How Will Indiana Republican Politicians React to a Trump Administration?

Although much has been written on the potential impact of a Donald Trump presidency on national politics, we know very little about the implications of Trump’s election for state-level politics, especially in those red states — such as Indiana — where Trump performed well during the election. Will Indiana Republicans follow the steps of their new national leader and embrace Trump’s foreign and domestic policy positions, or push to implement their own Trump-inspired legislation at the state level? Will state leaders mimic Trump’s populist or nativist appeals, masking socially conservative legislation in a language of social or cultural renewal or racial exclusion?

This story draws from a number of scholarly reports and news articles, in addition to exclusive interviews with former Indiana Senator Richard Lugar; John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute; Shiela Kennedy, professor of public and environmental affairs at IUPUI; and Barbara McKinney, human rights attorney for the City of Bloomington.

The leadership transition within the Indiana Republican Party

The selection of Mike Pence as Trump’s vice presidential running mate in 2016 and subsequent removal from Indiana politics has tilted the balance of power within conservative circles in Indiana toward more moderate forces now led by the new governor, Eric Holcomb.

With the election of Holcomb, we can expect the state’s moderate Republicans to attempt to rebuild and reinvigorate the Mitch Daniels-era Republican coalition — a coalition dominated by Indiana business and corporate elites who appear less interested in the cultural politics of social conservatives and the Indiana Christian right.

Nonetheless, the next four years will be marked by significant contestation and factional infighting within state and national conservative circles. This conflict will first center on infighting between social conservatives and moderate Republicans over control of the policy agenda in Indiana. It remains too early to tell if Holcomb will be able to circumvent the entrenched power of religious conservatives in the state or what state-level government inaction on social issues will cost moderate Republicans in future electoral competitions.

We can also expect the next four years to be marked by substantial conflict between Indiana Republicans and the Trump White House should the Trump Administration make good on promises to reorient the American economy away from free trade and international commerce. Likewise, resistance to national efforts that seek to promote discriminatory policies against LGBT individuals can be expected, especially within the ranks of Indiana’s new moderate leadership.

The impact of the Trump presidency on American politics and the national Republican Party

With the emergence of Donald Trump as a prominent conservative political figure in June 2015, discussions over American politics have been marked by substantial debate over the impact Trump may have on conservative politics in the United States and on the future of the Republican Party.

Vice President Mike Pence. | Photo by <a href=

Trump’s attitudes toward international governance, transregional trade, immigration, and executive authority stand in stark contrast to the former political platforms of the GOP. After Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election and his subsequent inauguration to the presidency in January, Trump’s unorthodox policy positions — and political style — reinvigorated these debates over the impact a Trump presidency might have on the already fragile and tattered coalitions that make up the national Republican Party.

Some scholars and journalists expect Trump’s leadership of the Republican Party to be relatively benign. Despite frequent outbursts over social media and his authoritarian views on the exercise of executive power, they expect Trump to simply be the bombastic, populist guise of the more traditional socially and culturally conservative policymaking favored by his party’s established elite.

In the early months of the Trump presidency, for example, we have seen the emergence of a more traditional conservative agenda in the White House as Trump makes token policy gestures to conservative groups — such as the rollback of the Mexico City policy — or appoints prominent Christian conservatives to positions of power in the American federal bureaucracy. For some, Trump is crafting an agenda that will be deeply satisfying to the American religious right.

Others see the Trump presidency as a menacing force in American politics. The Trump presidency is emblematic of the GOP’s long historical slide toward a more xenophobic, nativist, and even more radical right-wing platform. On this point, Trump is simply the latest incarnation of right-wing impulses within the GOP, born out of the anti-elitism of the Tea Party and Libertarian movements, reflecting a deep-seated anger in American politics — especially among white working-class Americans — over demographic, cultural, technological, and social change.

