In one way, Donald Trump’s selection of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate is already a partial success. The early media narrative seems to be that Pence is a safe choice or, at a minimum, the least worst choice. And I obviously disagree, since I recently wrote that selecting Pence would make no sense at all.
Clearly, you can summon up worse options, but that’s not the same as saying that Pence is the least worst option that Trump had.
Let’s start with some things that are being said that simply aren’t true. Writing for the BBC, Anthony Zurcher says “In a year that has defied political conventions, he was a very conventional choice.”
But there’s absolutely nothing “conventional” about Mike Pence. He is a man who cannot say if he believes in the theory of evolution and has spent twenty years spreading doubt about climate change. He’s a man who wants teenage girls (including victims of incest) to get parental consent to use contraceptives, who has done all he can to deny contraception to women of every age, who signed a law mandating that all aborted fetuses should receive proper burials, who supports discrimination against gays and wants to withhold federal funding from any organization that “encourage(s) the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.”
Is this now “conventional” politics?
His hostility to the LGBT community isn’t somehow mitigated because he disappointed some of his fellow-traveling extreme social conservatives and (partially) watered down a bill allowing legal discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people. His hostility to women’s reproductive health and freedom isn’t transformed into conventional pro-life ideology just because he consented to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
Mike Pence isn’t remotely conventional on economic issues, either. During the Debt Ceiling Crisis, then-Rep. Pence insisted that any deal with the president include a Balanced Budget Amendment. The Balanced Budget Amendment is not only the dumbest idea ever promulgated by sentient beings, but it’s an amendment to the Constitution. Do you know how long it takes to pass a Constitutional amendment and how unreasonable it is to default on the nation’s debts because you insist on such a thing?
On foreign policy, a federal judge had to compel Gov. Pence to back down in his effort to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees because Pence didn’t care about the Constitution. He may have said that Trump’s absolute ban on Muslim immigration was unconstitutional, but that doesn’t make him a moderate or “conventional” on these issues.
Pence was an early joiner of the congressional Tea Party Caucus, which was led by the highly unconventional Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Pence chaired the Republican Study Committee, which is the most extreme right-wing policy shop in Congress.
Obviously, I could go on for a long time highlighting things about Pence that are alarming or ridiculous, but I’m trying to focus on things that set him apart from even mainstream conservatives. I mean, it matters that he loved the idea of fighting in Iraq or that he has rigorously supported the same kinds of free trade agreements that Trump opposes, but he’s not alone in those things.
To the degree that it can be legitimately argued that Pence is “conventional,” it’s an enormous testimony to how far right the party has drifted since the time of Jack Kemp and Dan Quayle and Poppy Bush and Gerald Ford. But it’s actually not true that we’ve seen someone this far right nominated before. No, not even Palin or Cheney were this radical across the board.
Now, another thing people are saying is that Pence will help the party unify around Trump, and I think that is probably true. But that still doesn’t make much sense as a political strategy. Trump doesn’t need the marginal people who voted for McCain and Romney because they both lost badly. He needs a differently shaped electorate. It’s only in this sense that Pence can perhaps help him. Trump wants to go after midwestern states, most of which have voted for Democrats rather consistently since 1988. Pence is the governor of a midwestern state, albeit, one without a Detroit or a Chicago or a Milwaukee. It’s at least possible that Pence can help Trump solidify some support in Ohio or Michigan.
But he isn’t going to reassure anyone with his conventionalism. He was a radical in Congress and he’d be a radical as vice-president. This narrative that he’s safe and conventional and reassuring is dangerous stuff and it needs to be aggressively rebutted.