How Pence Helps Trump

The Briefing, Vol IV, Issue 29-

This week:

  • Off to convention!
  • Anti-police terrorism is making crime a national issue again
  • Bayh is back, but this time he has a real race on his hands


The GOP convention begins this week, and we’re on the scene in Cleveland.

The gathering of Republicans promises none of the drama that people might have anticipated three months ago. There will be no serious challenge to Donald Trump’s nomination, and pro-Trump forces dominated the platform committee to the point that anti-Trump forces accomplished nothing.

The die is cast — this is the Trump nomination and the Trump election year.


TrumPence: As we noted last week, the unlikely choice of Mike Pence as Donald Trump’s running mate would represent a sort of olive branch to conservatives who have been uneasy about Trump — specifically the religious sort of conservatives, and specifically the kind who attend church and are less likely to have voted Trump in the primary. This approach seemed unlikely because Pence was in the middle of his re-election. But Trump went in this direction, and Pence was willing to go with him.

It’s a good choice in many ways — for what it’s worth, and as Trump has pointed out, it’s probably not worth that much. Pence’s record in Indiana has has been strong enough that he maintains a positive approval rating within the state (+7 per Morning Consult). More importantly from a national perspective, he represents a step back from Trumpism into something resembling a more familiar, conventional Republican approach — but not a step too far back into that approach.

Pence is controversial with some conservatives for three very specific reasons. First, his push to expand Medicaid under Obamacare (albeit under terms more favorable than those other states accepted), which makes the law harder to reverse in the long run. Second, Pence embraced an education regime that more or less resembles Common Core in all but name. This issue has caused him massive headaches, as it helped elect a liberal Democrat as education superintendent who has been a thorn in his side. Third, he was viewed as backing down after signing his state’s high profile religious freedom bill. In this last incident, he almost appeared to have a panic attack that caused him to surrender a legislative victory already won.

But Pence is also beloved of social conservatives for a couple of specific policies he has put in place since taking over from former Gov. Mitch Daniels, R. For one, the Hoosier State now has a robust school voucher system that is reinvigorating many Christian and Catholic schools. For another, he has overseen the direction of welfare and health money to pregnancy crisis centers that provide alternatives to abortion and provide free care for women and baby supplies through pregnancy and childbirth.

The drawbacks to Pence (from a movement conservative perspective) are surely less important than any other aversions that so-cons may have to Trump. And they are certainly unlikely to play a large role in his reception as Trump’s running mate. The benefits for Trump in choosing Pence, at least from behind Republican lines, are sure to outweigh those drawbacks.

Of course, there has been pushback from Trump supporters as well, some of whom view Pence’s issue-differences with Trump to be a problem. Pence once proposed a version of “touchback amnesty” for many illegal residents of the U.S. (it was an alternative to the Bush-era comprehensive immigration reform push) and as the governor of a state where international trade is responsible for many, many manufacturing jobs (Subaru and Toyota have large footprints), he has always supported free trade.

But let’s face it, it’s highly unlikely that any significant number of Trump supporters would abandon him because of his vice presidential choice. In fact, the best estimate of how many would do so is zero.

What’s more, if anyone on this Republican ticket is going to be controversial or cause a row, it is not going to be Pence, whose mild manner probably led Trump’s team to recommend him over Newt Gingrich. Pence has said and written controversial things in the past, but there’s nothing he has or could ever say that would outshine or eclipse Trump in terms of controversy. And that’s probably how Trump likes it — after all, he draws part of his appeal from the fact that he says and gets away with saying many things that no conventional politician of any stripe would even dare.

Once Donald Trump clinched the GOP nomination, it was quite clear and still is that 2016 is going to be all about him. In that sense, as Trump himself put it, the choice of running mate makes very little difference, if any.

Why not Newt? The safe bet was always Gingrich, so why didn’t he go with him? There was always a danger to having a second strong personality on the ticket. Gingrich was already one of the strongest personalities in Republican politics — it may just have been more than anyone could handle.

Ironically, one reason Trump and his inner circle settled on Pence was Gingrich’s last-minute Hail Mary to prove his willingness to imitate Trump. Gingrich’s decision to advocate deportation of Muslims too adherent to Islamic law as civil law convinced them that he was trying too hard and had gone too far.

