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Indiana GOP must find way to blend or merge ideas and policies of distinct political subcultures

Sunday, April 7, 2013 - 12:01 am

The results of November 2012 were eye-opening — or should be — to the national Republican Party. Although President Obama’s 2012popular vote percentage(51 percent) and Electoral College votes (332) were not as large as it was in 2008, they were still sufficient to hand Mitt Romney and Republicans another loss.

The national GOP establishment recently hid behind closed doors in Williamsburg, Va., crafting what would become their “manifesto” for future elections. The primary goal of the 100-page “manifesto” was to change strategy and tactics, while forging better outreach to minority groups, such as blacks, Hispanics, Asians, independents, college-age and young women, all with the intention of convincing voters in these groups that for 2014,and certainly for 2016, the Republican Party is a better bet than the Democrats.

Good luck!

Changing strategy and tactics is one thing — for example, the national Republican Party allocated $10 million to contact blacks and Hispanics — but solidifying a message that is coherent and organized and on target; well, that is something else. The national Republican Party has its work cut out for it.

Can the tea party adherents and Libertarian Party help? At the national level the tea party has provided support for Marco Rubio, Florida’s newest senator, touting him as a presidential contender in 2016, and libertarians and some

Republicans have rallied around Rand Paul, boosting his chances for 2016 as well.

Although both Rubio and Paul identify with the Republicans, they exude the values of freedom and rational, no-nonsense perspectives of the tea party and Libertarian Party, respectively. The tea party adherents continue to push for common sense approach to budgeting and taxation, while the Libertarians focus on states’ rights, non-interventionist foreign policy strategies, and moderate to liberal positions on social and cultural issues.

Are the positions of the tea party and the Libertarians compatible enough to provide a coherent, workable support basis for the GOP, both at the national and state levels, and particularly here in Indiana?

To address this question let’s begin with a political culture framework developed by political scientist Daniel Elazar. Elazar predicted that political culture in the United States developed in different regions of the country, largely as a result of westward migration, with similar thinking and acting people congregating with each other, thus forming political cultures. Although typical voters don’t generally think or act ideologically, scholars note similarities through voting patterns, survey results and historical shifts, thus enabling them to gain insight into not only regional likenesses, but within states as well.

Elazar proposes three basic political culture categories: moralistic, individualistic and traditionalistic. Moralistic political culture upholds society and government, recognizing the need to see government as a positive force, thus emphasizing the “commonwealth conception” as the foundation for democracy. States in the West (Washington, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming) and North Central (Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin) are typically labeled moralistic states. These states embrace a more liberal and even progressive ideology, typically siding with the Democratic Party. Individualistic political culture recognizes the practical orientation of government. Government is “instituted for largely utilitarian reasons,” thus limiting government activities and encouraging private and non-profit activities. States in the Middle-Atlantic through Illinois, including Indiana, tend to be most prevalent.

Traditionalistic political culture strongly emphasizes “social and family ties,” thus reflecting an “older attitude that embraces a hierarchical society.” The traditional political culture is generally confined to Southern states, i.e. all of the Deep South states, while spreading into Texas and even northward into southern Indiana

How does Elazar’s political culture thesis play out in Indiana? And what do these results mean in relationship to the oncoming impact of the tea partiers and the Libertarian Party?

First, Indiana is considered the “reddest of the red Midwestern states.” Since 1940 Indiana has only voted twice for the Democratic presidential candidate, both of whom won the election (e.g. Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and Barack Obama in 2008). And,in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections, both won by the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton; Indiana was an “island of red,” not bordering another red state (www.270towin.com/states/Indiana).

In his inaugural address, Gov. Pence solidified the individualistic political culture by noting the strength and fortitude of its people. For example, he noted that Indiana is a great state, and “the core of that greatness remains our people … Hoosiers have strong opinions and stronger hearts. They are hardworking, honest, patriotic.”

He went on to say that Indiana was the first state “born” in the wake of the War of 1812, and despite the many hardships Indianans have endured, they “were builders, farmers — people of fortitude and courage, men and women who chose to brave harsh weather and hardship.” It appears that Indiana is a state that politically, culturally, and historically should embrace the fiscal conservatism of the tea partiers and the common-sense approach of the Libertarians. But does it?

We have access to some empirical results that would suggest that Indiana, although in the past has not readily and quickly embraced either the tea partiers or Libertarian Party, is closing ground on reconciling with both movements. In Charles Bullock’s edited book, “Key States, High Stakes: Sarah Palin and the 2010 Elections” (2012), Ball State University political scientist Raymond Scheele and Michael Maggiotto, dean of the college of the arts and sciences at Ball State, wrote a chapter entitled “Coasts v. Ellsworth: The 2010 Indiana Senate Race.”

The authors looked fairly closely at the influence of the Indiana tea party in that particular election and found some interesting polling data compiled by the Downs Center on Indiana Politics at IPFW. When asked “if they were Republicans and if they identified with the tea party,” for those who answered “yes” to both questions, 30 percent supported Dan Coats, 23 percent supported Marlin Stutzman, former state legislator and now congressman from the Third District, and 21 percent sided with John Hostettler, strong social conservative and former congressmen from the Eighth District.

Overall, Scheele concluded that although “the tea party in 2010 had not penetrated Indiana as deeply as their supporters had in some other states,” but that “Indiana’s individualistic political culture would seem to make it ripe for penetration by the tea party movement.”

Further, Scheele notes “To the degree that the tea party can transform itself from a disconnected set of local activists into an organized force capable of articulating political objectives that make concrete their cry that less is more, it may affect the course of Indiana Republicans.”

That was two and half years ago. Today, Scheele contends that “with the defeat of Richard Lugar by Richard Mourdock in the 2012 Republican Senate primaries, with the increasing number of GOP county chairs that identify with the tea party… and the support of the tea party by Gov. Pence himself;” it would seem that the tea party is alive and well and having influence upon the Indiana Republican Party.

Scheele concludes by inferring that the Republican Party — if it hopes to make gains in 2014 mid-terms and 2016 presidential election — will need the strength of the tea party faithful. He contends that the tea partiers “come with a libertarian streak … but also with a set of other positions that are very difficult to compromise,” i.e.social and fiscal conservatism, primarily.

The challenge to the Indiana GOP is to find a way to blend or merge the ideas and policies of the distinct political subcultures. Indiana is a likely state to be able to accomplish this and, if so, a new winning coalition will produce results in 2014 and beyond, and, perhaps, even serve as an example to GOP parties in other states.

Stephen M. King, Ph.D., is an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and professor of political science at Taylor University.