The stakes of next week’s Republican primary contest in Indiana could not be much higher. A Ted Cruz victory could make it all but impossible for Donald Trump to secure the nomination outright. A Trump victory could make it all but impossible for him not to. A coordinated, all-out anti-Trump effort of the sort seen in Wisconsin is in order. And that means that, like Scott Walker in the Badger State, Indiana governor Mike Pence needs to step up.
Until now, Pence has been sitting on the sidelines in his home state, ostensibly disinclined to get entangled in a national race while facing a reelection battle for his own seat. But the case for Pence’s backing Cruz seems straightforward.
Pence is a reform-oriented, constitutional conservative who has been willing to buck his party’s leadership in the name of principle: As a first-term congressman in 2001, he voted against No Child Left Behind; two years later, he defied the Bush administration on Medicare Part D. Additionally, he has long been an outspoken social conservative. He is, in a word, a tea partier who predated the Tea Party. Ted Cruz was arguably the most Pence-like candidate in the field all along, and is certainly so now. And, of course, Cruz is the only non-Trump candidate with a plausible path to the nomination.
#share#Furthermore, as a matter of self-interest, staying out of the race is unlikely to redound to Pence’s benefit. It’s almost certain that a significant number of Republican voters — exit polls in some states have suggested almost 40 percent — would stay home rather than vote for a Trump ticket in November, and those are voters Pence will need. The number of Trump voters who will not turn out for a non-Trump ticket is likely to be much lower. And there’s not much evidence that other anti-Trump governors — Walker, or Massachusetts’s Charlie Baker, who said in March that he would not vote for Trump in a general election — are suffering their constituents’ wrath.
And thinking even longer-term, should Republicans win back the White House this year, it’s not unrealistic to think that Pence could be a candidate for still higher office. He will not be remembered fondly for, by dint of inaction, helping to cede his state — and the 2016 GOP primary — to a populist who shares few of Pence’s principles and who, if current polls are any indication, would likely lose the White House, perhaps badly.
Wisconsin showed that a coordinated campaign behind Ted Cruz – one that includes elected officials – can help him immensely. Governor Pence should exhibit the leadership that conservatives have come to expect from him.