With support from congressional Republicans, Trump has created a policy agenda that constitutes a sharp break from conservative doctrines of the past. For instance, Trump continues to assail the independence of the American judiciary as well as the integrity and political neutrality of respected American news agencies such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Trump has also — through executive actions — reshuffled his national security council, allowing former Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon to take part in top-level meetings on American military and security planning and, after April, to retain a senior position in the Trump White House. Breitbart News, under Bannon’s direction, became a platform for the so-called alt-right — a loosely connected set of organizations and people constituting a white-nativist, anti-globalization political movement. Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric, combined with the administration’s anti-Muslim policies, evokes a racialization of American politics long dormant in the GOP and rarely uttered publicly until now.


Aside from a small handful of voices, such as those of John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Susan Collins (R-ME), congressional Republicans and other conservative leaders have remained silent on a wide range of critical issues. Even in the wake of the controversial presidential executive order halting immigration to the United States in January, key figures such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) have yet to openly critique the Trump Administration’s turn toward a more European-style and ethnocentric form of authoritarian governance, despite mounting grievances among American political elites over Trump’s nativist and populist appeals.

The impact of a Trump presidency on politics in the State of Indiana

The most salient consequence of a Trump White House for Indiana politics is the removal of Pence from the leadership of the state Republican Party through the ascendency of that candidate to the vice presidency. The selection of Pence by the Trump campaign had immediate consequences for the 2016 Indiana gubernatorial election by causing a swift reshuffling of candidates within the ranks of the Indiana Republican Party, creating space for the emergence of politicians more moderate than Pence to run as the standard-bearers for the state GOP.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, pictured here as he was campaigning last year for Mike Pence's gubernatorial re-election prior to Pence's nomination for vice president. | Photo by <a href=

Holcomb’s victory signals an important shift within the Indiana Republican Party and the re-emergence of a more moderate, business-oriented coalition with less interest in the political grievances of the state’s social and cultural conservatives. As moderate Republicans gain greater influence in state politics, we can expect the state government to clash with the Trump administration, especially in regard to trade, immigration, and LGBT protections. Moderate Republicans in the state are staunch defenders of the status quo in regard to immigration reform, trade, and economic development. They are also likely to view repressive policies on LGBT rights as damaging to the reputation of the state and the country as a whole. IUPUI Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs Sheila Kennedy says, “Moderate Republicans are appalled at any socially conservative legislation that makes Indiana appear inhospitable to visitors to the state or unnecessarily complicates the economic lives of our residents.”

It is unknown how much sway social conservatives will have in state politics during Holcomb’s first term. We can expect the next four years in Indiana politics to be somewhat tumultuous, should the White House make significant moves in regard to reforming regional trade — especially the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) — commerce, protectionism, and other economic-development policies upon which Indiana is dependent or reaps benefits.

The 2016 election and candidate selection in the Indiana Republican Party

As governor, Mike Pence oversaw the implementation of some of the most socially and culturally conservative policies in the nation. In regard to state health care policy, the governor’s office drastically slashed the funding of Planned Parenthood in the state. In some rural locations — notably in Scottsburg, Madison, Richmond, Bedford, and Warsaw the assault on the health care provider effectively shut down some communities’ only viable source of testing for sexually transmitted infections. Some of these communities would soon after become the epicenter of an HIV outbreak, largely caused by the sharing of needles among intravenous drug users. The closing of Planned Parenthood in these communities exacerbated the outbreak, eventually causing the state government to scramble in establishing temporary clinics for HIV screening.

IUPUI Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs Sheila Kennedy. | Photo courtesy of IUPUI

IUPUI Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs Sheila Kennedy. | Photo courtesy of IUPUI

Pence’s “cultural war” stance on other social issues set his administration on a collision course with both Democrats and moderate Republicans — notably on abortion and LGBT protections. In 2015, Pence signed into law Indiana Senate Bill 101, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill provided legal protections for individuals and businesses to deny services to LGBT persons should individuals feel that providing such services “burdened” their free exercise of religion — a law that many saw as a license to discriminate. Former Indiana Senator Richard Lugar says, “When Governor Mike Pence proposed and backed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which granted local businesses the right to deny services to LGBT individuals, there were many conservatives — myself included — who thought, ‘This is not the Indiana that we know.’ There is a very sharp division within the Republican Party on LGBT issues — that is, between religious groups and the broader business community.”

