Gossip, bolstered by in-person meetings and fundraisers all week, says Donald Trump will pick Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. He’s tweeted he’ll announce it Friday morning at 11 a.m.
Pence is a perfect political partner for Donald Trump. Like Trump, Pence is a political has-been who betrayed people who trusted him. Once a rising conservative star who himself considered, and was well-positioned to earn, a run for the presidency, as governor Pence traded his integrity for mere hopes of short-term political gain. All he got was angry constituents, a 23-point drop in his public approval rating, and a 2016 gubernatorial re-election bid he’ll be lucky to win even though nobody knows his opponent.
A veep nod would parachute Pence out of facing the wrath of voters he’s screwed. Good for him. Not so good for the country or Trump’s electoral chances.
Trump Can Control Pence
Unlike Newt Gingrich, another potential Trump veep who would help check Trump’s disastrous hip-shooting, Pence is easy to manipulate. LGBT activists proved that by turning Indiana into a bellwether for the nation’s late religious liberty capitulation. They morphed an anodyne, do-little religious liberty bill into special legal protections for gay and transgender people inside one of the nation’s most conservative states during the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act battle. Indiana was the first state to fall prey in a big way to the new breed of anti-religion, anti-speech activists using gay and trans people to gut the U.S. Constitution.
Pence not only blinked, he practically got on his knees and begged a tiny minority group whose adherents will never vote for him or his party to stop economically blackmailing his state into abrogating the First Amendment. That’s not what leaders do; that’s what cowards do. It’s a major reason only six in ten Hoosier Republicans support him, and why many refused to vote for him in this spring’s primary as an expression of disgust with his lack of effective leadership while in office.
This would also be a liability for Trump’s mega-brand as the anti-PC candidate, because Pence has shown political correctness owns him. Maybe that’s a selling point for pro-PC voters — except are there any (outside of the media and college campuses)?
Pence Doubles Down On Trump’s Weaknesses With Conservatives
It might seem Pence would be a good pick to shore up Trump’s obvious lack of conservative policy ideas or instincts, as the New York Times suggested today: “Among Mr. Trump’s advisers, Mr. Pence is seen as the lowest-risk option: A stolid if unspectacular choice, helpful for locking up conservative votes and perhaps boosting Mr. Trump’s appeal across the Midwest.”
Politico’s reporter had to have been smoking something when writing this summary that is essentially wrong on all counts: “Pence brings a number of strengths to the GOP ticket. He can point to a conservative economic record — he cut the corporate income tax rate, the individual income tax rate and eliminated the estate tax in Indiana — and would give Trump some needed cover on social issues. Many social conservatives who flocked to Ted Cruz, and remain wary of Trump’s past support for gay marriage and abortion rights, would find Pence an attractive addition to the ticket.”
Yet it’s actually the opposite. For one, Pence’s tax cuts are so tiny — worth something slightly above $50 per year to someone making the state median income — that Illinois residents next door typically pay less. Pence’s record of capitulations as governor, especially on “social issues,” actually feed Trump’s weaknesses with Republican voters. Since I’m a Hoosier (thanks to Mitch Daniels, natch), I’ve spent some time over Pence’s lackluster term detailing his many missteps. They seem to have stemmed largely from an interest in using the governor’s mansion as a stepping stone towards his own White House run rather than a statesman’s interest in building upon Daniels’ well-regarded reforms to better serve Indiana’s people.
Pence’s case to Hoosiers for another four years has been basically the same as Trump’s to national voters: “The alternative is worse.” He can’t point to any significant policy or outcome victories over his past four years, so he’s resorted to offering voters more entitlement programs on a smaller scale and slower timeframe than Democrats propose. Just recently Pence reversed himself, for example, on expanding a federalized preschool program in what was clearly just frightened vote-pandering. Pence had said he wanted to wait until the data was in from an in-state pilot program. But we don’t need data when there are votes to buy!
Besides the nation-reverberating RFRA capitulation, Pence also presided over the nation’s first big Common Core bait ‘n switch. He promised Hoosiers, who were the first in the nation to get a repeal bill across the finish line (with no help from him), that he would ensure we ended up with the nation’s best academic benchmarks. Instead, we ended up with watered-down Common Core.
Schools aren’t even buying different textbooks, and the state is using Common Core tests to measure what the governor keeps insisting is “not Common Core.” Independent reviewers and state board of education members he appointed told him to his face and in detailed analyses he had requested that the whole rewrite was a charade. He ignored them, did what the educrats told him despite massive public protests, then went on national television to brag about his deceptive betrayal.
Hoosiers have not been fooled, and that’s another reason Pence has bad numbers with Republicans. Republican voters hate Common Core, and that’s why Trump keeps insisting he’ll repeal it (which he can’t, because it’s not a federal law).
Like Trump, Pence Loves Big Government
Because he capitulated to the LGBT lobby too slowly for their taste, Pence has a record for “conservatism” in the media, but they just mean “anti-gay.” Another signature achievement that makes Pence a perfect running mate for a man who thinks health care is one of the top three functions of the federal government is Pence’s unnecessary expansion of Obamacare.
As I wrote last year, “284,000 of the 350,000 uninsured people whom [Pence’s health] plan will scoop into the arms of already overburdened taxpayers are able-bodied, childless adults. Apparently it’s enough to dub yourself ‘conservative’ and let others pay the tab for believing it.” Despite promises he wanted everyone to have “skin in the game,” a third of participants in the year-old program pay nothing. Not even $1.
Pence is also a big fan of centralized economic planning. Under his administration, Indiana has ramped up its network of databases aimed at tracking citizens in order to take more life decisions away from them, and forced local cities into regional economic planning that has government picking winners and losers. Again, this is a great match for Trump, who in his real estate deals has leveraged the heck out of government relationships, tilting the playing field in his favor. But it doubles down on his weaknesses with the conservative base voters a Pence pick is designed to shore up.
Does Anyone Really Like Mike Pence?
Pence is not appealing to moderates. In Indiana, the moderate business types are upset with him because they also think he handled the RFRA fiasco badly. Not because he capitulated, but because he did it so awkwardly. They’d rather not be talking about trans bathrooms at all. The moderate mom types are upset with him over the state’s testing and Common Core regimes, and all the “mean” social issues.
So all he really has left are base voters, whom he alienated by betraying them when the chips were down on RFRA and Common Core while offering them no major wins in other areas such as: economic deregulation, school choice expansions (Indiana’s programs, which began under Daniels, are overregulated and underfunded), reformed occupational licensing, actual health reform, rejecting federal funds in myriad areas it invites federal overreach, or overhauling our sclerotic state bureaucracy.
So it’s not really clear on the issues how choosing Pence is a win for Trump or the country. Despite all this, I think he’s a fitting vice presidential pick for Trump, because it would prove another bit of gossip: That Trump is all about show, not substance. He’s about the meme, the message, not the man underneath. That’s exactly the way Pence has conducted his governorship. And look where it’s getting him!