t propel turnout, it is not clear that anything would have.  

If Republican turnout holds, President Trump will have gambled correctly. So, will Vice President Pence.