This division extends to other social issues as well, such as abortion. When Pence oversaw abortion legislation that was considered to be the most restrictive in the country, several moderate Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly voiced opposition. The bill would have outlawed abortion services performed on fetuses known to have significant birth defects. Concerns began to mount over the ability of the state forcing women to have dangerous and complicated pregnancies that might endanger their own lives or put the health of mothers at risk. In March 2016, Representative Sean Eberhart — a pro-life Republican from Shelbyville argued, “Today is a perfect example of a bunch of middle-aged guys sitting in this room making decisions about what we think is best for women. We need to quit pretending we know what’s best for women and their health care needs.”  

For some observers of politics in Indiana, the shortsightedness of the Pence administration’s management of health care issues was part of a much larger issue in handling basic governance in the state. “Pence can be understood as more of a ‘culture warrior,’ and the ‘culture war’ positions did not endear him to the broader public,” says Kennedy. “Pence was also understood as rather unskilled when it came to governance and administration. In fact, Pence appeared more interested in the causes of the Christian right than in the practical, day-to-day ‘nuts and bolts’ of governance.”

Allegations of mishandling health care, an HIV outbreak in the southern part of the state, an epidemic of opioid addiction, in addition to much criticized legislation on social issues, placed Pence’s re-election in jeopardy. As the election neared, Pence’s gubernatorial race against Democratic candidate John Gregg drew into a dead heat. The increased popularity of Gregg in a deeply conservative state signaled the widespread discontent felt by many Hoosiers — inside and outside of government — with the Pence administration’s policies. This would only be exacerbated by continued allegations of Pence’s mishandling of infrastructure-development projects, the largest of which, the building of Interstate 69, continued to be fraught with delays, disputes, and allegations of governmental mismanagement.

Pence’s sudden selection as Trump’s vice presidential running mate offered an opportunity for Indiana Republicans to bolster their chances of retaining the governorship by running a different candidate. In July 2016, the Indiana Republican State Committee reviewed four potential candidates for the governorship, as Indiana law barred Pence from running for a state and federal office simultaneously, resulting in close selection of Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb over U.S. Representative for Indiana’s 5th District Susan Brooks of Carmel.


The selection of Eric Holcomb as a gubernatorial candidate and that politician’s subsequent electoral victory and inauguration as governor mark a moderate turn in Indiana politics. John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute with 25 years of experience covering Indiana politics for newspapers and on the statewide public affairs program Indiana Week in Review, says, “With Holcomb as governor, we can expect moderates to exert more control and influence over social and economic policy in the state.”

Points of conflict and collusion between Indiana Republicans and the Trump administration on manufacturing, trade, and globalization in the Midwest

The hollowing out of American industrial centers through globalization and the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs to Asia and Central America were the main tenets of the Trump campaign’s political message. Issues related to trade, industrial growth, and factory closures remained salient, especially among voters in the American Rust Belt — that is, the core industrial areas of the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region. This geographical area experienced substantial economic decline during the 1980s and 1990s, and the region’s voters are known for historically rooted preferences for trade protectionism.

However, Trump’s message on trade and manufacturing, while compelling to many voters in Indiana and neighboring states, did not adequately capture many of the economic realities of the region and seemed to fly in the face of available research on the issue — research which paints a more complex picture of manufacturing and industry in the region.

Indiana has long been known as one of the manufacturing powerhouses in the U.S., and the state — along with Oregon, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin — has been home to some of the most robust manufacturing gains in the post-recession period. According to recent reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Manufacturers Association, Indiana manufacturing jobs grew by 4 percent from 2010 to 2011, and since 2010 Indiana added the third most manufacturing jobs of any state in the nation. Roughly 17 percent of the Indiana labor force is employed in the manufacturing sector.

John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, has 25 years of experience covering Indiana politics. | Courtesy photo

John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, has 25 years of experience covering Indiana politics. | Courtesy photo

In June 2015, researchers at Ball State University published a report analyzing overall trends in U.S. manufacturing. The report notes that although total US manufacturing declined during the Great Recession, “national manufacturing production, in inflation-adjusted dollars, remains on a steady long-term growth path. By 2014, the manufacturing economy had completely recovered with record levels of production. The country’s growth of manufacturing has been a constant feature of the economy throughout the past century.”

