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John Krull commentary: How to seize defeat from the jaws of victory

The early skirmishing over who will be the Republican candidate for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat in 2024 demonstrates—conclusively—that the GOP of Ronald Reagan is dead and gone.

Reagan famously set forth what he called the 11th commandment:

“Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”

Reagan delivered that pronouncement because he knew the GOP needed all the votes it could get. If the Republican Party did not present a united front to the world, Republican candidates would lose.

Again.

And again.

And again.

The Gipper’s political wisdom has been confirmed in many campaigns, including here in Indiana.

The last time a Democrat prevailed in a Senate race was in 2012. That seat had been a lock for Republicans for nearly 40 years.

Richard Lugar had served for six terms. He would have cruised to a seventh if rightwing ideologues hadn’t torn the party to shreds in a nasty primary that allowed Richard Mourdock to emerge as the GOP standard-bearer.

Democrat Joe Donnelly ended up winning in the November general election.

A few years later, I talked with Donnelly about that campaign.

Donnelly genially acknowledged that Lugar would have beaten him. The hard-right ideologues did the dirty work for the Democrats and seized defeat from the jaws of victory.

They may be about to do it again.

Just a few days ago, the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee, launched an attack ad blasting Mitch Daniels, the just-retired Purdue University president and a former two-term Republican Indiana governor. Daniels is considering a Senate run.

The ad slammed Daniels for being a “moderate” and having no fight left in him.

Ironies and idiocies abound regarding the ad.

Let’s just deal with the biggest ones.

The president for the Club for Growth is former Indiana Republican congressman David McIntosh. McIntosh also was the Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2000.

He ran against a vulnerable incumbent, the late Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon. In a year in which George W. Bush reclaimed the White House for the GOP, McIntosh managed to lose in a red state.

His defeat came about because he demonstrated he had the same depth of understanding of how to run a statewide race as your average gerbil. A joke during that campaign went like this:

Any undecided voter who meets Frank O’Bannon walks away an O’Bannon voter. And any undecided voter who meets David McIntosh walks away an O’Bannon voter.

Four years later, Daniels ran against Democrat Joe Kernan, who had become governor when O’Bannon died in office. Kernan was an impressive candidate—a genuine war hero whose service as mayor of South Bend had been well-regarded before he became lieutenant governor.

But Daniels beat him and, four years later, won again when Barack Obama so energized Democrats that he moved Indiana into the blue column in the presidential race.

McIntosh since has made attempts to return to political office. He failed in each one.

Daniels has run for office only twice.

He won both times.

The notion that David McIntosh and his misnamed Club for Growth—really, it should be the Club for Governmental Dysfunction—have anything to teach Mitch Daniels about how to fight and win a statewide race is absurd.

So is the argument that Daniels isn’t a conservative.

During his eight years as governor, Daniels consciously worked to make Indiana a laboratory for conservative governance. He sought free-market solutions for every pressing problem because he believed, fervently, that the marketplace, left unfettered, generally would find better, more efficient answers than government would or could.

I thought many of his policies were mistaken or misguided. I still feel that way about more than a few of them.

But I respected the fact that his approaches were grounded in an intellectual honesty. He followed the facts as best he could and tried to find conservative resolutions to ongoing difficulties.

He didn’t pretend—ever—that reality wasn’t reality or that facts weren’t facts.

That’s a large part of what made and makes him formidable.

If you administer truth serum to Indiana Democrats, they’ll tell you they have no chance of winning the 2024 Senate race if Mitch Daniels is the Republican nominee.

Zip.

Zero.

None.

Those same Democrats, though, may have a new set of best friends.

David McIntosh, the Club for Growth and other rightwing zealots who know everything there is to know about how to lose.

Even when winning is a sure thing.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. The views expressed are those of the author only and should not be attributed to Franklin College.

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