“Voters are looking for authentic leadership that shoots straight and tells the truth,” U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., told me during a visit to The Times last week.
He was talking about himself, of course, and his campaign for U.S. Senate, in an attempt to unseat Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.
But if that’s what voters are looking for, they’re not finding all of what they’re seeking in the White House.
I asked Messer how President Donald Trump’s frequent prevarication — it has been proven time after time that he has lied to the American people — affects Messer’s working relationship with the president.
Messer said he supports the Trump agenda, but not necessarily Trump’s way of communicating with the public.
Later in the interview, Messer said Trump has a New York personality while Messer has more of a Hoosier style.
Messer faces competition in the primary, including U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, a Munster native.
Rokita and Messer are both strong supporters of Trump.
What remains to be seen in the 2018 election is what the Trump factor turns out to be.
Donnelly has a reputation for being a moderate in the Senate, and he has worked with Sen. Todd Young, a Hoosier Republican, on several issues since Young was elected last year. Republicans hoping to unseat Donnelly will tell their voters that Donnelly is aligned with liberals the majority of the time.
There are many Hoosier voters who have taken offense at a number of Trump’s actions while president, but I can’t help wondering how much his dishonesty has harmed the Republican brand.
For hard-core Republicans, it might not matter much, at least in the primary. Even fact-checkers like PolitiFact and Snopes have been denounced by Republicans who prefer to get their news from the right-leaning Fox News. And we all know, of course, that Trump and his strongest supporters have vilified the media whose job it is to serve as a government watchdog on the public’s behalf.
But beyond the primary, when the real race begins, Trump’s repeated untruths could prove corrosive to the Republican brand.
To be clear, I’m not saying strong Trump supporters like Messer and Rokita are, like the president, in the habit of lying to the American people. They seem to be, as Messer hopes to be, straight shooters.
But when relationships fail, it is often the drip-drip-drip of negative behaviors rather than a single catastrophic event that causes differences to be irreconcilable.
Trump’s approval rating is already the lowest of any modern president.
As a reminder, what Messer hopes voters are looking for in the Senate is “authentic leadership that shoots straight and tells the truth.”
At what point does the Oval Office occupant’s dishonesty affect others using the Republican brand?