Given the dominance of manufacturing and agriculture in the state, Indiana, like other Rust Belt states, is heavily dependent upon trade, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Canada and Mexico are Indiana’s top foreign trading partners. Almost half of the goods and commodities produced in Indiana are destined for international markets. Renegotiating NAFTA and other free trade agreements by the Trump Administration might translate into prolonged conflict with Indiana Republicans, given long-standing preferences among the state’s political elites for free trade. “Should more protectionist policies take shape at the federal level, we can expect a major negative impact on the Indiana economy,” says Ketzenberger, pointing to a January 2017 report from the Brookings Institute, which finds that four of the top ten metropolitan areas that stand to lose the most in a reversal of NAFTA are the Indiana cities of Kokomo, Columbus, Elkhart, and Lafayette.

The desirability of NAFTA, in particular, has a long history of debate in the United States. The linking of the developed economies of Canada and the United States to a less-developed nation like Mexico has raised concerns over depressed wages and increased incentives for the outsourcing of manufacturing across the southern border by U.S. businesses. In May 2014, the Peterson Institute for International Economics issued a report that included research findings on job losses in the United States incurred through participation in NAFTA. Researchers Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Cathleen Cimino-Issacs found that around 15,000 US jobs are lost each year as a result of NAFTA, but for each of those jobs lost, the American economy adds $450,000 in lower consumer prices.

A January 2017 report from the Council on Foreign Relations concludes that “experts largely agree that NAFTA has provided benefits to the North American economies,” especially in the increase in regional trade and cross-border investments. But they also agree that “it has proven difficult to tease out the deal’s direct effects from other factors, including rapid technological change, expanded trade with other countries such as China, and unrelated domestic developments in each of the countries. Debate persists regarding NAFTA’s legacy on employment and wages, with some workers and industries facing painful disruptions as they lose market share due to increased competition, and others gaining from the new market opportunities that were created.”

Former Senator Richard Lugar, pictured here in 2013. | Photo by <a href=

In addition to trade and manufacturing, for Ketzenberger the Trump campaign appeared to downplay other significant factors in regard to economic conditions in the Rust Belt. “Automation is a reality that a lot of people don’t fully appreciate,” he says. “We have seen that, through automation, the number of people employed by Indiana manufacturing and industry has gone down precipitously since the early 1980s. This has combined with the closure of factories, also the byproduct of automation. What was once done by hand can now be done by machines.” Ketzenberger also notes that education and skills — which have not been addressed by Trump — remain a critical component to unemployment or underemployment. “Mid- to late-career individuals, typically older individuals, have been displaced by the market,” he says. “There has been no adequate attempt to impart new skills to them such that they can find gainful employment in other economic sectors. There has been no new job creation for older individuals — whether they have new skills or not — and there has been little effort to push individuals to adapt to new economic realities.”

There also appears to be a sharp disconnect between perceptions of the Indiana economy and the realities of Indiana infrastructure. “Indiana is far more globalized than many Hoosiers realize,” says Senator Lugar. “Our labor force, utilities, education system, and our transportation infrastructure are set up to interact with the global economy. There is somewhat of a paradox in Indiana politics: We have some politicians in the state who are positioning themselves as ‘anti-global’ or ‘anti-foreign.’ At the same time, the economy of Indiana and its people are reaping tremendous benefits from the global economy, in terms of investment, exports, and job creation.”

Consequences of Trump’s election on minority relations in Indiana

Indiana, like many other states, has experienced a sharp increase in the number of biased-related incidents — including harassment and vandalism — targeting racial, religious, and sexual minority groups since Trump’s election. In December 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported more than 1,000 incidents of hate crimes nationally in the month after Trump’s election, with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-black, and anti-LGBT crimes topping the list. That same report found that 20 of these incidents occurred in Indiana. City of Bloomington Human Rights Attorney Barbara McKinney says, “I think that prejudice and inclinations toward bias and discrimination have always been a part of how individuals see the world. We all have some level of prejudice. However, how politicians behave and the political climate they foster can create an environment in which people feel that they have permission to engage in discrimination or prejudice and bias against minority groups.”


