If nothing else, the first virtual Indiana Republican Party Convention showed just how awkward politicking can be in a time of pandemic.
Unable to gather in large crowds for reasons of health and safety, the GOP chieftains had to resort to holding their confab Thursday evening in studios, offices and homeplaces with the action being broadcast and livestreamed.
The results were a mixed bag.
Gov. Eric Holcomb came off the best.
The regular briefings on the coronavirus crisis have refined his communications skills. At one time, Holcomb was about as deft at delivering a prepared speech on camera as a rhinoceros would be dancing swan lake.
Thursday evening, though, the governor offered his remarks in a polished and assured manner — without sacrificing the aura of authenticity that is at the heart of his political appeal. Much of what he said was boilerplate, but the sentiments — making Indiana more inclusive, expanding opportunity, etc. — were appropriate for this moment in history.
Most important, Holcomb sounded and looked like a governor.
That’s no small thing during a time when people are hungry for leadership.
Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch didn’t fare nearly so well. She delivered her short speech while staring, seemingly without ever blinking, straight at the camera, as if she were astonished by its presence.
In days to come, deer caught in the headlights of oncoming cars will think to themselves, “Oh, no. We must look like Suzanne Crouch did giving that speech on television.”
The evening’s most surreal moments, not surprisingly, came when the candidates to be the Republican candidate for attorney general spoke.
Incumbent Curtis Hill has taken on more water than the Titanic.
Once a rising conservative political star, Hill closed the 2018 Indiana General Assembly legislative session by hopping from bar to bar, quaffing drinks on the dimes of friendly lobbyists. He closed the evening at the sine die party where, more than 20 witnesses reported, he moved around groping women and, to use one observer’s memorable phrase, acting like a drunken freshman at his first frat party.
Four women — one of them a state legislator, another a Republican staffer — complained about the way Hill pawed them. He responded by telling multiple conflicting stories about the how, what and why of his conduct and by trying to discredit his female accusers.
Several investigations followed.
The most charitable of them found his conduct crass and unbecoming. The most damning — including one from the Indiana Supreme Court that resulted in him being suspended from practicing law for 30 days — said he was guilty of “criminal conduct.”
Hill explained to the virtual conventiongoers Thursday night that, just like President Donald Trump, he was a victim of persecution. Hill acknowledged that he wasn’t perfect — aw, shucks, no one is — but contended that the real problem was that people were being mean to him.
It wasn’t Curtis Hill’s fault that he got drunk, shoved his hands under women’s clothes and refused to back off when they asked, then told, him to stop.
No, the enemies he shares with the president made him take those drinks and set his hands to walking. Then those same enemies made him abuse the powers of his office as he tried to demean his accusers and evade the consequences of his behavior.
I know I speak for many when I say I can’t wait to hear Hill deliver his next lecture on one of his favorite themes —the importance of personal accountability and taking responsibility for one’s actions.
Former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indiana, is Hill’s chief opponent for the nomination.
Rokita runs for political office almost as a reflex, in the way normal people seek out air, food and water. In 2016, he actually ran for three different offices in the same year.
Rokita did his best to hit Hill where he was tender. He said the incumbent attorney general needed to assume personal responsibility for his conduct.
Then Rokita undercut the power of that sensible statement by saying he was the man to restore dignity to the office of attorney general.
This, coming from a man who once tried, clumsily, to flirt with a female news anchor on national television.
The first virtual Indiana Republican Party convention might not have been great politics.
Some of it, though, was darned good comedy.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.