Politics & Policy

Mercurial Trump Picks Steady Hand Pence

Pence and Trump at a campaign appearance in Westfield, Ind., July 12, 2016. (John Sommers II/Reuters)
Having Indiana governor Mike Pence on the ticket may soothe some conservatives’ concerns.

Donald Trump accomplished several things with his choice of Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate. 

His choice of the level-headed, consistently conservative, and strongly Christian Pence does a lot to take air out of the tires of the Never Trump movement that had been trying to convince delegates to “vote their conscience” at the Cleveland convention this week and deny Trump a first-ballot nomination. “The Never Trump movement actually rattled the Trump campaign more than most people realized,” one source close to Trump told me. “I think it helped convince him he had to play it safe and make a reassuring pick for VP just before the convention.”

Indeed, Trump’s final decision came down to choosing between someone who resembled him in many ways and someone who is his opposite. Newt Gingrich would have brought governing experience but would have also been, in the words of ABC’s Rick Klein, “another thrice-married, dynamic 70-something with a proven history of tangling with the Clintons.” Gingrich himself seemed to recognize the situation: “Do you really want a two-pirate ticket?” he asked Wednesday night during a Fox News interview.

By contrast, Pence is calm, disciplined, and a born-again Christian who has shown he can rhetorically temper his conservative principles.

“For me it all begins with faith; it begins with what matters most, and I try and put what I believe to be moral truth first, my philosophy of government second, and my politics third,” Pence told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2010. As for his style, Pence, a former talk-show host, described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.” He can make sharp attacks on opponents — as when this week he called Hillary Clinton unfit to be president over her role in the Benghazi terrorist attack — but he doesn’t come off as bombastic.

RELATED: Is Trump Pleasing Critics and Disappointing Fans with a Pence Pick?

Pence will, of course, come under liberal fire for his role in signing the 2015 Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Pence defended it as cementing religious freedom into the law, but came under withering fire from both Democrats and business leaders in his state who said it would allow the denial of services to gay customers based on religious-freedom claims. Pence retreated on the law and signed a revision noting: “Some on the left, and frankly some in the national media, have mischaracterized this law over the last week (and) might make it necessary for us to clarify the law through legislation.”

It is to Trump’s credit that he picked someone who endorsed his rival Ted Cruz during the primary campaign. 

It is to Trump’s credit that he picked someone who endorsed his rival Ted Cruz during the primary campaign and has from time to time criticized Trump’s tactics. After Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Pence flatly said that “calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional.”

In March, Trump told MSNBC host Chris Matthews that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who seek illegal abortions. Pence is staunchly pro-life but made it clear in a statement from his office that he disagreed with Trump and that policies should focus on those performing abortions.

In May, Trump called U.S. district judge Gonzalo P. Curiel a “hater” and suggested he is biased against him in a fraud trial involving the defunct Trump University because “he’s a Mexican.” Pence noted that Curiel was actually born in Indiana to immigrant parents and said that “I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to question the partiality of the judge based on their ethnic background.”

#related#Should Trump be elected, Pence would be a valuable go-between for Trump with Republican congressional leaders. A member of the House for a dozen years, Pence rose to become chairman of the House Republican Conference and earned the respect of many for the way he balanced his principles with political reality. He opposed the expansion of Medicare drug benefits when it was proposed by the Bush administration in 2003. He was one of only 25 GOP House members to do so, and his objections were considered to be sincere and heartfelt. 

Iowa Republican senator Joni Ernst, who was on Trump’s short list for vice president herself, has praised Pence as “well rounded” and “a great conservative.” His selection doesn’t remove the doubts that many in the conservative movement have about Donald Trump, but it goes a long way to convincing them that he will have wise counsel giving him sound advice.

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