May 23, 2023 at 9:00 a.m.
By Brian Howey
“Where do I begin?” U.S. Sen. Todd Young asked the Capitol Hill reporter.
Young had just become the first current elected Hoosier Republican officeholder to say he would not support Donald Trump’s presidential renomination in 2024, and the reporter wanted the senator to elaborate.
Sen. Young’s statement had come just hours after Trump’s comments related to the Russia-Ukraine war during a May 11 CNN Town Hall. Moderator Kaitlan Collins had asked the former president whether he wanted Ukraine or the Russians to win the brutal 15-month war.
“I don’t think in terms of winning and losing,” Trump said.
For Young, that appeared to have been the tipping point.
“That’s why I don’t intend to support him for the Republican nomination,” Young said. “I think President Trump’s judgment is wrong in this case. President Putin and his government have been engaged in war crimes. I don’t believe that’s disputed.”
Sen. Young has demonstrated the political patience of Job.
Where to begin?
How about Jan. 5, 2021, when then-President Trump sabotaged the second of two Georgia U.S. Senate seats, giving Democrats control of the upper chamber? Young had been chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, raising a record amount of cash for the GOP’s effort to hold onto its Senate majority.
Or how about a day later, when Trump inspired what has become known as the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection? Confronted by Make America Great Again supporters outside the Russell Senate Office Building, Young told them, “My opinion doesn’t matter. And you know what, when it comes to the law, our opinions don’t matter, the law matters. The law matters. I share that conviction that President Trump should remain president. I share that conviction, but the law matters. I took an oath under God. Under God!”
In the coming hours, that mob would erect a gallows on Capitol Hill and prowl the halls of the Capitol chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”
In a statement on Jan. 6, 2021, Young said, “As Congress meets to formally receive the votes of the Electoral College, I will uphold my constitutional duty and certify the will of the states as presented. The people voted and the Electoral College voted. Congress must fulfill its role in turn. Like so many of my patriotic constituents and colleagues, I, too, wish the results of this election were different. But upon assuming this office, I took a solemn, inviolable oath to support and defend our Constitution, just as I did as a United States Marine. I will not violate that oath.”
When the breadth and scope of the insurrection came into focus a day later, Young blamed it on “a failure for many of our leaders to be truthful to the American people about what precisely has happened in our elections in recent months.” Asked if President Trump played a role in encouraging the violence, Young responded, “Of course. He’s president of the United States.”
Where to begin? During the recent CNN Town Hall, Trump:
• Labeled as a “thug” the Black law enforcement officer who shot insurrectionist Ashley Babbitt as she tried to break into the House chambers.
• Repeated baseless election conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential race.
• Insisted that Vice President Mike Pence should have overturned the election.
• Suggested that he would pardon many of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.
• Lied about calling for “terminating” the U.S. Constitution so he could be returned to power outside the election process.
Young, who was reelected last November and will not face Hoosier voters again until 2028, also detailed political objections to a third Trump nomination.
“You want a nominee to win the general election,” he said. “As President Trump says, ‘I prefer winners.’ He consistently loses. In fact, he has a habit of losing not just his own elections, but losing elections for others. I don’t think he’ll be the nominee. Republicans are in a winning mood. We want to win. We know he’s the shortest path to losing.
“I can’t think of someone worse equipped to bring people together to pass legislation and advance our collective values than the former president,” Young added. “I don’t think conservatives would be well served by electing someone whose core competency seems to be owning someone on Twitter.”
Since Young’s break with Trump, there has been no outward migration away from the former president in Hoosier GOP circles, even as former Gov. Pence prepares to enter the 2024 presidential race.
U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, who will be before voters in the May 2024 gubernatorial primary, reacted to the CNN Town Hall, telling the Washington Examiner, “He’ll have to explain his own answers. Any of the rest of us that try to, I’m sure it wouldn’t make sense anyway.”
Braun added that the eventual GOP nominee must “have a plan that the American people are going to buy into, that makes us competitive in the swing states. When it comes to that candidate who can portray what was working so well pre-COVID and we know who that was, that was President Trump. It was not that difficult.”
Brian A. Howey is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at StateAffairs.com/pro/Indiana. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.