INDIANAPOLIS — Hail to the victors, the undefeated among us: Frank O’Bannon, Julia and André Carson, Dan Coats, Mitch Daniels, Robert Orr, Lee Hamilton, Todd Young, Bob Knight’s 1976 Hoosiers, champions all in politics and sports.
In their time, they didn’t face the permanence of defeat and whether to accept such a fate.
There are other modern statesmen and women who have experienced the bitterness of defeat: Richard Lugar, Evan and Birch Bayh, Doc Bowen, Andy Jacobs Jr., Bill Hudnut, Steve Goldsmith, Dan Quayle, Joe Kernan, John Gregg and Pete Buttigieg. With their defeats, they accepted their fates in varying degrees of humility and grace. There are those like Mike Pence, John Brademas and Phil Sharp who would come back from the stings of multiple defeats to achieve the winner’s circle, the winning TV chyron.
In the coming weeks and months, Hoosier Republicans are going to face a choice: Whether to be willing to accept the fate designated by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voters, or whether to sign on to the corrupt motives, cudgels and bargains of the autocratic former president Donald Trump, who lives by Roy Cohn’s credo of never accepting a defeat; of simply proclaiming victory in the face of empirical results and evidence.
The fate of the republic, the fragile American experience in democracy, may be hanging in the balance of these individual – yet collective – choices. If Americans no longer accept the legitimacy of victory and the verdict of defeat, the American democracy will wane and, perhaps, collapse.
Growing up in Indiana, a Hoosier schoolboy was taught, “Winners never cheat, and cheaters never win.” In this context, the notion of a “sore loser” was implicit: They were never celebrated, instead, derided and cast away.
Each Memorial Day, a Hoosier schoolboy would be riveted to Paul Page on the radio, calling the Indianapolis 500. Many of us had the Walter Mitty experience, imagining his joining the milk-splattered podium revisited by four-time champions A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves. There may have been tears from vanquished Scott Goodyear or Marco Andretti or after mili-second defeats, but they accepted their fates, perhaps while realizing it was as close to victory as they would get. Perhaps there would be a tear shed in Gasoline Alley, but they never whined.
Indiana has a rich champion culture, beginning with Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne and extending through the decades of titlists: Jerry Sloan of the University of Evansville; Allen Bradfield at Vincennes University; Branch McCracken, Bob Knight, Doc Counsilman and Jerry Yeagley at old IU; Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, Lou Holtz and Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame; Carolyn Peck at Purdue; Slick Leonard with the Pacers and Lin Dunn with the Fever; Tony Dungy with the Colts; and Tony Hinkle at Butler.
In 2016, there was a merging of sports and politics as Trump barnstormed the state with Coaches Gene Keady, Holtz and Knight (who took credit for convincing the Manhattan billionaire to seek the White House).
President Trump’s White House tenure was, to say the least, tumultuous. He openly feuded with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and ended his term by goading an insurrectionist mob at the U.S. Capitol to “hang Mike Pence” on Jan. 6.
Coats authored a Sept. 17, 2020, New York Times op-ed in which the former Indiana senator laid out the stakes: “Voters … face the question of whether the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history, will survive. Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people."
Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan wrote in an op-ed last week, “Our constitutional crisis is already here.” Kagan writes, “Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way."
According to analysis by The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, “1. Trump tried to pressure secretaries of state to not certify; 2. tried to pressure state legislatures to overturn the results. 3. tried to get the courts to overturn the results. 4. tried to pressure Mike Pence to overturn the results. 5. When all else failed, Trump tried to get a mob to overturn the results.”
Since Jan. 6, there have been 11 states that have changed laws that will allow partisan committees to determine the acceptance of election results, as opposed to the various secretary of states – including Republicans in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona - who made the correct calls in 2020.
In the coming months over the horizon, individual Republicans are going to be in a position to help determine the course of the GOP and the future of the American democracy. According to filmmaker Ken Burns, in the American experience, "There are three great crises before this: The Civil War, the Depression, and World War II. This is equal to it."
Is it now “all’s fair in love and war?” Or should it be more of “it’s how you play the game?” About how you accept the results without blaming someone else and whining or changing the rules.
The fate of the republic hangs in the balance.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.