Trump-Pence: A ticket with two right wings

Story highlights

  • Tim Stanley: In decision on Pence for VP, Trump builds unbalanced ticket of two right-wingers aimed at U.S. heartland
  • He says Pence is neoconservative, far right on social issues, but with nonabrasive manner that can help insulate Trump

Timothy Stanley, a conservative, is a historian and columnist for Britain's Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Donald Trump has picked Mike Pence of Indiana to be his vice president, defying political wisdom. Again.

For months people have been advising him to choose someone who balances the ticket -- female, admired, trusted in Washington. Instead he's gone for male, potentially controversial and anti-Washington. This ticket isn't balanced. It's a patriotic eagle circling about the heartlands with two right wings.
Timothy Stanley
But who did we expect Trump to pick? Clay Aiken? Oprah Winfrey? The Donald has got this far by defying conventional advice and following his instincts. Rumor says that while he understood the benefits of reaching out to the mainstream, he was more inclined to choose someone he personally liked and who reflected his own mores. It was a battle between his head and his heart -- and that's a battle that his head has never won yet.
    The choice apparently narrowed to Newt Gingrich vs Mike Pence. Gingrich would've helped reconcile Trump more to Washington: The former House speaker is a policy man with a wealth of contacts within the RNC. Pence would've helped reconcile Trump more to the conservative base. We might conclude that the need to solidify relations with the religious right has won out.
    Trump and Pence have very different styles
    Trump and Pence have very different styles


      Trump and Pence have very different styles


    Trump and Pence have very different styles 01:49
    Pence was tea party from the very beginning, a right-wing congressman with close ties to big money libertarians like the Koch brothers. As governor of Indiana he cut taxes big-time, has done his best to restrict abortion access and took a stance on gay rights that makes the Pope look libertine. This is a man who is not only opposed to same-sex marriage but also gay civil partnerships, and who backed a law that would've permitted citizens to deny services to gay people on religious grounds. There's being a traditionalist, say his critics, and then there's being spiteful.
    That said -- and these are things that the press will make a big fuss out of -- Pence is a neoconservative where Trump is anti-interventionist. As governor, he's tried every legal trick in the book to keep Syrian refugees out of his state, but he did also tweet last December: "Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional."
    Meet Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
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      Meet Indiana Gov. Mike Pence


    Meet Indiana Gov. Mike Pence 00:57
    That contrasts strongly with Trump's stand on Muslim immigration. So does a tweet from September 2014 on trade: "Trade means jobs, but trade also means security. The time has come for all of us to urge the swift adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership." So it would seem that there are wings within the right-wing, and Pence and Trump don't necessarily occupy the same intellectual space.
    However, nuanced policy difference probably didn't matter so much as personality. Trump sees something in Pence that he lacks and needs.
    Trump's politics are defined not by philosophy but by ego: self-confidence, self-assertion, will to power. Any candidate who would have compromised his self-image -- making him appear softer or, by association, less intelligent -- would undermine his whole raison d'etre. Pence is a different kind of politician from Trump, there's no doubt. He is much more quietly spoken, far better allied to the conservative machine -- conservative but "not angry about it."
    Trump will have thus concluded that this gives the ticket the potential to be complementary rather that contradictory. Trump/Pence is Trumpism with some more brains and charm. But still Trumpism. Trump will never give up on being Trump.
    Indeed, millions of voters will regard this pick as a sign that the GOP ticket will not appeal to the politically correct center or try to win the approval of East or West coast elites. Pence shows that the strategy is to win the red states, eat into the blue-collar vote and crucify Hillary Clinton on her liberalism.
    There is one final, surprising twist in his veep search. Trump indicated in one interview that he'd like an attack dog, although he rowed back on this when later asked about it. But journalists who've met him say Trump does have some hidden vulnerabilities and a strong sense of outrage at the attacks on his character. Maybe he wants to insulate himself more.
    Trump has warned us that as he gets closer to the White House, he'll become "so presidential that you people will be so bored." Perhaps we'll see a change of style at this convention. Perhaps Trump will asking Pence to attack his critics on his behalf. If so, it suggests Indiana's governor has already won him around to the benefits of outsourcing.