If Mike Pence’s acceptance speech this evening was any indication, Trump was wise to submit his VP judgment to Paul Manafort and the “professionals.” The Indiana governor delivered a well-written, if overlong, speech that did what it needed to do: introduce Pence to the country (hence the nods to Pence’s mother, wife, and three grown children, all in the audience), and prove that Pence can traffick responsibly in Trump’s rhetoric.
That second is no easy task, which is why Newt Gingrich (who preceded Pence in the evening’s schedule) was a favorite for the VP slot. The former speaker of the House is nothing if not silver-tongued. But Pence proved himself up to the task of projecting gravity while also making use of the language that has appealed to Trump’s supporters. This was a speech chock full of references to “fighting” and “winning” and making America “great.” But those elements were woven into a larger speech that would not have sounded out of place at any recent Republican convention.
Additionally, Pence did not seem remotely cowed by his national spotlight. He was amicable and optimistic, timed his punchlines, and used his Midwestern cadences to suggest familiarity without falling into (too much) aw-shucks-ism. If it’s true that Donald Trump’s running-mate would be “the most powerful vice president in American history,” as the New York Times suggested recently, Pence came across as one up to the task.
The next four months will show whether the high-wire act that Pence has taken on — balancing Reagan-style conservatism and Trumpism — can travel. Needless to say, Pence will also be required to defend or to explain the political eructations of his running mate, and it’s not yet clear how he’ll fare at that. And, obviously, all of this will be made more difficult by Pence’s public disagreements with Trump on matters of both principle and policy.
But those are questions for another day. Pence’s speech tonight was sober and pleasant and utterly (vice-)presidential. That’s as much as the Trump campaign could hope for.