I am not ready to waive the white flag. The 2016 election is a long way off. But I do agree that if Pence does not dramatically change his political strategy, he is doomed to lose. Below are my suggestions in that regard.
ALIENATING THE BASE IS BAD POLITICAL STRATEGY: The Republican Party is made
REBUILDING THE PENCE BASE: After realizing the current strategy is not working, Pence's first goal needs to be restoring his political base. He needs to sit down with evangelicals and tea party types who have grown extremely alienated by how Pence has governed. Those people are key to Pence's re-election. They are the energy of the party, the people who put out the yard signs, make the phone calls, knock on the doors. If they stay home and don't assist Pence be re-elected, the Governor is dead in the water. Pence can really improve his relations with these groups by meeting with their leaders, going to meetings, patiently listening to why they think the Governor has abandoned them. There is a reason why these hard-core political supporters are called a "base." It's because those supporters are the foundation upon which a candidate builds a winning coalition. Without the foundation, the whole political building falls.
STOP RUNNING FROM THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ISSUE: Pence's problem is not his support of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but how he handled it. When he began taking fire, Pence's response was to back down and start trying to make concessions. That simply telegraphed a message to the public that Pence was doing something wrong, possibly even nefarious, in his support for RFRA. Pence's approach allowed the other side to define the issue as a "license to discriminate," without a shred of proof to support the claim. Pence needs to understand the importance and manner of controlling the message. With regard to RFRA, that message needs to be unwavering support for religious freedom. Being for religious freedom is not an unpopular cause. (Every single Republican presidential candidate has embraced religious freedom.) It's only unpopular when you let your opponents redefine the issue.
GET RID OF DANIELS' APPOINTEES: Many Pence supporters salivated at the new Governor being in a position to replace Daniels' appointees who seemed more interested in helping themselves and their friends to the public's money than doing what is best for taxpayers. When Pence came in, we were stunned when Pence reappointed scores of Daniels' people. Many of the Daniels' appointees remain loyal to their old boss, not to Pence. Some observers believe Daniels' people are deliberately sabotaging the Pence administration. Regardless, the Daniels' loyalists are not Pence's friends and he needs to purge his administration of those people. Now, unfortunately, we're seeing Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard political appointees migrating to the state. Liberal Ballard appointees are highly unlikely to be supportive of conservative Pence.
NEED FOR BETTER POLITICAL ADVICE: Good political advisers are like good chess players. They not only see the opponent's likely next move, but they map out in their mind scores of future moves and what response will be taken. Time after time again the Pence administration seems completely unprepared for that next chess move, much less the one several plays down the road. Whether it is RFRA, JustIn, or the Indy Pride letter, the Pence folks seems surprised when things went wrong. Pence needs a James Carville type advising him, someone schooled in politics and knows how the game is played.
DEVELOP BETTER CAMPAIGN ISSUES: Pence needs to find good issues that will put him in a better political light. He certainly can't win the election on economic development. He should embrace populism, an approach to economic issues that crosses party lines. He should come out against long-term privatization contracts that enrich certain companies while mortgaging the future. He should seek legislation to cut back on local corporate subsidies which are simply taxpayers funding corporations moving or threatening to move from one Indiana community to another. Pence needs to come out strongly against the continued increase in local taxes and fees which are consuming more and more of hardworking Hoosiers' paychecks. These issues won't sit well with establishment GOP types who think government exists to make big business wealthier, but you know what? Screw them. They are incredibly popular issues and could go a long way to restoring Pence's popularity.
CHANGE APPROACH TO PUBLIC APPEARANCES : You ask voters to describe Pence and the adjectives you would get are: mean, out-of-touch, cold-hearted, distant, robot-like, humorless. Those of us who got to know Pence before he entered politics, know he is one of the most personable guys you could ever meet. He is the quintessential nice guy, a person who also has a great sense of humor and doesn't mind making fun of himself. Pence, who was an outspoken conservative even in law school, was well liked by even by most extreme liberals at the school. Pence needs to take advantage of his personality by being out in the public, engaging voters in informal situations. Pence certainly has the personal skills to deal with the occasional angry voter who assaults him over RFRA and other issues. Pence's handlers though seem intent on controlling the environment by only having the Governor speak in formal situations where conflict won't happen and the message can be controlled. That's a huge mistake that takes away Pence's No. 1 strength, a strong, likable personality.
Those of us who don't want to see a Democrat elected Governor in 2016, should hope Pence makes these much-needed changes.