I’ve pretty well abdicated my normal blogging activity for the Indiana Bicentennial history posts. So, it’s probably not surprising today’s news about Kasich and Cruz put me in mind of Indiana’s political history — mainly that we’ve fallen long and hard. Kasich is basically trading Indiana to Cruz in return for Oregon and New Mexico. He’s suspending his campaign in Indiana and urging his supporters to vote for Cruz while Cruz is apparently doing the same in New Mexico and Oregon. The notion that Cruz would have any appeal at all to your average Kasich supporter is a little tough to buy. Additionally, this reminds me of one of those “Survivor” strategic moves attempted by players who are: a) in a weak position; and b) think they’re smarter than they are. If electoral politics has completely transformed into a reality show, you have to like Trump’s odds.
In any event, the fact that Indiana can be casually traded like a late round draft pick was jarring to me after having spent some time this weekend reading about Indiana’s role in the political campaigns of the 1880s. It was a hotly contested state that Democrat Grover Cleveland won in 1884 with former Indiana governor, Thomas Hendricks as his running mate and that Republican, Benjamin Harrison won in 1888. The state was very evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats and, apparently, wildly corrupt in its voting.
Intensely polarized and almost perfectly balanced in partisan strength, “venal Indiana” was notorious during this period for bitterly contested, frequently corrupt elections with miniscule margins between victory and defeat, margins often secured with the votes of nonresident or irregular floaters at two to five dollars each. In a perceptive and persuasive study of the Dudley scandal, historian James L. Baumgardner has argued that aggressive but surreptitious pursuit of the floater vote, while simultaneously accusing the opposition of similar conduct, was standard practice for both parties in Gilded Age Indiana.
The state became important after Reconstruction ended and the white Democrats in the South took firm control of the section. In the wake of the Civil War, northern states tended to be Republican. However, Indiana has long been “the middle finger of the South thrust up into the North.” So, it was winnable and important.
Today’s announcement shows that we no longer have that kind of clout.