INDIANAPOLIS — The three candidates seeking Indiana's Republican U.S. Senate nomination left no doubt Monday in their final debate before the May 8 primary election that they all enthusiastically support President Donald Trump.
Throughout the 60-minute clash, U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Brownsburg, vowed to “fight” for Trump at all costs and “be a true ally in the United States Senate.”
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Greensburg, also pledged to be a “true ally” for Trump as Indiana's “true conservative” in the Senate.
Meanwhile, former state Rep. Mike Braun, R-Jasper, repeatedly insisted he's the best candidate to work with Trump because he's a political outsider and businessman just like Trump.
All endorsed Trump's proposal for a wall, not a fence, on the Mexican border, called for U.S. tariffs on foreign-made products and shared the president's support for the Second Amendment, including arming teachers in response to school shootings.
In addition, Messer promised to nominate Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize for the president's efforts to reconcile North Korea and South Korea.
Rokita, a Munster native, said he soon will file a Congressional resolution demanding the special counsel investigating connections between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia be concluded in 30 days.
Braun went so far as to adopt Trump's penchant for applying derogatory nicknames to his political opponents and dubbed Messer and Rokita “the swamp brothers” for serving in Congress during the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama.
In fact, the only thing the three candidates agreed on more than Trump's greatness was the utter unsuitability of their opponents to challenge U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in the November general election.
Braun over and over blasted Messer and Rokita as career politicians. Rokita and Messer teamed up to label Braun a tax-hiking Democrat.
Rokita also condemned Messer as insufficiently conservative while Messer labeled Rokita “a liar.”
The candidates had considerably less to say when asked by the moderator, conservative Indianapolis lawyer Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, what they might actually do if elected to the Senate — besides support the Trump agenda.
All three shrugged off the national debt as a serious problem. They said continued tax cuts will produce strong economic growth and unspecified spending reductions will balance the budget.
“President Trump is doing that. He needs more allies in the Senate to help him,” Messer said.
Rokita grandly pledged in his first six months as a senator to halt illegal immigration, end “sanctuary cities,” make English the nation's official language and impose term limits and a lobbying ban on members of Congress.
Braun said he would focus on addressing practical issues such as health care and infrastructure, just as he does as CEO of an Indiana auto parts distributorship.
“I've got real-world experience on how to deal with these problems,” Braun said. “Why would we trust two folks that have been part of the problem?”
Predictably, all three candidates claimed victory following the debate.
Even Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said the debate was a win — for Donnelly.
“After a nasty, expensive year, this primary is all but over, and none of the three candidates can escape who they are — flawed, unpopular, hypocritical candidates more at home in the swamp than in Indiana,” Zody said.
The limited amount of public polling in the Republican contest suggests that as many as 30 percent to 45 percent of Hoosier GOP primary voters still may be undecided.
In any case, the winner will be in a prime position to topple Donnelly who only narrowly won his Senate seat in 2012 and must seek a second term in a state that Trump carried in 2016 by 19 percent.