Indiana's quandary

McCain's made it difficult for Republicans in farming states like Indiana who resent his voting reco

"It don't bother me that he's black. But I do worry that he's a muslim."

It's a guy sat at the counter of a bar in Columbus, Indiana who tells me this, as his neighbour solemnly nods along. (The barman, to his credit, rolls his eyes and says, "Oh come on," before going off to serve someone else.)

Nonetheless, my guy is planning to vote for Barack Obama, simply because it's time for a change. "Washington needs an enema," he says firmly. "If he tries any of that Muslim stuff we can always throw him out."

No one really expected Indiana to be in play. It's voted Republican in every presidential election since 1964. But with farmers struggling, manufacturing's down the pan and nearly one million new voters on the rolls since 2004, polls are showing the state is tied. Indiana is likely to be one of the first results called on election day: if McCain doesn't have a clear lead here, it's hard to see how he can pull off a win.

Obama's success can be explained partly by the fact that he is, effectively, a local boy: the northern part of the state, around Gary, is one big suburb of Chicago. And partly also it's because, scenting victory for the first time in 40 years, local Dems are unusually energised.

But the biggest thing in Obama's favour is that, as much as anywhere in the nation, the conversation in Indiana is all about the economy. Much of the state is dominated by farming. And the farming industry has been hit by a catastrophic combination of soaring costs, fluctuating corn prices and flooding. Many farms have thus been left with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and no idea of how to pay it back.

The state's other major industry, manufacturing, has long been in decline right across the Mid West, a trend that's cost Indiana over 100,000 jobs since the decade began. But this is causing problems even in rural parts of the state: many farming families have one member in regular employment, to ensure the entire family has health insurance. As manufacturing has declined, health coverage has collapsed.

Obama's focus on the economy and healthcare is thus resonating surprisingly well in natural Republican territory.

Nonetheless, he wouldn't be so competitive here if McCain hadn't obligingly spent his career alienating the entire farming lobby. He's opposed both last May's pork-laden farm bill and subsidies for ethanol based fuel. (This, incidentally, also partly explains his weakness in other farming states like Iowa and Wisconsin.) The Republican also looks under-resourced out here: he has a single co-ordinator to cover the entire Great Lakes region.

That said, Obama's tax plans are also putting the wind up people in a state full of large land holdings. "McCain's posed quite a quandary for Republican farmers," says Kent Yeager, public policy director at the Indiana Farm Bureau. "The polls show it close here - but I can see it not being close at all either way."

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. He is on Twitter, almost continously, as @JonnElledge.

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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland