Gov. Eric Holcomb won’t say if he’ll support Donald Trump if he wins the Republican nomination for president, a scenario he acknowledged appears increasingly likely as the former president maintains a strong lead in most political polls despite numerous legal troubles.
“I think it is starting to feel inevitable in the primary,” Holcomb said. “The Trump fever has not broken.”
His comments came during an interview with IBJ ahead of his eighth and final year as governor. Under state law, Holcomb cannot seek a third term.
In June, Holcomb endorsed Mike Pence for the GOP nomination for president. Pence, the former Indiana governor, appointed Holcomb to be his lieutenant governor in 2016 and Pence’s decision to accept Donald Trump’s invitation to be his vice presidential running mate in 2016 paved the way for Holcomb to become governor.
Since Pence dropped out of the presidential race in October, Holcomb hasn’t settled on his next preferred pick, though he spoke highly of candidates who have experience as governors, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
“These are governors that actually do things and have records that they can run on, and it does not seem to matter,” Holcomb said. “When you add it all up, it doesn’t seem to matter.”
Endorsements don’t seem to carry the same weight as they once did, Holcomb added. He’s also holding off on endorsing a successor, though Trump already has endorsed U.S. Sen. Mike Braun in a five-way race to become the GOP nominee for Indiana governor.
Despite facing multiple criminal indictments, Trump’s lead over his closest competitors has only widened since April. He holds a 62% favorability rating, followed by DeSantis with 12%, Haley with 11% and Vivek Ramaswamy with 4%, according to FiveThirtyEight polling data.
When pressed on whether he would vote for the former president should he win the nomination, Holcomb replied, “Ask me when that’s not a hypothetical.”
Adding to Trump’s legal troubles, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that he is ineligible for the presidency under the U.S. Constitution’s insurrection clause and removed him from the state’s presidential primary ballot. But the matter likely will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Holcomb’s current position on Trump is in line with other moderates in the party and is reminiscent of what played out during the 2016 election, when the Republican Party was at first reticent to go all in on Trump until it became clear that he would win the primary, said Tony Samuel, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign in Indiana.
“I think it’s just a matter of time until we get to the primaries, and closer to Indiana’s primary, that some who haven’t shown support will come around,” Samuel told IBJ. “The same thing that went on in 2016 is going on now.”
In October 2016, less than a month before the general election, Holcomb told the Associated Press that he wasn’t sure if he would vote for Trump. After Trump won the election, Holcomb credited him with drawing Hoosier supporters who never voted before.
Holcomb has been neither a vocal supporter or critic of Trump, though in 2021 he called the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol “a stain on our history.”
During his administration, Holcomb has been criticized by the more conservative members of his party for mask mandates and temporary shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and for his decision to veto a bill that banned transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports.
Trump’s popularity hasn’t waned in part because his populist themes still reverberate with Hoosiers, Samuel said.
“The American voter has concerns about the same kinds of things: taking care of their family, the economy, education, crime…the reason he’s still supported by many is because his message resonates.”