It seemed like I should take a moment to acknowledge the fact that Gov. Pence is now running for Vice-President. That’s a throwback to Indiana’s glory days of the late 19th century and early 20th century when we had someone on the national ticket during most cycles. Between 1868 and 1916, there were Schuyler Colfax, Thomas Hendricks, William English, Charles Fairbanks, John Kern, and Thomas Marshall (along with the Presidential run of Benjamin Harrison.) Since then, I guess it’s been Wendell Wilkie and Dan Quayle.
That previous list surely includes greater and lesser talents alike. This Politico article suggests that Gov. Pence is on the lesser end of that spectrum. At first glance, with Pence, it looks like the Trump campaign is getting a communicator, a legislator, and an executive. But, each of those qualities looks better on paper than the reality — perhaps a perfect fit given Trump’s history of failing to deliver what he promises.
Pence’s reputation as a communicator probably originates with his history as a talk show host. But, if you’ve ever seen Rush Limbaugh get into an argument where he didn’t control the microphone, you can tell that’s not necessarily a skill set that translates past the friendly confines of your radio studio. If you can’t turn off the camera or microphone when someone asks a follow up question, those well-framed sound bites wilt when they aren’t soundly connected to the underlying reality. Local reporters seem to agree that Gov. Pence often communicates by robotically repeating phrases he’s settled on. This isn’t necessarily a partisan observation, by the way. I think most of the same folks would freely praise Governor Daniels’ ability to riff on a subject and play to the room when called upon to elaborate on a topic.
With respect to his legislative background, my sense is that, while in D.C., Gov. Pence got in good with the cable news and talk radio set. He seems to have tried to move legislation when he first got to D.C., but after the first couple of years was content to mostly just talk. (A friend referred to him as “a back bench bomb thrower with huge ambitions.”) My review of GovTrack information a few years back indicated that he’d introduced 63 bills (about half of which were in his first two years), managed to get three out of committee, and passed nothing. Here is what I wrote then of the GovTrack information:
2001 – 2002:
#34 bills to suspend tariffs on various chemicals — used in agriculture, if I’m not mistaken
#one bill to criminalize the use of domain names to attract kids to look at dirty pictures (again in 2003-2004); and
#one to posthumously give a promotion to an admiral.
2003 – 2004
#A bill to allow an illegal immigrant to remain in the country. She was apparently a Muncie woman, originally from Sierra Leone, who had become a nurse at Ball Memorial.
#A bill to reduce individual capital gains taxes to 10%
#A bill to eliminate the requirement that health insurance issuers offering health insurance coverage in the small group market in a State to accept every small employer that applies for such coverage. (again in 2005-2006)
#A farm bill that would allow acres used to plant fruits and vegetables to be counted the same as oilseeds.
2005 – 2006
#Campaign finance legislation made it out of committee — would relax contribution limits and restrictions.
#A capital gains tax bill that would allow an inflation adjustment for determining capital gains (again in 2007)
#A child pornography bill.
#A journalist shield bill, the timing and content of which seems to have been designed to protect Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper from giving up Scooter Libby for leaking CIA information in the Plame affair. (I believe he introduced a similar bill in 2011).
2007 – 2008:
#A bill to prevent family grants to be given to an entity that provides abortions (Planned Parenthood defunding, I’m guessing) (a similar bill in 2009-2010, 2011-2012).
#An anti-Fairness Doctrine bill that would prevent the FCC from requiring broadcasters to air opposing viewpoints. (again in 2009-2010 and 2011-2012)
#An election law seeking to repeal disclosure requirements about disbursements for electioneering communications.
2009 – 2010:
#A bill seeking to restrict U.S. loans to the IMF where money would be used to support European countries with debt to GDP rations in excess of 60%.
#A bill seeking to repeal the sunset of certain tax cuts.
#A bill seeking to remove maximum employment as one of the goals of the Federal Reserve (stable prices and moderate interest rates would be the two remaining goals.)
Finally, as to governing, Governor Pence did not create the impression of someone who was engaged and active with the Indiana General Assembly. I’ve heard (admittedly second hand) that legislators were frustrated at the lack of organization and activity from the governor’s office. The governor’s agenda would be late and sometimes vague. Members of the executive branch were not as active in shepherding legislation through the process as had been the case in the Daniels administration.
The roll-out of Trump’s announcement of Pence as running mate was choppy and erratic. Reports streamed in on Thursday. Then Trump looked like he was getting cold feet. The attacks in Nice caused Trump to waffle on when he was going to announce his decision. Then he said he was going to make an announcement on Saturday. Then he tweeted out an announcement on Friday anyway. Then the campaign issued a logo that was immediately and thoroughly derided as being graphically symbolic of what Trump was doing to Pence. As one person described by the Politico article as a “top Indiana Republican” put it, now that Pence is part of the Trump campaign, “every day [Pence is] going to have to go out on the trail and eat a shit sandwich.”
That prediction seems to be panning out. Already, he has had to agree that Mexico was, indeed going to pay for Trump’s wall. And he has said he now backs Trump’s plan to ban people from the country based on particular religious beliefs which he had earlier — correctly — described as “offensive and unconstitutional.” Mike Pence has famously described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order” — now that full throated fealty to Trump is his new job, the order of that list is going to have to change.