by Cinzia Croce and Alex Knepper
Donald Trump’s announcement of Indiana Gov. and former Congressman Mike Pence — a Tea Partier before there was a Tea Party — as his running-mate has left us a little stunned. We’ve decided to try out a ’roundtable discussion’ format to hash out this topic:
Cinzia Croce (CC): I was really hoping until the bitter end that the news reports were wrong.
Alex Knepper (AK): I am confused. Some reports are claiming Ivanka probably vetoed a Christie selection owing to his prosecution of her father-in-law, but if not him — why Pence, of all people? Did he really have so few options? The Pence selection goes against everything we know about Trump: the premium he places on loyalty, his penchant for boldness and theatricality, his aversion toward attaching himself to religious-right concerns, etc. Pence endorsed Ted Cruz just two months ago — when it counted, right before the Indiana primary. Trump barely even knows Pence and is already dominating among every demographic group Pence helps shore up. I don’t get it.
CC: I am devastated. For the third time in a row, the GOP veers right for its VP pick. McCain did it with Palin, Romney did it with Ryan, and now Trump has done the same with Pence. Just like Palin undermined McCain’s strongest argument against Obama, which was his lack of experience, Pence undercuts Trump’s appeal — which was to marginalize social issues like abortion and homosexuality in order to propose new policy positions on trade and immigration. Pence is also not very articulate or quick on his feet. He will be the male version of Palin. Trump needs to improve his margins with women and moderates. Pence doesn’t help and he may actually harm Trump with said voting blocs. Maybe Indiana is in play? But if that’s the case, then the election is already over. Hillary will be the next POTUS.
AK: I imagine the logic of it is something like this: Pence has over a decade of experience in Congress, he is well-liked by conservatives like Paul Ryan who are skeptical of Trump’s agenda, and he’s also served as governor, so he’s prepared to step in as president. What do you make of that?
CC: No one else was available that checked those boxes? The greatness of the Trump campaign was that it was an insurgency against the establishment. Now that enthusiasm and fervor is gone with Pence, who represents every policy position Trump supporters like me reject. Wrong in his focus on social issues. Wrong on trade. Wrong on immigration. Wrong on foreign policy. It really creates a lot of doubt in my mind, for the first time, as to whether Trump is really serious about his policy positions.
AK: It just seems so out-of-character for him, especially considering his emphasis on personal loyalty. Someone on my Facebook feed said that Pence reeked of being a choice-by-committee. At the very best, Pence will end up being a wallflower, a do-no-harm pick — but with his radioactive stances on social issues, even that’s unlikely. If Trump had to go the wallflower/do-no-harm route, why not just go with Sessions? Why go with a pro-Iraq War, pro-free trade, pro-visa-expansion creationist? I am flummoxed. Aside from the experience question, which is covered by plenty of other people, it just makes no sense to me. I am tempted to say he wants to lose — that he’s about the campaign and not actually interested in doing the job.
CC: I agree that this decision has political consultants’ prints all over it. Ironic: Trump won the GOP nomination by going with his gut, and when it came time to make his most important decision as a general election candidate, he relies on the very political consultant class and establishment he mocked for a year. I also agree that the Democrats will not allow Pence to just fade into the background. After the Orlando massacres, Trump reached out to the LGBT community, for instance. Pence undercuts that effort with his long record of opposing gay rights. Pence undercuts Trump in every way. Making McConnell and Ryan happy is not a top priority for general election voters. I agree: this choice makes no sense.
AK: I agree regarding his gut — which is why I thought until the bitter end he’d ultimately go with Christie. His gut got him this far — why go with the consultants’ pick at this point? Especially since all of the #NeverTrump efforts have failed miserably, including yesterday in the Rules Committee. The only practical effect of this pick will be to introduce social issues to the mix, while muddying his message on trade and immigration. But it’ll be interesting to see if and whether Pence shifts a little, or whether they present themselves as an ‘agree to disagree’ team oriented toward deals and compromise. That’s probably the best way they can spin their differences — we disagree on a few things but we want to work together. Even that narrative would be flawed, though, since Trump is already up big among all the constituencies among whom Pence is actually popular. (That’s another mystifying element of this pick — it was said that Christie and Gingrich were toxic choices owing to their unpopularity — but Pence is just as unpopular!)
CC: The only logical explanation for the Pence pick is that it was part of a compromise so that Trump could get the votes on the Rules Committee and avoid a floor fight. The goal was to have a peaceful convention, but it came with a very high price. Once Cleveland is behind us, Trump will have a running mate that will be a dead weight, for the reasons you listed. If Pence changes his long held stances on issues, he will be seen as a flip-flopper. To say we ‘agree to disagree’ on everything creates a distraction and voters have to question just how committed Trump is to his policy stances. Trump has never held office and does not have a record of his stances except for his word. Flip flopping, uneasy compromises that result in no one being happy is exactly what voters despise about politics. Today was a very good day for the Hillary Clinton campaign and they can look forward to more good days.