Old-Time Republicanism

Here in Indiana, Eric Holcomb is completing his second and last term as Governor. He recently delivered his final “State of the State” address, and it was brief, filled with (moderately boring) policy successes and remaining priorities–and touchingly reminiscent of what Republicanism used to sound like.

As John Krull wrote at The Statehouse File, Holcomb’s speech had a perfunctory feel to it.

One of the governor’s strengths—perhaps his greatest one as a leader—has been his ability to recognize and accept reality.

He first was elected to office in 2016, the same year that Donald Trump captured the White House.

During the intervening years, America has been a noisy, screaming place, filled with all the ceaseless screaming tumult Trump has produced as he has strutted upon the national stage.

Indiana, by contrast, has been an oasis of relative quiet.

Some of that is because Eric Holcomb is secure and comfortable enough with himself not to require everyone to pay attention to him every day and all the time. He’s willing to let whole weeks go by without asking people to watch him, listen to him or even think about him.

In other words, he’s a functioning adult, not an overgrown child—unlike many of our elected officials these days.

Holcomb has been an old-fashioned Republican, increasingly out of place in a party of rabid ideologues and immature posturers who haven’t the slightest interest in the process of actually governing.

We citizens tend to think of American politics as a contest between conservatives and liberals. That frame has always been inadequate and over-broad, but today it is simply inaccurate. MAGA Republicans are not just somewhat different versions of Eric Holcomb, and they are definitely not conservative.

 Persuasion recently considered  conservatism vs. GOP-ism, in an essay called “The Path Not Taken.”

The author traced what he called the two “strands” of conservatism, one of which he dubbed National Conservatism. It is the version “championed by former president Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis,” and it has very little in common with American conservatism. Rather than the small-government agenda of the former Republican Party, this version “seeks to use the power of the state to challenge cultural progressivism—as evidenced by Trump’s severe immigration policies and DeSantis’ top down remaking of Florida’s university system.”

In short, this MAGA version bears little or no resemblance to the Republican platforms that used to define conservatism.  

National Conservatives have shown themselves to be at best hopelessly naïve about the foundations of human flourishing, and at worst incapable of understanding that some people may wish to live a life different from their own. When not pressuring mothers into staying home from work with their kids, they are defending foreign despots for preserving their national identity at the cost of basic civil liberties. To allow National Conservatives free rein in the United States would be to permit the very worst elements of the right to control the levers of our government. In the process it would undercut genuine virtue and allow bureaucratic tyranny to grow unabated.

When I joined the Republican Party, “conservative” meant limiting the power of the state. It meant endorsing the right of individuals to forge their own life paths without government interference– at least, so long as they weren’t harming the person or property of others, or denying others the right to do likewise.

The “National Conservatism” described above has absolutely nothing in common with that bygone conservatism. It is overwhelmingly autocratic, and– as embraced by MAGA Republicans– increasingly fascist. Calling it “conservative” is both misleading and inaccurate.

A couple of weeks ago, Liz Cheney was on The View, and–as the saying goes–she “told it like it is.”

 “There are some conservatives who are trying to make this claim that somehow [President] Biden is a bigger risk than Trump,” she said. “My view is I disagree with a lot of Joe Biden’s policies. We can survive bad policies. We cannot survive torching the Constitution.”


I disagree with Cheney on almost all policy matters, but I admire her clarity and honesty about the existential challenge America is currently facing–and her recognition that it’s a challenge going well beyond policy differences.

Back in the day, the term “Conservative” wasn’t used to describe someone who wanted  government to dictate what citizens should believe and how they would be permitted to act. (It was interesting–and telling–that Eric Holcomb’s recitations of what he considered  to be GOP successes in his State of the State address omitted any mention of the draconian ban on abortion passed by the MAGA Republicans of the Indiana legislature.) 

Today’s MAGA Republicans are many things. “Conservative” is not one of them.


  1. I suspect Holcomb justified in his own mind that remaining silent was politically correct and best for the Republican Party and the state. He represented traditional’ Republican values. A Republican was almost certain to be elected governor and the alternative—-a Rokita, Braun, Banks, Beckwith, etc. would be a disaster.

    Remaining silent means, of course, that he’s complicit in the Republican Party’s attempt to destroy democracy.

  2. It seems that it’s time for the “Never Trumpers” to give a full throated, whole hearted endorsement of Joe Biden. I’ll understand if they wait tomorrow to see just how badly tfg beats Nikki.

  3. I keep waiting for Holcomb to tell the truth to his Republican followers about who won the last election and who led the insurrection on Jan 6. If he is such a strong and centered human, perhaps he could lead a move towards truth in Indiana….but not yet.

