The Good, Bad, And Ugly Of Newly Minted VP Candidate Mike Pence
Last night at the RNC in Cleveland, Indiana Governor Mike Pence was formally nominated as the GOP’s VP nominee, raising questions anew about what his appointment could mean for the future of this country. As someone from Indiana, I have been asking myself this question a lot, and the answer I’ve landed on is: Well, it’s complicated.
It’s hard to deny that adding Mike Pence to the GOP ticket is the first savvy move Donald Trump’s campaign has made to date. It’s also a decision that’s both good and bad news for anyone who thinks that all human beings generally have the right to live and breathe.
The good news is that a smart VP pick can’t save Trump’s candidacy and rids my home state of Indiana of one of the worst executive office holders in the country.
The bad news is more complicated and wonky. While the average voter still thinks republicans can be sorted by “economic conservative” and “social conservative,” the former went extinct during Reagan’s presidency, and this choice is an indictment of our two-party system having shifted disastrously far to the right in general.
Let’s take the good news first.
The record-breakingly awful Pence had to drop his reelection bid in order to accept Trump’s invitation to follow in Dan Quayle’s footsteps. (That’s right, Quayle was from Indiana. It’s totally okay if you forgot.)
Even better, Pence might have to resign as governor pretty much right now or he’ll potentially be costing his money-motivated running mate important fundraising dollars. Fortune’s Dan Primack explains:
“As a sitting governor, Pence is subject to a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule designed to discourage ‘pay-to-play’ situations in which political donations are used to help influence which investment firms receive public pension contracts.
Practically speaking, that means Pence cannot raise money from covered employees at any investment advisor doing business with the $30 billion Indiana Public Retirement System, which currently has more than 200 such contracts, including with firms like Colony Capital, whose founder and CEO Tom Barrack will be speaking this week at the Republican National Convention. Moreover, the rule effectively prevents donations from any investment advisor that would seek such a contract over the next two years, significantly expanding the universe of those who cannot give to Trump-Pence.”
Almost everyone I know back home has been celebrating since the announcement, despite this potentially (albeit unlikely) putting Pence a heartbeat away from the presidency — which would be an unmitigated disaster that makes Dubya’s two terms look like a vacation. But Pence is so repugnant, it’s hard to fault Indianans for dancing in the streets because they now don’t have to gamble on an election in a monstrously gerrymandered state to throw him out of their capital — especially since the country as a whole has given less than half a fuck about what he’s done to their state in just three short years.
As I ranted about back in March when he signed House Enrolled Act 1337, making Indiana one of the most dangerous places in the country to be pregnant, Pence has presided over a colossal set of policies that violate human and labor rights, making his “pro-life” label a fucking joke. Maternal mortality rate, teen suicide rate, trans suicide rate, attempting to illegally circumvent the democratically elected state school superintendent Glenda Ritz because she’s pro-teacher, shitting on the entire LGBTQ community by passing his version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and on, and on, AND ON.
Seriously, he’s only been in office since 2013.
Oh, and then there’s the shutdown of five rural reproductive health-care clinics that didn’t even provide the abortion care he opposes, leading to an HIV outbreak in the middle of the state. It turns out that when there’s nowhere to get tested, this sort of thing, yanno, happens.
So, you’ll have to excuse Hoosiers who are overjoyed — especially since everyone knows the likelihood of him heading to the White House is minimal. Perpetually accurate projection site FiveThirtyEight.com currently forecasts a Hillary win by more than 22 points, though that will undoubtably fluctuate between now and November. The GOP ticket has only gotten a couple of notches out of the convention and the Pence nomination so far.
Which leads me to a good/bad news hybrid point. Pence, who has used standard GOP operating procedures to hurt all the right people (gay people, women, the poor, immigrants, the disabled, etc.), presumably balances Trump’s highly unconventional style of politics with old-school moderation. And while this could be a turn-off to the decidedly not-moderate part of the base that has been all-in for Trump since the debates featured highlights about hand size, it could reassure your average GOP voter, who seems to be looking for evidence that their party hasn’t gone off the deep end.
But the notion that Pence offers some sort of rational balance to the ticket is flawed — which, to their credit, Hillary’s team was immediately on top of pointing out.
Pence may be able to lull the fabled middle voters into assuming he’s your standard republican that believes in smaller government and a more wholesome period in our history, but really, he just uses sloganeering and formerly typical dog-whistle-laden speech to hide his assholery.
A couple of high/low lights of the VP nominee in action, courtesy of the Indianapolis-based IndyStar:
“I think, in time, people will come to see that we’re not expanding traditional Medicaid. We’re reforming traditional Medicaid.”