The reports that Trump was trying to get out of his choice of Pence may well be true, but it is likely to prove the best he could have done. Aside from Chris Christie, whose unpopularity remains a major problem in a state where Trump would at least like to compete, there was probably no other sitting governor who would have been willing to take the number-two spot on the ticket. The choice of a political has-been like Gingrich, or an ideological clone like Sen. Jeff Sessions, would not have provided the same kind of balance.

Again, however, it’s not as though it matters that much.


Anti-police terrorism: Sunday’s ambush shootings of police in Baton Rouge and Milwaukee, following closely on the heels of a similar anti-police terrorist attack in Dallas, are obviously significant in the life of this nation.

That significance has policy implications, of course — such incidents are becoming common, threatening what legitimate concerns there are behind the Black Lives Matter movement. They could erode conservative support for some aspects of criminal justice reform. They could potentially even alter the gun control debate, as the Left is trying very hard to steer the issue in that direction.

But aside from any factual or policy considerations, these attacks also threaten to become a serious political issue on the stump. If they do, it will almost certainly be in Trump’s favor.

This is not to say that Trump is necessarily well-versed in the finer points of criminal justice reform, or even knows the correct answer (if there is one) to preventing anti-police terrorism. But he has a political base that is receptive to a law-and-order message, and this means he can afford to be less restrained than Clinton in demanding a harsh crackdown, which the voting public is likely to demand in response. His comments earlier in the campaign season, in which he has called for the death penalty for cop-killers, suddenly appear much more relevant than before.

Trump’s response to the shootings was precisely what one would expect: “We demand law and order,” he said Sunday. He later tweeted out criticism of President Obama’s response to the incident in Baton Rouge: “Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!”

The law-and-order plank of the GOP platform never disappeared or lost favor, but it at least went out of style in the late 1990s as crime fell precipitously. In more recent times, Republicans have spent much of their energy pointing out that violence in general, and gun violence in particular, are at historically low levels they haven’t seen in 50 years.

Republicans haven’t pushed the law and order message too hard since the era of the Three-Strikes Law and mandatory minimums, when crime was a much bigger issue. Although conservatives have changed their minds on some aspects of the law-and-order agenda since then, seeing the results of what works and what doesn’t, there’s certainly no disagreement anywhere about the need to stop cop-killers, and there are enough on the Right who strenuously disagree with the Black Lives Matter movement (or agree in part but with deep suspicion) that this issue is likely to unify the GOP base.


Senate 2016

Indiana: If the return of Marco Rubio to his Florida race was a boon for the GOP, the return of former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., to his old Senate seat in Indiana is a similar mixed blessing for Democrats.

The good news for them is that this at least puts them back in contention, as Bayh was a long-serving and popular elected official. The bad news is that Bayh is not exactly a shoo-in, and unlike Rubio is sure to face a strong opponent in Rep. Todd Young, R. Bayh hasn’t had a real race on his hands since 1988 when he first ran for governor against John Mutz.

One thing Bayh has going for him is a leftover $10 million warchest. Working against him is the fact that he hasn’t actually lived in Indiana for years, having worked as a D.C. lobbyist every since he quit the Senate in 2010. His only connection to the state at this point is his $60,000 condo. Recall that Sen. Dick Lugar was defeated in a GOP primary where his residency became a major issue. That may not be transferrable to a general election, but it’s definitely not going to help Bayh.

Indiana has an open primary system, and turnout in the must-win Democratic areas in the combined presidential and down-ballot primary was astonishingly bad compared to previous years. Hillary Clinton’s inability to turn out the black vote in Lake County (Hammond, Gary), despite appearances by Bayh and former President Bill Clinton on her behalf, was the main reason for her surprise upset loss to Bernie Sanders there in May. Which is to say that the conventional pre-Trump wisdom may still apply here: Clinton will probably suffer from a turnout drop-off in Indiana from the two Obama-era elections. (It may not be the only state where this happens. The question looming over the race is whether or not Republican turnout slumps as well.)

Indiana is one state where Trump is likely to outperform at least Sen. John McCain’s 2008 performance, and one of the earliest to show an unambiguous polling lead for Trump over Clinton in a general election. If so, that can only help Young, provided that Trump voters are politically conscious enough to pull the lever down-ballot after they vote for Trump.