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Sunday, April 21
The Indiana Daily Student

city politics

Who is Mike Braun, the frontrunner for governor?

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Editors note: This is part of a series of stories covering the 2024 elections. Read the rest of the stories here.

In gubernatorial candidate Mike Braun’s political career — as a businessman under his father’s wing, a self-funded outsider candidate overcoming doubtful polling and a modern sort of American conservative — it is impossible to ignore the influence of former president Donald Trump, who endorsed him for Indiana governor last November. 

He is the frontrunner for the Indiana governor’s office and doesn’t appear to be slipping. Like Trump and many of his fellow gubernatorial candidates, Braun describes himself as a political outsider, decrying special interest groups and career politicians.  

Braun’s team did not respond to requests for comment before publication. 

His background 

Braun grew up in the burgundy-red southern Indiana city of Jasper. He married his high school sweetheart and had four kids. After studying economics at Wabash College and receiving an MBA from Harvard Business School, he moved back to Jasper to sell kitchen cabinets and ultimately worked in truck body manufacturing with his father. 

As the 1980’s farm crisis hit the business hard, he helped transition Meyer Body Company toward selling other truck accessories and eventually formed Meyer Distributing. This bore incredibly successful fruit — his 15-person company grew to hundreds, operating in 98 locations today. In 2018, Braun’s assets were valued between $35-96 million. 

He briefly served in the Indiana Statehouse representing Jasper between 2015-17. Before his eventual tenure as a U.S. Senator representing Indiana starting in 2019, Braun was characterized in an IndyStar profile as a “man of the woods” who was tight in his personal spending. He would roam the forests of Dubois County hunting rabbits, doves and quail. He foraged for honeycomb-capped morel mushrooms in springtime. 

The 2018 midterms and a national realignment 

Braun decided to run in the 2018 senatorial election to represent Indiana in D.C. In his advertisements and debate appearances, he wore business casual attire, in contrast to his opponents in suits and ties at the debate stage. He beat out two representatives — the 6th Congressional District’s Luke Messer and now-Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita — to win the Republican nomination. Despite his frugal nature, he spent millions out of his own pocket in the race.

In the U.S. Senate election, he ran against then-incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly. Donnelly was a centrist — he was pro-gun, he was willing to work with Trump, but he held liberal positions on issues like labor protections and healthcare.  

The bipartisan coalition of voters who elected Donnelly in 2012 would appear strange given the modern political climate. There were still stark differences between corners of American life, but these times were comparably less polarized than Democratic cities and Republican small towns and rural areas today.  

In 2012, Donnelly won heaps of rural and ancestrally Democratic counties around the state, leading to a 5.6%-margin victory.  

Donnelly lost Braun’s home county of Dubois, but kept it narrow, receiving 44.6% of the vote. Dubois was one of these historically Democratic counties — Braun himself voted in Democratic primaries before his political career, to participate in the blue-skewed local politics of the area. 

Then came Trump, and the political environment that ensued.  

Trump shook traditional Republican positions to their core in his 2016 campaign and term as president. Suddenly, the party accepted protectionism in trade, isolationism in geopolitics and turned their backs on Republican leaders of the past — presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former president George W. Bush and many others in the old guard. 

Braun followed suit with this new conservatism in 2018. As a businessman, he vocally supported free trade policies, and as candidate in the Republican Senate primary, he disavowed tariffs in Trump’s trade war with China due to potential retaliation causing economic damage from China. He later came out in support of Trump’s protectionist policies in August 2018. 

Both Trump and Braun faced poor odds in their runs. Polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight gave Trump a 28.6% chance of winning the presidency in 2016. They gave Braun a 28.2% chance for the Senate seat in 2018. 

Both won anyway. Braun won by 5.9% in the midterm. Donnelly kept some of his support in rural areas, but much of it eroded away from underneath him as the national political environment shifted.  

A complicated Senator

During his tenure as Senator, Braun voted in line with Trump’s position 90.9% of the time. He largely continued his reputation as a cost cutter, voting against disaster relief that was supported by both parties and signed by Trump and blocking the release of CDC COVID-19 guidelines because it would “bog down the economy.” 

