by Cinzia Croce
I was never a fan of Vice President Mike Pence. I thought his addition to the presidential ticket brought nothing to the table, and I and feared that his hardcore social conservatism would derail the Trump campaign. Thankfully, my fears never materialized. Social issues remained marginalized, and for most of the campaign Pence was invisible. The one time the he was under the spotlight — the vice-presidential debate — Pence passed his test with flying colors. I was so impressed with his performance that I offered a mea culpa and declared that I was thrilled to have been wrong. Looking back, it wasn’t so much that Pence shined but more that Tim Kaine dimmed in his lousy attempt to play the attack dog. Nevertheless, now that I have had six months to evaluate Pence’s contributions to the Trump administration, I can confidently say that my initial assessment of him was right on target: he is a dead weight.
The Pence pick was hailed by conservatives primarily for two reasons: first, he would appease the GOP establishment and help unify the party behind Trump; second, as a former member of the GOP congressional leadership, he would be able help Trump get his agenda through Congress. He has spectacularly failed on both counts. The GOP establishment has never united behind Trump. During the campaign, they made repeated attempts to push him out of the race — most notably, by overreacting to the Billy Bush tape — and, since the inauguration, have tried to damage the president politically by aggressively pursuing the Russia-collusion investigation and vehemently defending special counsel Robert Mueller. As far as helping the president get his agenda through Congress, the administration has not been able to score one major legislative victory in six months. Pence has made several trips to the Hill and has nothing to show for it. His latest humiliation was his unsuccessful last-ditch effort to convince John McCain to support the so-called Obamacare “skinny repeal”. Only legislation in which there is clear common ground between Trump and the GOP establishment — e.g. reducing regulation, judicial appointments and improving healthcare delivery to veterans — is getting through Congress. Funding the president’s signature issue, the wall, has been postponed until the fall, and Republican senators are already making noise that they may never support building it.
Pence has also failed the president in another important area: the transition. After Chris Christie was unceremoniously dropped, the then-vice president-elect was tapped to lead the transition team. We are six months into the administration, and thousands of positions that do not require Senate approval are still staffed with Obama holdovers. The most glaring example of Pence mismanaging the transition is in the Justice Department. Sally Yates was allowed to stay on as acting Attorney General despite her obvious partisanship. The selection of Rod Rosenstein as Deputy Attorney General and the failure to anticipate Jeff Sessions possibly recusing himself from investigations related to the presidential campaign have effectively delivered the DOJ to the president’s political enemies. Trump came to Washington with zero political experience and relied on Pence to help the young administration navigate the swamp — avoid pitfalls, avoid rookie mistakes. As leader of the transition team, it was up to Pence to identify the key positions that needed to be filled with Trump loyalists on Day One, and his failure will haunt the administration for months to come.
Reportedly, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were responsible for bringing Anthony Scaramucci to the White House. I can certainly understand Ivanka wanting someone who would be an attack dog for her father — she certainly cannot depend on Pence to defend the president or his policies. The vice president generally prefers to avoid the media, and whenever he is asked about a controversial tweet, his replies are devoid of passion and often apologetic. After the failure to repeal Obamacare, Pence was not available to field questions and instead went on a tour of Baltic countries, never missing a chance to beat the war drums against Russia. While on his Baltic tour, he declared that the signing of the Russia sanctions bill showed that “the president and Congress are unified in our message to Russia,” only to be quickly contradicted by Trump. It is almost as if Pence believes he has joined a different Republican administration.
In addition to his failures, Pence as vice president has provided GOP leaders an impetus to oppose the president. The GOP establishment has made no secret that they much prefer the idea of President Pence. Should Mueller fail to force Trump out of office, GOP leaders and their corporate backers will pursue other avenues until they achieve their objective. Unfortunately, there is not much Trump can do to remedy the situation. Pence was duly elected, and it is highly unlikely that he will be brought down by a scandal as was the case with Spiro Agnew. The dead weight is here to stay.