In appeasing the extreme right by choosing Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate, Donald Trump reveals how he hopes to secure enough votes to win the presidency — and how he may have to govern in order to satisfy the GOP base.
With his announcement of Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate, Donald Trump almost single-handedly revived a political career that was circling the bowl not long ago. Pence, once considered a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, all but ended his hopes of national office when he signed Indiana’s “religious freedom” law, and bungled his response to a backlash that cost his state millions of dollars.
In March 2015, Pence was a top contender for the GOP presidential nomination. Then, last March, Pence signed the so-called “Religious Freedom and Restoration Act” (RFRA) into law. The law allowed businesses and individuals to discriminate on the basis of strongly held religious beliefs. Though it didn’t specifically mention sexual orientation, the law was considered a trial balloon for the far right’s strategy if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, which it did in Obergefell v. Hodges just a couple of months after Pence signed the RFRA.
Pence, however didn’t count on the backlash against Indiana’s legislative embrace of bigotry. Almost immediately, a social media campaign called for businesses and individuals to boycott Indiana. Corporate America condemned the law. The backlash cost the state an estimated $60 million in lost revenue.
Pence’s dishonest defense of the law — claiming it was not about anti-LGBT discrimination, only to call for the state legislature to “clarify” that the law didn’t allow anti-LGBT discrimination — all but annihilated his chances of winning the GOP nomination. Pence announced that he wouldn’t run.
Then Donald Trump, the party’s most unconventional presumptive nominee, came along in need of a running mate. Despite his overtures to the evangelical voters so important to the GOP, Trump’s own evangelical advisers were having doubts about the casino- and strip-club owning, lying philanderer at the top of the GOP ticket.
Now, Pence’s “religious freedom” debacle is an asset to Trump. Most of the rest of Pence’s record will go a long way toward helping Trump win over the far-right wing of the GOP.
● In the 1990s, Pence was a board member of the anti-LGBT Indiana Family Institute (IFI), which lobbied for the passage of the RFRA, which Pence signed into law as IFI lobbyists looked on as invited guests.
● As a member of Congress, Pence voted for the Paul Ryan/Republican budget that would end Medicare by turning it into a voucher program, shifting thousands in health care costs to seniors.
● In 2007, Pence co-sponsored a bill to declare English “the official language of the United States,” and require English proficiency for naturalization. The bill died in committee.
● The same year, Pence opposed legislation to expand the definition of a “hate crime” to include violence against a person based on their perceived sexual orientation or identity.
● In 2011, as a member of Congress, Pence went on a “one-man crusade” against Planned Parenthood, repeatedly introducing legislation to deny it, and any other abortion provider, from receiving federal Title X funding for family planning and reproductive health care.
● Pence is a hard-core climate change denier, telling MSNBC host Chuck Todd that he didn’t know if climate change “is a resolved issue in science today,” before adding, “Just a few years ago, we were talking about global warming. We haven’t seen a lot of warming lately. I remember back in the ‘70s we were talking about the coming ice age.”
● Pence dismantled Indiana’s successful energy efficiency program, which had resulted in energy savings of 11 million megawatt hours and created almost 19,000 jobs. When the state’s Republican legislature passed a bill to end the program, Pence “declined to veto it,” allowing it to become law.
● Pence also supported cuts to Social Security. In 2010, he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “I think it’s imperative – absolutely imperative – whether its Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid… with regard to entitlements, we’re going to have to take some deep cuts in domestic spending.”
● In 2013, Pence signed a law capping Indiana’s minimum wage at just $8.25 an hour. Pence had previously signed legislation prohibiting local governments from raising their minimum wage, or offering benefits like paid sick leave that were not mandated by federal law.
● In 2014 Pence followed the lead of Republican governors like Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and Kansas’ Sam Brownback, by enacting corporate tax cuts that were projected to cost Indiana between $35 million and $240 million annually.
● Pence joined other GOP governors in issuing an order that barred state agencies from helping to resettle Syrian refugees.
● Last January, the Indianapolis Star reported that Pence was planning to launch a “state-run news outlet” to compete against local media services. Denounced as a “right-wing Pravda,” the proposed agency would feature stories and news released written by state press secretaries and targeted at small newspapers with few staffers.
● In March, Pence signed into law a “kitchen sink” anti-choice bill that placed multiple new restriction on access to abortion.
Trump’s choice of Pence signals that he’s going to rely on increasing turnout among the GOP’s far-right, social conservative and evangelical base. He may not have much of a choice. The same hate-fueled rhetoric that propelled Trump to the front of the GOP presidential pack effectively sealed his fate with much of an increasingly diverse American electorate.
Even Trump’s support among white voters is flagging. Traditionally Republican college-educated white voters prefer Hillary Clinton over Trump. Trump may be the first Republican candidate to lose among white, college-educated voters since the 1960s. That Trump-induced “white flight” from the GOP leaves the party even more dependent on white working-class voters, at a time when that group’s vote share is shrinking.
As a candidate who seems the opposite of just about everything the GOP has for decades claimed to stand for, Trump needs a running mate who can shore up his conservative credentials. Having alienated Latinos, African-Americans, women, and just about every segment of the emerging American electorate, as well as some white voters the GOP has depended upon for decades, Trump needs a running mate who can help him keep as many members of the GOP’s core constituents in his coalition, and get them to the polls. That’s why Trump is gambling that Pence can help him get into the White House.
If Trump’s gamble with Pence pays off, his vice presidential choice will take on a more ominous significance. If he’s to have any hope of governing, President Trump will have to work hard to keep the support of the voters who put him in office. Choosing Pence as his running mate may signal how Trump will have to govern, no matter what he says during the campaign.