Pence, Mike Official Portrait

Governor Mike Pence (Source:

In the press conference to announce his running mate for the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump spoke for 28 minutes, much of which was rambling about irrelevancies and resembled one of his rallies, before finally naming Mike Pence, governor or Indiana, and getting him up on the stage with him. There are plenty of indications that Trump himself isn’t all that comfortable with the pick, but given the number of potential candidates who didn’t want to be considered or withdrew from the running, he didn’t have much choice.

In the last few days before the announcement the media buzz was that along with Pence it was down to Chris Christie, governor or New Jersey, and former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

Christie and his wife are close friends with the Trump couple and they have a good rapport. Christie already has the role, if necessary, of managing the transition to a Trump presidency. There are a some things that might have counted against Christie with Republican voters though.

First is the now infamous picture of Christie with his arm around Obama at the time of hurricane Sandy just before the 2012 elections. While I thought it was a sign of a good governor doing what he could for his people at a time of crisis, apparently for many Republicans no crisis is too big for it to be acceptable to be friendly towards a (black) Democratic president.

Second is the famous eye roll by Christie’s wife Mary Pat as Trump made (another) sexist remark, which would certainly have made it into Democratic propaganda if Christie was named as the potential VP.

And third, there’s a personal issue that may have got in the way. Chris Christie prosecuted the government’s case against Ivanka Trump’s father-in-law, Charles Kushner, when he was New Jersey’s attorney-general. There is no one that Trump is more devoted to than his daughter. The case was controversial because as well as the eighteen original felony charges, Kushner had extra charges laid against him for witness tampering. He hired a prostitute to seduce his sister’s husband, who was testifying against him, videotaped the encounter, then sent the videotape to his sister. After doing time in prison, Kushner announced that God had forgiven him, but would never forgive those is his family who testified against him.

Newt Gingrich was apparently favoured by several in Trump’s family, and would have been a popular choice among Republicans. He’s highly intelligent and an extremely skilled debater. He would have fitted the traditional attack-dog role of vice-presidential nominee perfectly. He also has the reputation of helping balance the budget during a Democratic presidency, and the impeachment former president Bill Clinton.

That last issue though is also the first of the strikes against Gingrich. It would have been problematic to refer to the details of the impeachment given that it’s now widespread knowledge that at the time he was attacking Bill Clinton for his extra-marital activities, Gingrich himself was having an affair. There could also have been a backlash of sympathy for Hillary Clinton.

Secondly, Gingrich has been working as a lobbyist since leaving office. He represents everything that Trump has been preaching against in his campaign. He exemplifies the Washington political class.

Thirdly Gingrich, like Trump himself, cannot be controlled. He would at times attract more attention than Trump and has openly not just disagreed with Trump, but stated he is wrong. Also, with someone as aggressively intelligent as Gingrich in the room, Trump, I think, feels threatened. Trump’s too obviously not the most knowledgeable person when Gingrich is around. We’d be getting tweets of whose hands are bigger before you know it.

And lastly, a Trump/Gingrich ticket would result in a flood of humourous cartoons and memes about two men and six wives.

Trump dog walkerMike Pence then was the safe pick. He was the candidate favoured by Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has proven himself to Trump as someone worth listening to. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight calls him, accurately I think, “Trump’s Least Worst Choice.” There are no major controversies surrounding him, he’s a solid conservative, and he appeals to conservative Christians. His most well known comment is, “I’m a Christian first, a conservative second, and a Republican third.” His opposition to abortion except in the cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother has been consistent throughout his career, which will help reassure those who question Trump’s commitment on this issue. Pence has also enacted stronger anti-choice laws in Indiana. Then there’s the possibility that having Pence on the ticket will attract donations from people like the Koch brothers who have made their antipathy to Trump known but have given strong financial support to Pence in the past.

Of course, during the primary campaign, Trump called candidates like Pence “low-energy” and “losers.” Now I’m hearing Trump surrogates on CNN call him a “good balance” to Trump and go into long explanations about how if you don’t like certain things about Trump you can find what you like in Pence and vice-versa.

Pence is not popular in Indiana, and there was a question whether or not he would run again anyway. Trump said when he announced Pence as his choice that he really wanted to win that state. However, Trump’s popularity is very strong in Indiana and the presence Pence on the ticket is not required for Trump to win there. Since Pence managed to upset those on both the left and right with his establishment of a vile Religious Freedom Act in his state, then later backing down on the issue, he has been studiously avoiding answering any questions on social issues. His performance on ABC’s This Week is particularly infamous:

The full 11:45 interview can be seen here.

As a vice-presidential candidate he’s not going to be able to avoid the social issues though. They will be asked and he better have some good answers if he doesn’t want to provide some sound bites for Democratic ads. Elizabeth Warren has already put out a series of tweets on the Pence pick:

There are a lot more. Elizabeth Warren tweeting these things means the media can use the tweets to ask for a response from the candidate – they can’t be blamed for bringing up the issue themselves.

