On Friday July 15 Donald Trump tweeted out to the world that his running mate for the 2016 election would be the current governor of Indiana Mike Pence. This choice came as a surprise to a lot of people who were expecting someone who would be a bit more sensational—much like the Republican nominee himself. Pence, in his speech at the Republican National Convention, acknowledged this by saying that Trump is “a man known for a large personality, a colorful style and lots of charisma, and so, I guess he was just looking for some balance on the ticket.”
Indeed, it is precisely the fact that the governor is so unlike his new partner that makes him a valuable running mate. Trump was not looking to shake things up when he made his VP pick, he already shakes things up enough on his own. Instead, his goal was to unify the Republican Party, a significant portion of which has come out against him. Pence, who is a staunch conservative with strong ties in Washington and is in good standing with the Christian right, might be able to convert those individuals who do not see Trump as being a “true republican”—at least, that was the idea behind choosing him.
There is some speculation that party unity is not the only thing that Trump had in mind when choosing Pence as his VP pick. A large part of Pence’s political success is owed to the Koch brothers who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to his various campaigns and introduced him to a large network of conservative policy makers. It is possible that by getting Pence, Donald Trump is also getting the Koch brothers and all that they have to offer. This is, of course, is a bit harder to prove, but it would not surprise too many people if something of this sort were going on.
The process of picking someone to fill the VP slot began when Trump’s advisors Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski gave him a list of sixteen names to choose from in May. As the weeks went by the list, which included top politicians like Governor of Ohio John Kasich, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was dwindled down. Eventually, only two candidates remained: Chris Christie and Mike Pence. Trump was originally hesitant to choose the latter instead preferring Christie to be his VP, but his advisors convinced him that the Governor from Indiana would be the better choice.
Trump had good reason to be hesitant about picking Pence, who endorsed Ted Cruz instead of him when it came time for the Indiana primary. Not wanting to put all of his eggs in one basket, the governor gave Cruz a modest endorsement saying “”I’m not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the Republican primary.” Surprisingly, this action did not completely disqualify the governor from being selected as the Vice Presidential candidate. It seems to be that Trump and his campaign managers were really looking for someone who would bring in more votes as opposed to someone who is committed to their particular brand of republicanism.
There is no doubt that Pence will be useful towards this end, given his appeal among conservatives. The reason why he is so popular in these circles probably has to do with the following three characteristics that he possesses:
- Social Conservatism – Mike Pence is seen by many as a bastion of the conservative values that have been at the core of the Republican Party for many years (which, to some extent, have recently begun to fade amongst the younger generations). He is best remembered for pushing legislation in his home state of Indiana that was meant to protect religious freedom by making it so that business owners would not have to serve homosexuals if doing so went against their faith. This received nationwide attention, most of it negative. However, there is a significant portion of Republicans that saw this as a brave attempt to protect the rights of the religious in America. Even with a strict conservative track record, the fact that he had to backtrack on this issue due to outside pressure has lost him some points amongst those who were in favor of such laws. Pence also enacted some of the strictest abortion laws in the country. This is something which, in general, appeals to most Republicans, and even some democrats.
- Tea Party – When the Tea Party was first established in 2009, Pence came out in favor of them. This, to a certain extent, gives him a kind of anti-establishment image within the Republican Party. However, it is not the same kind of anti-establishment image that draws people to Donald Trump. Trump is seen as a political outsider who doesn’t care if the Republican elites like him or not. Pence, on the other hand, is someone who seems to be very ideologically motivated and uncompromising in his beliefs. This appeals to a lot of people in America that are sick of what they perceive to be a kind of good ol’ boy politics in Washington.
- Washington Experience – Unlike his running mate Donald Trump, the governor of Indiana has been involved in politics for a large part of his career. His first few attempts at getting into Washington were unsuccessful; he lost in Indiana’s 1988 and 1990 congressional elections. He tried running for office again in 2000 and was finally able to get elected to the U.S. House of Representative, where he remained for twelve years. We know that during his time he was respected by his fellow Republican colleagues because in 2009 he was elected by them to become the Republican Conference Chairman. This is probably one of his strongest characteristics. It makes people trust Donald Trump a bit more knowing that by his side is someone who is familiar with the inner workings of Washington. It was a strong move because Donald Trump keeps his image as an outsider but he still has someone by his side to calm the fears of those who see him as being inexperienced.
Now, in addition the many reasons why Pence is well liked amongst members of his party, there are also many reasons why he disliked:
- Immigration – In the past, Pence has been pro-amnesty. In 2006 he created an immigration plan that would secure the border and make it harder for illegal immigrants to live in the United States but which would allow for a guest worker program. This program would make it so that U.S. employers could take foreign workers when there are few Americans willing to do the jobs they need done. Although it was not a particularly radical plan, Pence took a lot of heat for it from conservatives who saw it as being too liberal. This, to a certain extent, has alienated him a bit from Trump supporters who are generally very hardline when it comes to bringing in immigrants.
- Trade – Pro-TPP and Pro-NAFTA, Pence deviates drastically from Donald Trump’s ideas on free trade. As a congressman he voted for every trade deal that was brought up. Many of Trump’s supporters are no doubt upset with this, and given his record, this does not seem like an issue that the governor is willing to budge on.
- Political Will – As mentioned earlier, even though he pushed for religious freedom legislation in Indiana the new Republican vice presidential candidate was unable to make it into law. This was largely because of strong opposition from various organizations and individuals nationwide. A lot of conservatives saw his struggle as a brave effort, but a lot of them were also disappointed in his ability to follow through. This calls into question whether or not he will actually be effective in getting conservative policy to be heard and implemented. There are those out there who think that he does not have the will to really go out there and get things done, and that he will immediately cave at the first sign of opposition.
Overall, Pence is an okay choice. Not too great, but not disastrous either. In the weeks after the announcement was made Trump rose in the polls significantly, but now his popularity is decreasing. The governor will probably do well at uniting the party but his conservative stance on most issues alienates voters who are not already right-leaning. I am not sure that this is the best strategy for Trump if his goal is to win the general but, like I said, he could have picked much worse.
- Daniel Lara-Agudelo
Sunlight Foundation – https://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2016/07/25/following-the-money-behind-mike-pence/