We can expect the reported statistics to be a low estimate given that only half of Indiana’s police departments actively report hate crimes and other instances of biased-related violence and harassment, and many victims don’t report the incident to authorities at all. Because of this, the public remains largely in the dark about the prevalence of hate crimes in the state, given that Indiana is one of five states without a hate crime law. “What bothers me,” explains McKinney, “is that people have a tendency to view civil rights or civil protections as the purview of ‘special categories’ of people — that is, that some parts of the community need more protection than others. But civil rights legislation and laws are for everyone; every person has a religion, a race, a sexual orientation, a gender, and so on. Civil rights laws and ordinances prevent discrimination against everyone.”

City of Bloomington Human Rights Attorney Barbara McKinney. | Photo by Lynae Sowinski

City of Bloomington Human Rights Attorney Barbara McKinney. | Photo by Lynae Sowinski

The spike in hate crimes, in Indiana and across the U.S., is largely attributed to Trump’s inflammatory remarks on racial minorities and immigrants. Many see Trump’s caustic positions on Muslims, blacks, and Latinos as stoking deep-seated prejudices and fears in the electorate, especially among working-class whites who view these groups as security threats and marketplace competitors over jobs and welfare resources. “Incidences of hate crimes or bias-motivated discrimination or violence appear to ebb and flow,” says McKinney. “The number of incidents appear to go up and down over time. For instance, immediately after 9/11, we saw a rise in prejudiced behavior against Muslims. In the post-2016 election period, we have also seen a rise in hate crimes or hate incidents. Racial symbols like swastikas have appeared in public places, and the Democratic headquarters [in Bloomington] was vandalized.”

The future of cultural politics in the State of Indiana

The removal of Mike Pence as governor is expected to have lasting implications for Republican politics in the state of Indiana, as it effectively constitutes the removal of a major player in the Tea Party movement and the broader networks of the American religious right from political leadership in the state. With Eric Holcomb now serving as the leader of the state’s Republican Party, we can expect a decline in the saliency of cultural and social issues among Indiana’s conservative political elites, with the caveat that it is, as yet, unclear if Holcomb will accommodate the grievances of evangelical political figures. Trump’s positions on trade, manufacturing, and globalization are at odds with the emergent governing coalition in the state. Should Pence, in his role as vice president, push for socially conservative policies on abortion, immigration, or LGBT issues, there is reason to suspect that moderate Republicans in the state will mobilize against him. Trump’s election had consequences for the expression of violence and harassment against ethnic, racial, and sexual minority groups in the state. Should Trump continue to engage in racially charged rhetoric, instances of hate crimes or biased-related prejudice may continue to increase.

Luke Wood
Luke Wood currently works as a research associate and policy analyst at the Indiana School of Global International Studies. He has taught courses on West European politics, comparative foreign policy, and social science research design at the Indiana University Department of Political Science and Institute for European Studies. His research interests include mass and elite political psychology and the foreign and domestic policies of advanced industrialized democracies in the North Atlantic region with a specialization in the politics of the Federal Republic of Germany. Luke served as a commissioner for Hispanic and Latino affairs at the City of Bloomington from 2013 to 2014. He has published research articles in Perspectives on Europe and German Politics & Society and is a regular contributor of essays and book reviews to the Journal of European Political Science, the Journal of Common Market Studies, and Humanities and Social Sciences Online. His most recent article, “Multilateralism,” is forthcoming in the SAGE Handbook of Political Behavior.
Lynae Sowinski
Lynae co-founded Limestone Post in the summer of 2015 and served for years as Editorial Director, working with all contributors and managing the editorial content for the site. A Bloomington native, Lynae graduated from Indiana University’s School of Journalism in 2012. She started her editing career at Bloom Magazine as a high school intern and, over the course of almost eight years, advanced to the position of Associate Editor. Lynae currently lives in Athens, Georgia, with her wife and daughter and works for Global Online Academy, a nonprofit organization that reimagines learning to empower students and educators to thrive in a globally networked society.

No Replies to "How Will Indiana Republican Politicians React to a Trump Administration?"