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10 thoughts on Trump’s Pence pick

This is such a normal, sane, somewhat logical veep pick that it is hard to reconcile with Donald Trump’s general modus operandi of unpredictability and outside-the-box-ness.

Donald Trump, right, and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence greeting a crowd during a campaign stop in Westfield, Ind., on Tuesday.
REUTERS/John Sommers II

As he confirmed this morning (by Tweet, of course) Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has asked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to be his running mate, and Pence has agreed. Trump is, as Jeb Bush called him, a “chaos candidate,” so naturally the announcement of the Pence pick turned into chaos, with Trump canceling his plan to announce it — allegedly out of respect for the slaughter in Nice — which led to an extra few hours of everyone wondering what Mr. Chaos was up to, and maybe we’ll never know for sure.

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But, about an hour before the deadline Pence had to meet to withdraw from his previous plan for 2016, which was to seek a second term as governor, Trump confirmed that Pence is the one. They’ll meet the public together soon.

With guidance from Joel Goldstein of St. Louis University Law School, a leading authority on the American vice presidency, and Larry Jacobs of the U of M’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, I offer a few thoughts.

  1. This is such a normal, sane, somewhat logical veep pick that it is hard to reconcile with Trump’s general modus operandi of unpredictability and outside-the-box-ness. Add the fact that the insider reporting all week has said that Trump really preferred to run with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (which would have been a much riskier pick, since Christie has more skeletons in his closet) and it becomes even a little harder to believe that Trump, the master of chaos and wtf campaigning, would be talked into the most sensible, if boring pick.
  2. But in keeping with point 1 above, the Pence pick is intended to reassure Republicans who are freaked out by the Trumpiness of Trump. Goldstein and Jacobs both used the word “reassuring.” Pence is not exciting. He is predictable. He has a conventional political style.
  3. He has experience, which Trump obviously lacks, in dealing with Congress and running a state. So, as Goldstein said, the pick “checks those boxes” for the ticket. After six terms in the House, some of that spent as the third-ranking leader of the Republican caucus, he knows the ways of Congress and most of the players. He knows how a bill becomes law. He is not flashy. He generally thinks before he speaks. Said Jacobs: “The big story is that Trump has chosen someone straight out of the Mondale model, a vice president who can be a partner in governing.”
  4. In addition to being sane, predictable and calm (in contrast to his new boss) the Pence pick is also supposed to be reassuring to conservatives who see Trump as (imagine this) all over the map on policy. Pence has the righty position (and in some instances pretty far right) on everything. He is a small government, anti-tax conservative and was an early ally of the Tea Party movement. He sponsored a constitutional amendment to limit the growth of government spending. He was so opposed to the Affordable Care Act that he once compared it to the 9/11 attacks (although he later backed off that comparison). Said Goldstein: “Republican nominees who are not Ronald Reagan need someone on the ticket to placate the right wing of the party.”
  5. On social issues, he’s even more conservative. He’s an evangelical Christian who opposed not only gay marriage but the earlier compromise on “civil unions.” He still hopes to roll back the recent gains on GLBT rights. Unlike his future running mate, Trump, who used to be pro-choice, Pence is solidly pro-life. While in the House, he helped push the federal government to the brink of shutdown in 2011 in a failed attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood. On social issues, he is so far right that in 2010, he won a straw poll for president taken by the Values Voter Summit. He likes to say that he’s “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” But being a consistent conservative can be tough when two kinds of conservatism clash. As governor, he supported a “religious freedom” law that allowed merchants to deny services to gay clients, based on the religious views of the business owners. But when some major Indiana employers objected and threatened to reduce their footprint in the state, the “pro-business” governor backtracked and signed a revision that sacrificed the religious feelings of the homophobic business owners.
  6. He was willing to join the ticket and he is relatively scandal-free. Newt Gingrich and Christie are carrying a lot of scandal baggage. (In case you missed it, one of Christie’s former high-ranking aides pleaded guilty yesterday to a felony count of bribery. David Samson, who led the New Jersey Port Authority at the time of the George Washingon Bridge access-lane-closing incident in 2013, admitted he’d put pressure on United Airlines to restart a canceled route to Columbia, S.C., which is close to a Samson residence.)
  7. It probably won’t affect the race much. The updated conventional wisdom on veep picks has changed. They are no longer viewed as big difference-makers in the election outcome, certainly not in the old-fashioned sense of delivering an important state or even a region, as in the old days when tickets – especially Dem tickets – often had a North-South balance.
  8. Speaking of delivering a key state: Indiana is not particularly large (11 electoral votes) and has given those votes to the Republican ticket in 17 of the last 19 elections (hardly a key swing state) and Pence, who as I mentioned above has been only slightly ahead in polls of his own re-election race in Indiana, might not even be a huge asset if Indiana were in play.
  9. Other possible picks who might have helped the ticket more weren’t willing to do it. For example, John Kasich is the popular governor of Ohio, a really big, really swing state. I don’t know whether Trump was interested in Kasich. But Kasich said unequivocally and publicly that he wasn’t willing to be on a ticket with Trump. That left Pence, as Goldstein put it, “looking like the most plausible pick out of a somewhat shallow pool.”
  10. Pence, by the way, endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for the Republican nomination and campaigned with him on the eve of the Indiana primary. This was at the tail end of the contest, and Cruz was leading the anybody-but-Trump movement. Goldstein suggested that this could cause some “authenticity problems” for Pence when he finds himself singing Trump’s praises. But it may be noteworthy on that score that Pence mostly avoided making unflattering remarks about Trump. “I’m not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the Republican primary,” Pence said. In the same time frame, he said that Trump has “given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans with the lack of progress in Washington, D.C.”

In closing, Goldstein said he would predict that the choice of veeps on both tickets will probably have a marginal impact on the race but added, “sometimes, elections are decided on the margins.”