State Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, was 450 miles from home this week, but his thoughts and tweets weren’t far from the Statehouse.
While many of his fellow Republicans were raising a reported $1 million for Donald Trump at an Indianapolis fundraiser, Ober was at a wonky policy conference for young lawmakers picked by their party as the next generation of leaders.
That didn’t stop Ober from weighing in on the unfolding drama over Trump’s choice of running mate, which focused on Indiana and seemingly culminated in Gov. Mike Pence getting the vice-presidential nod.
A prolific presence on social media, Ober tweeted from Charlottesville, Virginia, praise for Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s outspoken rejection of the billionaire candidate.
Ober called Sasse a “leader in the party” and added: “Wish it was more common.”
Elected to the General Assembly at age 25 four years ago, Ober represents a rural district of staunch conservatives — a label he proudly wears himself.
But while his district — and his home of Noble County — voted overwhelmingly for Trump in May’s GOP primary, Ober has remained a holdout.
Like Sasse, he sees the current election process as a disaster for the nation, no matter who wins.
His is a millennial point of view. A Harvard University Institute of Politics poll this week showed Trump behind Democrat Hillary Clinton by 26 points among voters under 30, even as Clinton was losing some of their support. Not that Ober is supporting Clinton. But, in his district, his vocal criticism of Trump is becoming what he calls a political liability.
“It’s tougher and tougher with folks back home not to be on board with Trump,” he said.
Political friends have advised him to pipe down, arguing that his outspokenness translates into a virtual vote for Clinton.
Still, Ober said he rejects the “lesser of two evils” argument of casting a vote for Trump, who already has a likely lock on Indiana’s critical electoral votes.
“Donald Trump is still going to win Indiana without my vote. I believe that firmly,” he said.
Ober said he’s spent hours explaining his views to constituents.
He said he understands a sense of alienation that voters feel toward political leaders who fail to act in their best interests. The same sentiment, he said, propelled him into politics.
“They’re valid feelings,” he said.
But the answer, he said, isn’t a man he sees as wildly intemperate, rhetorically poisonous and politically convenient with his wavering principles.
“It would be totally unacceptable to read back through the history books and try to attribute some of the same comments that Trump has made to Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan,” he said.
More so, Ober said he worries the party is following the same path that Democrats did in 2008, investing in a cult of personality. Trump promises to singlehandedly alter the Washington establishment, just as then-candidate Barack Obama pledged to do.
“Now we have our own ‘hope-and-change’ candidate,” he said.
Ober knows his is not a popular position among Republicans, as party leaders now call on skeptics to fall in line. “Maybe I’m the buzz-kill that has to add a bit of reality here,” he said.
And Ober calls himself “persuadable” when it comes to Trump, so still undecided how, or even if, he’ll cast his presidential vote. Adding Pence, a reliable conservative voice, to the ticket helps, but it isn’t enough yet.
GOP leaders have worked exhaustively to shut down efforts by Trump holdouts to deny him the nomination.
Introducing Trump at an Indiana rally recently, Pence exhorted all good Republicans to unequivocally unite.
Ober questions whether that’s the right role for him.
Despite the heat back home, he said his constituents knew they were sending an independent voice to the Statehouse.
“That’s why they elected me,” he said.
“They wanted someone who was going to stand up for common sense and what’s right.”
Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for CNHI newspapers. Send comments to email@example.com.