No More Sus-Pence: Will Indiana Governor Be Asset To Trump
In a few hours, a fair number of Americans will get their first exposure to Indiana Governor Mike Pence as he addresses delegates at the Republican National Convention as Donald Trump’s pick for vice-president.Trump’s selection of Pence cleared up much suspense. Would he go with a big name who could ruffle feathers and make themselves known with an over-sized presence on the campaign trail or would he play it safe by picking someone who doesn’t dominate headlines – at least intentionally? By picking Pence, he clearly chose the latter.
Because he is an outsider, Trump made it clear from the outset that he wanted a running-mate familiar with the intricacies of government and Washington and Pence, having served a dozen years in Congress and the last four as Governor, certainly fits that bill. But that doesn’t mean his mere presence will simply metamorphasize Trump into a first-rate candidate. Pence has his own weaknesses which, if played up by Democrats, could actually hurt Trump’s bid to shore up swing voters. Now because Trump is, well, Trump, that might not happen. But let’s have a look.
Democrats watching to see if a Trump pick might give him traction have to be fairly happy with Pence’s selection. Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich have a presence that make them effective on the stump, mainly because, despite many imperfections that could be turned into a book, their fiery, attack-dog communication abilities and shrill point-making style have been proven to resonate with voters. In other words, they know how to frame rhetoric in ways people can relate too. That’s not to say Pence is incapable of that but he is not as media-genic. He is not rah-rah. In other words, he is stylistically bland. That’s not a bad thing to be when your Donald Trump’s number two – in fact it has to be welcome for Republican candidates nationwide. But Pence’s portfolio still gives Democrats reason to be gleeful as some of his stances are even further to the right than Trump’s.
It may be that Pence’s presence might not impact any state other than perhaps Indiana, which was hardly on the radar-screen anyway. While a long-shot, it is still not completely out of the realm of going Democratic in November. It may also be that in a few nit-pickingly close battleground states, even a single matter will come into play and Pence could be such a factor. Having said both, vice-presidential candidates rarely make a President. They do, on the other hand, often contribute to the breaking of a Presidency.
The only instance in recent history that a vice-presidential pick alone probably put a nominee over the top was 1960 when Lyndon Johnson clearly delivered the state of Texas to a Yankee, “Hahvahd”-educated Senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy. Other instances have shown a major benefit. A running-mate is designed to compliment the standard bearer’s weaknesses and in that sense, Joe Biden was the perfect backup to Obama’s lack of foreign policy (and to a lesser extent, so was Dick Cheney for Bush). Similarly, Joe Lieberman helped Al Gore who was hamstrung by Bill Clinton and the morality issue post Monica Lewinsky. On occasion, it has been known to impact a candidacy negatively. The most obvious example is Sarah Palin. The pick was a surprise from the outset as Palin wasn’t even vetted by the McCain campaign and it showed. Given the mood of the country, Obama still likely would have defeated McCain even if the Arizona Senator had picked someone better suited for the number two job (like Clint Eastwood), but his seven point victory might have been half that.
Other than the convention, the main responsibility for a vice-presidential nominee before Election Day is the debate. As far as middle-America is concerned, it’s doubtful Pence would outshine his yet to be announced Democratic counterpart. What he likely will do during that debate is try to take the focus off of his own record by going after Hillary. That’s a problem Democrats would have to contend with regardless of whom Trump tapped. But Christie or Gingrich, by sheer virtue of their fiery style, would have been a heck of a lot more penetrating.
Pence’s biggest impediment when it comes to reaching swing voters is his staunch cultural conservatism. He is strongly pro-life and signed abortion restrictions into law as Indian’s Governor. In 1997, he argued that households containing two working parents leads to “stunted emotional growth” (he was critical of the Disney movie Mulan to that affect). That’ll go a long way toward winning over “soccer-moms.” And after the Supreme Court affirmed the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Pence termed the decision “worse than 9/11. Trump has zero chance of putting the New York region in play but those words are pretty darn offensive. But his signing of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act was what provoked the most fury. Pence struggled to explain even the rudimentary aspects of the law to the media, and facing the threat of boycotts, ultimately did sign a more modified version making clear that businesses could not discriminate – a move that sent his stock plummeting with social conservatives. But that will ultimately do little to help him with swing voters.
Now Pence has taken issue with Trump here and there, most notably his advocacy of a ban on Muslims entering the United States which Pence called “offensive and unconstitutional.” But as I mentioned, Trump has such supersized views on that issue that the focus will be exclusively on him.
The bottom line: Pence may get a few religious conservatives but if swing voters follow, it will have more to do with Hillary. In other words, there is almost nothing Pence can say or do. Donald Trump will win or lose but Mike Pence will have little to do with it.