Fox New’s Sean Hannity has been using his show as an advertorial for Trump since Trump declared his candidacy for president. He has frequently benefited from his fawning by getting interviews and other close access to the Trump campaign. On Friday US time/Saturday NZ time, Hannity was again rewarded for his loyalty and he gave over his whole show to a soft ball interview of Pence. Here’s an example of a question from Hannity:

In 1991 you wrote a piece … in Policy Review: ‘Negative Campaigning is Wrong’. We know that Hillary Clinton will run a negative campaign. She’s running it, first minute out of the box she’s attacking you today. One of the traditional roles of a vice-president though is to go out there and prosecute the case against the opponent. How would you prosecute the case against Hillary?

Although there’s clear bias here, the question seems reasonably okay, right? But then, before Pence has a chance to say a thing, Hannity goes on to say:

Um, she’s got a 67% distrust, um people find her dishonest and untrustworthy, 57% thought she should have been indicted on the issue involving her e-mails. What is your, what is your answer. Is negative campaigning wrong to tell the truth about her?

For goodness sake! This is literally unbelievable. It’s like Hannity was told he had to ask the question about negative campaigning, but he added some bits to avoid the whole thing as much as possible. Pence’s answer, of course, said nothing:

Well, I think elections are about choices and when I wrote that piece back in 1991 I’d come out of a couple of tough campaigns where on both sides of the campaign we were talking more about what was wrong with each other than we were talking about the issues.

In other words, “I was upset because I lost and anyway it’s a long time ago so it doesn’t count.”

There were a number of things in the interview that troubled me despite Hannity constantly covering for Pence and doing everything he could to put him in the best light. Of course, many of the things that trouble me are things that those supporting Trump will find positive.

1. He suspended the refugee programme in Indiana. This, he says, shows his committment to keeping Americans safe. Never mind that in the United States (and New Zealand and Canada) refugees are the safest of all immigrants by far. Any statement by a politician that contends otherwise is both a lie and fear-mongering. It’s appealing to the worst in people. If you think stopping refugees coming in to the US via the UNHCR programme makes your country safer, please watch this video:

2. He repeated several times that Clinton wanted to increase refugee numbers by 550% and made it sound like she wanted to import terrorists to the country. Apart from this being incorrect, increasing refugees is a positive, not a negative for a country. Refugees are safe immigrants, make a positive contribution to the country, and help to make up for the fact that like many Western countries, the US has too many baby boomers and not enough young people to support them.

3. The interview was on the day of the attempted military coup in Turkey. He praised his own foreign policy experience and said he’d been to Turkey but still managed to pronounce “Ankara” incorrectly each time he said it.

4. He twice blamed the coup in Turkey on Hillary Clinton and her time as Secretary of State. The origins of the coup go back to many years, some of them to before Clinton was even born. It is a blatant lie and an appeal to anti-Clinton sentiment to blame her. President Erdoğan of Turkey is, in my opinion, to blame for the attempted coup against him. There is even talk that he engineered the coup himself in order to enable him to arrest and execute his enemies. If you want to know the real story, this article in the New Yorker is a good place to start.

5. He said that radical Islam was only a problem in the Middle East. I guess his self-approved foreign policy experience doesn’t extend very far.

6. He said that in 2008 Iraq was politically stable due to the “extraordinary programmes” the Bush regime had instituted. The fact that one of the main reasons for the success of DAESH in the Sunni areas of the country was the completely stupid de-Ba’athification policy put into place by Paul Bremer against the advice of many must have escaped Pence’s notice.

7. He repeated the 8-year long lie of Obama’s “apology tour.” Politifact analysed the “apology tour” meme at length when Mitt Romney used it during his campaign in 2012. Their assessment? Pants on fire!

Apology Tour

8. He was unable to say that his vote supporting the Iraq war was a mistake.

9. He voted against the prescription drug extension.

10. He thinks Obamacare should he fully repealed and that health savings accounts are a better alternative.

11. He thinks that government spending must be cut except on the military, where it must be significantly icreased. When asked how important increasing military spending was on a scale of one to ten, he said, “eleven.”

12. He opposed “don’t ask/don’t tell.” He thinks LGBT people should not be allowed to serve in the military.

13. He repeated the lie that Clinton promised to shut down coal mines and put coal miners out of work.

14. He says all trade deals have to be renegotiated “once we appoint the best negotiator in the world.” He avoided answering questions about Trump’s advocacy of retaliatory tariffs.

He was also asked the inevitable question about becoming president if the unthinkable happened. His response was:

I don’t think anyone can say that, but I wouldn’t have said, “Yes,” if I didn’t believe in my heart of hearts that should the moment ever come, by God’s grace, I believe that the lifetime that we have lived would prepare us to step up and follow in that role.

Mike Pence originally supported Ted Cruz, and his views line up closely with his. He is a religious extremist whose views on things like abortion, same-sex marriage, and the acceptance of LGBT people in our society are not those of the majority of the population. He does nothing for Trump as far as attracting the voters he needs to win – women and minorities. In fact, he drives them away. He does perhaps shore up the evangelical vote though Trump already had that, if only because they were voting against Clinton, or, more accurately, who she would choose for the Supreme Court.

Evangelicals vote for Trump

Mike Pence looks the part. He doesn’t have the personality to attract media attention and so has largely flown under the radar so far in his career. He’s about to be exposed, and he will be shown to be a small-minded, selfish, puritanical, bigot. Becoming Donald Trump’s running mate will destroy his ability to ever be elected to public office again, but this is America – it’ll probably make him rich.