  4. Whatever his aspirations, whatever his dream of being a leader, Holcomb’s style was to lead by not leading. His strong silent persona morphed into cowboy wanna be guy. First the boots, then the beard. These recent years he seemed like a rancher in search of his cattle. Next January I fully expect to read that he has moved to Montana. And I’ll say, “Good for him.”

  5. I went to George W. Bush speech at Purdue in late 2022, and the one substantive thing that he said (that I can remember anyway) was that “democracy is self-healing.” He didn’t really add any context to that statement, but I feel it represents the view of many Old-Time Republicans who are still in that party. Many of them continue to “wait it out” and don’t really rock the boat when it comes to the Republican base’s thirst for “isolationism, an authoritarian crackpot president, and a big government that enforces their worldview.” (Sarah Longwell)

    Holcomb is cut from the same cloth. He may disagree with the ideologues in the Statehouse and AG’s office, but he’s not willing to rock the boat and goes along to get along.

  6. Going along “to get along,” is fine, up to a point, as Michael wrote, but I would expect that Holcomb is in a good position to speak Liz’ type of truth. Of course, if he has some hopes for a judgeship, or some such, he might just stay quiet…while the country burns down around him.

  7. “seeks to use the power of the state to challenge cultural progressivism—as evidenced by Trump’s severe immigration policies and DeSantis’ top down remaking of Florida’s university system.”

    That quote makes it sound benign, which it is anything but.

    It is using the cult-i-voting powers of belief that others are getting more of the pie, to control a share of the population. “Where is my pie?”

    Why am I not wealthy like those educated people who populate cities where the good paying jobs are? Or, like those coming across the border who, like all poor immigrants trying for better lives, are the real workers of the country willing to do anything and live anywhere (or nowhere as migrant farmhands). Or Muslims, or Hindus, or Buddhists, or those of no Faith. Or the ancestors of the original Africans violently uprooted from everything they had ever known and brought here as human livestock.

    In other words, there is a cult revolution going on here by those who feel that they are naturally superior and are not being treated as the entitled that they believe themselves to be.

  8. I’m glad Holcomb wasn’t another DeSantis, but I agree with the above comments taking him to task for going along to get along. He gets no praise from me for either integrity or courage.

  9. Holcomb didn’t look moderate when he blackballed Dr. Caitlin Bernard from receiving her Torchbearer award for doing her job under difficult circumstances.

    “Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Tuesday defended the state’s decision to reject a recommendation to name Indianapolis OB-GYN Dr. Caitlin Bernard a winner of the Torchbearer Award — considered to be the most prestigious recognition of Hoosier women.

    The Indianapolis Star first reported Tuesday that the rejection happened behind closed doors and with no explanation given to the judges who had unanimously selected her.”



  10. I believe Holcomb became more silent during his second term due to the extreme lashing he endured from the IN Chamber of Commerce and radical state republicans for requiring online education for grades 1-12 and businesses to create safe distancing within their premises, which forced many businesses to close due to the pandemic. It seems to me that if he wanted any type of political job in the future his best option was not to stir the pot about any radical republican beliefs or legislation.

  11. Silence when under a duty to speak is complicity. Yes, Eric is better than a De Fascist who excuses slavery, rewrites history, and has politicians rather than professional educators write the curriculum of public education K through graduate school while threatening librarians and OBs with prison for doing their jobs, even telling us what we can and can’t say, and who now has committed the ultimate sin – his endorsement of Herr Trump for Dictator of the USA; but no, Eric could have been a leader via veto power irrespective of being overridden, called legislative leaders into his office for amendments to their cave bills in re abortion, spending etc. posing as good policy choices etc., but he didn’t.

    Not a single legislator of either party during his reign was elected by the vote of all the people in Indiana; he was; and he did a lousy job in representing the will of all the people, whatever his motivation to stay in power since his reign was all for show marked by unexercised power, and that’s leadership?

    Parenthetically, it’s time to call silent as well as public endorsers of Trump’s candidacy what they are, i.e., endorsers not of Trump for president but endorsers of his openly stated plans to rule as a dictator, as in, TRUMP FOR DICTATOR! Someone ask Eric if he is in favor of the end of politics and our democracy should Trump be knowingly elected as a dictator and thus given the green light in abolishing the Congress, Supreme Court, elections, and other vestiges of our Madisonian/Jeffersonian experiment in democracy. With nothing to lose, perhaps we will get an honest and straightforward answer from this figurehead captive for all these years to the Republican supermajority. Perhaps.

  12. Democracy can never be self-healing when the Supreme Court has endorsed political gerrymandering that locks one party into perpetual power no matter how vile their policies become. Republicans cannot retain their grip on power without political gerrymandering and therefor will never cooperate in eliminating it.

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