Sometimes, his positions would contradict Republican orthodoxy. But unlike Trump, he was in no position to restructure party doctrine.  

After Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, Braun released a bill that would have curtailed qualified immunity, a defense used by government officials and oftentimes police officers to dismiss suits in which they didn’t violate “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights. Braun’s bill would have made it easier to sue police officers for violations of these rights. 

Braun defended his bill in an interview with Tucker Carlson in June 2020, saying several law enforcement organizations, such as the Indiana State Police, Indiana Sheriffs Association and Fraternal Order of Police supported the legislation. 

“They’re not endorsing it, but they said it was a good template to work from,” Braun said in the interview. “They think it’s a better idea to be in the discussion than be outside of it.” 

He later pulled the legislation after fierce backlash from Republicans and police unions. In a 2021 IndyStar opinion piece, he walked back on his position. 

“I oppose any reform to the current doctrine of qualified immunity,” he wrote, after discussions with law enforcement and police groups. 

Braun also bucked traditional Republican positions on climate change and the environment, calling climate activist Greta Thunberg an “inspiration” after Trump’s attacks on her. 

Though he opposed the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, he was a co-founder of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. 

In an interview surrounding the confirmation of Supreme Court appointee Ketanji Brown Jackson, he said the court made the wrong decision in Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage nationwide.  

"So, you would be OK with the Supreme Court leaving the question of interracial marriage to the states?” the interviewer asked. 

“Yes,” Braun said.  

He later walked back those comments, claiming he misinterpreted the question. 

After the 2020 election and Trump’s false claims of election fraud, Braun joined a group of 11 Senators who said they would vote against certifying the 2020 presidential election’s results in several states. But after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol building, he voted against objections to certify Biden’s victory. 

According to the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University’s Center for Effective Lawmaking, Braun was the sixth most effective Republican Senator in introducing and passing substantive legislation.  

But Braun says he believes he would be more potent leading state government. 

“After serving Hoosiers in Washington, I know now, more than ever, our problems can’t be solved by the special interests and career politicians in DC, they must be solved right here at home,” he writes on his campaign site 

His campaign for Governor and policies 

Running in the most expensive gubernatorial primary in the state’s history, Braun’s internal polling indicates he will fight to keep Trump’s support and drown out his opponents using his advantages in name recognition and cash on hand.  

His website is not specific on policy but lists ideals he would promote if elected — including promoting economic growth and school choice, and to “stand up to woke corporations.”  

Braun says on his website he wants to see increased parental roles in school curricula, and remove discussions about critical race theory, gender identity and sexual orientation from the classroom. 

“Indiana state laws should reinforce the simple truth that there are only two genders, biological males should not be allowed to compete in girls’ sports, and ‘gender affirming care’ should be banned for minors,” his site reads. 

Like many other Republicans in the field, Braun also wants to cut taxes, though he does not specify which he would cut. As he did in Washington, he said he wants to downsize government as a cost-cutting measure, though he does not give specifics on what sections of government he would downsize. 

Braun is staunchly anti-abortion but highlights on his issues page that “pro-life means pro-family,” saying he would increase social support given to mothers and their children.  

He strongly supported the 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade, allowing states to make their own policies and restrictions on abortion. Indiana passed a near-total abortion ban in August 2023, permitting the procedure only in cases before 22 weeks if doctors detected a lethal fetal anomaly or until 12 weeks in the case of rape or incest. 

He also takes swings at hot-button national issues affecting Indiana, including tough-on-crime positions and funding “solutions that keep criminals and drugs, like fentanyl, from entering our country.” 

He will also continue or enact “America First” policies to secure Indiana’s security from what he calls a “humanitarian and national security crisis on our southern border.” 

“Otherwise, every town will become a border town,” the website reads. 

Moving forward 

Braun will skip the first Republican primary debate March 11, but will participate in the following three events before the primary election May 7. 

Will he fight to make the Republican primary into yet another battle between Trump-backed politicians and others backed by more “traditional” factions of the Republican party? 

How will he reckon his business-casual approach to politics with his ascent into national politics? Can he still effectively be called an outsider? 

As Governor, would he buck traditional Republican policy like he occasionally did as a Senator? Would he stand by his decisions? 

It remains to be seen.  

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