Three Republican candidates are jockeying for a chance to unseat Democratic incumbent Senator Joe Donnelly this year. Luke Messer joined that race after serving in Congress since 2013 – with a few years at the Statehouse on his resume before that. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Brandon Smith talked with Messer about issues in the bruising GOP primary campaign.
Brandon Smith: I want to jump right in. The topic lately that’s mattered a lot to a lot of Hoosiers, particularly Hoosier farmers, is this issue of tariffs and a potential trade war. What do you say to Hoosier farmers about how they’re going to deal with what President Donald Trump is doing?
Rep. Luke Messer: Well listen, first, the Hoosier farmers I talk to appreciate President Trump’s leadership and they understand that we’ve been in a trade war with China for some time. China has been at war with us – they steal our intellectual property, they treat our products unfairly, they manipulate their currency. And so Hoosier farmers appreciate the president’s leadership. They are of course understandably worried about some of China’s threats of bullying our agricultural products. And so the details of how we roll this out over time will be important. But I trust the president to implement it in a way that’s good for Hoosier farmers.
Smith: Speaking of the president, obviously you and Mr. Rokita and Mr. Braun are all doing your best to align yourselves with President Trump, to say, you know, ‘If you want somebody who supports President Trump, send me to the Senate.’ Are you worried about tying yourself so closely to someone who can be so unpredictable?
Messer: The vast majority of Hoosiers support this president’s policies. And I can tell you as I travel the state, people appreciate this president’s policies, they feel like he’s under fire – unfairly much – from the national media. And they care, frankly, a whole lot more about the substance of this president’s policies than they do the style of his tweets.
Smith: Perhaps the signature achievement so far of the Trump administration has been the federal tax bill. Are you worried that the average Hoosier won’t be seeing enough in their paycheck that they’re going to hold you accountable for that?
Messer: Frankly, I think that’s just out of step with what I hear when I talk to working Hoosiers. Folks are seeing pay raises because the economy’s going better and there’s more competition for workers. Lots of folks have seen bonuses because their employers now have money to provide those bonuses. Folks are starting to see more money in their paycheck because the withholdings – even though the tax cuts don’t fully take effect until next year – the withholdings are bringing dollars into people’s paychecks. That’s what people care about. Listen, most Hoosiers are focused on their own life. They’re not worried about all that politics of envy that some on the left are trying to describe.
Smith: You’ve campaigned talking about deficits and how the burden we’re placing on future generations is going to be crushing. And yet the federal tax bill would add significantly to the deficit over time. Why are those two things compatible in your mind?
Messer: I just don’t believe those – the same actuaries that made the analysis you describe said that the deficit would go down under Obamacare. That didn’t happen.
Smith: Much has been made about your residency. You spend a lot of time living in Virginia with your family because you’ve said, repeatedly, your kids deserve a full-time dad. Are you worried that you simply don’t have enough time to devote to being a U.S. senator?
Messer: No, the only time I hear that concern is when it’s raised by folks that are trying to run against me in this primary campaign. I have hustled and worked hard over the last six years in a 19-county district, making sure that we’re present. I’m a lifetime Hoosier and somebody that also loves my kids and believes my kids need a full-time dad. And I am confident that I can serve the state of Indiana and also look out for family – as Dan Coats did, as Dan Quayle did, as Mike Pence did, and as I have over the course of the last six years in Congress.
Smith: This has been a bruising primary from all sides. Whoever wins, are you confident the party is going to be able to rally around the candidate?
Messer: Well I’m confident the party is going to be able to rally around the candidate because I believe I’m gonna be that candidate. I sincerely believe, when we get through this, because we’ve conducted our campaign with integrity, because we’ve been honest and stayed focused on the truth, we’re going to be in a strong position.