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Washington Examiner: A culture war in the Indiana Senate primary: Rep. Luke Messer blasts NFL over national anthem protests

How does a candidate stand out in a crowded Senate primary? By opening another front in the culture war. Ahead of the Super Bowl, Rep. Luke Messer, who hopes to take on Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is blasting the NFL for refusing to run an ad from a veterans’ group urging football players to stand for the national anthem.

“The NFL is siding with those who disrespect our flag over the men and women who defend our country,” the Indiana Republican wrote in an email. “This is a big mistake, and the NFL needs to hear from us now.”

But unlike standard political fare, the email doesn’t include a fundraising link. Messer isn’t asking his supporters for money. He’s asking them to sign a petition demanding the private organization run the ad.

And that seems like a smart move in Indiana, a state Trump won by double digits, a state with a losing football team that finished the season an abysmal 4-12, and a state where most Republicans look surprisingly the same. By going cultural, Messer hopes to differentiate himself. But it won’t be the easiest play to execute.

A former college linebacker, Messer is a diehard Indianapolis Colts fan. A limited-government conservative, Messer also expressed support for the First Amendment rights of NFL players without endorsing the protest. Back when the kneeling controversy began, Messer told MSNBC he believed “our national anthem is a time to stand up and honor our country,” before adding that he respects “those who take another point of view.”

Expect Messer to continue to push the cultural over the political, and expect Republicans in other states to follow his lead. While politics is downstream from culture, President Trump proved it’s possible to ford the river and win over voters with pop culture appeals.