The Republican primary for Indiana’s U.S. Senate race features three candidates vying to challenge incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). Jasper businessman Mike Braun was the last of the three to join the campaign. Braun, who’s built his auto parts distribution business into a multi-million-dollar enterprise, is also a former state representative. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Brandon Smith sat down with Braun to discuss issues in a race that’s been called one of the nastiest in the nation.
Brandon Smith: Now you talk about these crises and downturns that you’ve lived through in your businesses, in your life. Some Hoosier farmers are a little worried about the next one around the corner with the trade war with China, with the tariffs. Indiana would be hit harder than most states in the nation because of that. Are you worried those farmers are going to take their anger out on someone who’s aligning themselves with President Donald Trump?
Mike Braun: If, in fact, there is retaliation in a significant way as a result of holding China accountable – I think Trump resonated in this state because we’re all for free and reciprocal trade. And I think we’re seeing already where this is going to lead to at least addressing it and not kicking it down the road or sweeping it under the rug. I think that, in this particular case, his goal was to start the conversation. I feel real good about his leadership and where he’s gonna go with this.
Smith: But if China retaliates…
Braun: That’s if, and it’s hypothetical, and I trust President Trump and his group of advisors to make the right calls there. I don’t think his goal is to start a trade war. His goal is to bring this conversation to the table and I think so far he’s done it about right.
Smith: Supporting Donald Trump, the person. Are you worried about tying yourself that closely to someone who could go off-book?
Braun: No, because I was inspired when he ran. If he had not made it through the gauntlet, kind of outmaneuvering all the establishment politicians, we’d have more of the same and we’d have all the problems that have built up over 20 to 30 years. Hoosiers liked him when he ran and like him now, if not better, because he represents something different.
Smith: Do you think you’d feel comfortable criticizing Donald Trump for a decision while still saying you support him?
Braun: If it was on the policy or the substance, I’m going to speak my own mind like I intend to do.
Smith: Now you talked about, you came to the statehouse to be a state [representative] because you saw the infrastructure was "lacking and terrible." At the end of the day, you did vote for a tax increase. Why should voters be OK with that?
Braun: That’s something you need to answer. First of all, it was something that all Hoosiers wanted and they’re happy for it because now, if you’ve been driving around the state like I have, all around the state, the potholes are still there. Thank goodness we’ve got this in place to start repairing the roads and then do some of the projects we need to complete like the last leg of I-69.
Smith: But when you’re talking to a voter, isn’t it easier for a voter to hear ‘Well he raised taxes,’ as opposed to, "Well he raised taxes – but for all these reasons?"
Braun: I think voters are smarter than that and if they’re driving our roads, they’re going to know it. I think a guy like Todd Rokita, who is on record saying states ought to take this responsibility of raising their gas taxes. That’s what I’d be concerned about is somebody that says something like that and then has the gall to bring this up as a campaign issue.
Smith: You did vote in Democratic primaries for a couple of decades. Should Republicans trust that you are a lifelong Republican?
Braun: I’m a lifelong Republican and a conservative one. And that shows a lack of knowledge about Indiana politics. If you grew up in any county basically south of Indy and south of Bloomington, for sure, it’s culturally and fiscally more conservative than most places in the middle of the state that have been legacy Republican counties.
Smith: Are you worried that the bruising nature of this primary is just feeding into Joe Donnelly?
Braun: I think only when it comes to the two of them. For me, I’ve pretty well just said all three of my opponents are career politicians.
Smith: If either [Luke] Messer or Rokita were to come out the winner, would you feel comfortable supporting them against Joe Donnelly?
Braun: I’m going to be behind the conservative candidate that is a Republican winner, sure.