“You Medicaid moochers have it too good already, I’m not working with the socialist president to help sick poor people in my state.”
“There are significant gaps in our ability to know precisely what we need to know about everyone coming into this country.”
“Keep those brown people out of my state, I don’t care if they are refugees because HOW DO WE KNOW FOR SURE?”
“After much reflection and in consultation with leadership in the General Assembly, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.”
“Everyone knows that whole First Amendment ‘freedom of religion’ thing is only for rich Christians, not to protect people from anti-LGBTQ hate and discrimination. If those people want cakes at their weddings, they should make their own, so I’m signing this RFRA.”
And then there’s this:
“I long for the day that Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history.”
However anyone feels about abortion, when it’s illegal, people die. Full stop. Like, lots of people. The abortion rate doesn’t go down. You want the abortion rate down (not my position)? Fully fund Title X to provide contraception for low-income people and get busy putting comprehensive sex ed into every school in the country. The only way the need for abortion is reduced is by a reduction in unwanted pregnancies. We will always need abortion; however, most of us would rather not have to spend any days or weeks pregnant when we don’t want to be, so a boost to contraception and sex ed would be super welcome.
That’s not Pence’s plan, though. His plan is to bring back the floors and wings of the hospitals dedicated to trying to put people back together after botched, illegal abortions. So, the notion that Pence is a good partner in making this country safe — that’s the convention theme, “Make America Safe Again” — may sound reasonable to the expected 50,000 descending on Cleveland, but is outright laughable here in reality.
But people do and will believe it. This is your bad news: He has a believable tone and almost no one knows anything about his record in Indiana or his TWELVE years in the House of Representatives where he was the original Mr. Defund Planned Parenthood.
That’s right; in case you missed it, the newly minted GOP VP nominee is how we got the fiscal cliff. Because so many people still aren’t blaming him for the fiscal irresponsibility or kicking off the trend of defunding the biggest reproductive health-care provider in the country, I’m going to go ahead and quote myself in full from March in an open letter published here at The Establishment demanding he return his “pro-life” card:
“Your anti-choice, anti-health record dates back to your time in the U.S. House — not that most people remember that you’re literally why the government almost shut down in 2011.
I was paying attention two years later when the deal you and your buddies struck to ‘prevent the shutdown’ led to the more famous ‘debt ceiling’ of 2013. You were willing to risk the full faith and credit over 0.00048% ($75 million) — that’s less than one half of one thousandth of a percent — of the $15.6 trillion budget because you can’t bear to see federal dollars go to cancer screenings and contraception. Because you’re so ‘pro-life.’ Of course, by the time the consequences of your ‘defund Planned Parenthood or else’ amendment from 2011 were garnering enough press for most people to hear, you were safely ensconced in the Indiana state house.”
While it’s almost inconceivable that Trump-Pence is inaugurated in January, Pence could use this election to simultaneously elevate his national profile via name recognition and distance himself from parts of his record in the statehouse, as well as shake more of his record from the House. Asking him about his plans wouldn’t be any help determining the probability of a future presidential run. As the IndyStar reminded us, he was asked in 2011 if he planned to run for president in 2012. His response: “I have learned to follow my heart, and my heart is in Indiana.”
Well, he’s about to get a taste of the limelight and — as we’ve seen with more unlikely candidates <cough, Trump, cough> — it doesn’t always take much to convince someone that they should sit behind the most powerful desk in the country. I thought he might run this year; I’ve been waiting for it since he pulled off the budget fiasco in the House without it tarnishing his electability.
Pence would make an appealing candidate for the GOP in 2020 with Hillary in the White House. He could trot out the tired “I balance a budget as governor” line. (Spoiler: Governors have to balance their budgets because of state laws, not because they’re accomplished negotiators or accountants.) He could say he has more experience than her despite her four years in the White House because he “ran a state” and was part of Congress longer than she was. He can counter almost every progressive goal on Hillary’s to-do list with his unwavering commitment to the exact opposite. He is, almost above all else, extraordinarily consistent and predictable.
And, really, after the impending shitshow of the post-convention Trump shenanigans we’re about to witness over the next three months, what GOP funder/voter won’t be hungry for consistent and predictable paired with a measured style and an unrivaled conservative record?
So, for now, go ahead and join with the people of Indiana in celebrating his departure from executive office . . .
. . . just promise you’ll remember his name and make sure he doesn’t reinvent himself again and pop back up like a bad penny.
Note: Not that I needed a reason to feature her, but the all-Serena Williams gif collection is in honor of her seventh Wimbledon solo title this month — her 36th Grand Slam title overall.
Lead image: flickr/Gage Skidmore