George F. Will is not the guy you’d think would be responsible for delivering the most devastating takedown of Vice President Mike Pence you will ever read.
And, yet, the conservative columnist’s piece on Thursday is just that – laying bare the total transformation of the former Indiana governor from principled conservative warrior to #1 fan of President Donald Trump.
Will’s whole column is worth reading but two chunks stand out to me.
Here’s the first:
“His is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.”
And, the second:
“Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.”
I told you it was brutal!
Will’s penned destruction of Trump – as only the always-use-the-$1,000-word-when-the-$1-word-would-do wordsmith can – will draw most of the attention. But, it’s a point that Will only implies about Pence that I think is the most important.
The simple fact is Pence, the day he decided to sign on as Trump’s vice president, threw his lot, totally and completely, in with Trump. And, in so doing, broke with who he had been, politically speaking, up until that moment.
Let’s go back in time. Pence came to prominence during his days in the House. He rocketed up through the ranks in Congress thanks to his ability to bridge the gap between social and fiscal conservatives and his telegenic presence on cable TV. He left Congress in 2012 to run for governor – a move widely seen as laying the groundwork for a national bid.
But Pence’s political future grew cloudy as chief executive of his home state – bogged down by a massive national controversy over his decision to sign a religious freedom bill and then his backtracking on some of the provisions in it viewed as anti-gay. By 2016, Pence was facing a serious battle for a second term. His hopes of being a major player on the national stage had faded considerably.
And then Trump named him as VP.
From Pence’s perspective, it all made sense. No one thought Trump would win. In the wake of that loss, Pence could effectively portray himself as a party guy, someone who signed on to a troubled ticket in hopes of rescuing it for the good of the party but ultimately couldn’t do it. The Trump loss would fall entirely on Trump and his deep flaws as a candidate. Pence would emerge unscathed and, as importantly, with a massive amount of name ID and credibility with Republican activists and donors looking for a 2020 nominee to take down President Hillary Clinton.
Except Trump won. And that changed everything for Pence. The second it was clear Trump was actually going to be president, Pence grasped the fact that he was now wedded to Trump forever. And, rather than run from that characterization or try to create some healthy distance between himself and the wildly unpredictable President, Pence sprinted toward Trump and laid a massive bear hug on him. And he’s never let go.
At every bill signing ceremony, Pence is there – perched just off Trump’s shoulder, smiling and nodding reassuringly. When Trump causes controversy with some impolitic comment, Pence is there to calm the jangled nerves of Republican congressional leaders and give media interviews about what Trump really meant. When Trump holds a Cabinet meeting, Pence is there to lavish praise on the boss man. (“I’m deeply humbled as your vice president to be able to be here,” Pence told Trump at an end-of-the-year cabinet meeting in 2017. “Because of your leadership and because of the strong support of the leadership of the Congress, you’re delivering on that middle class miracle.”)
And, when Trump wants an attack dog, Pence is ready and willing – sticking the knife in, albeit in the nicest possible way. (“I think it’s time to wrap it up,” Pence told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell Thursday of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. “And I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.”)
Pence is all-out committed to ensuring there is never any space – perceived or real – between he and Trump. Trump is his meal-ticket to what he really wants – which is the job Trump currently has. Whether Trump wins or loses re-election in 2020, Pence’s only path to the Republican nomination is being seen by the Trump base as the natural heir to the President’s political legacy.
Which is fine. But, as Will’s column lays bare, it also represents a near-total abandonment of the principles Pence built his political career on.
Pence doesn’t dine alone with women not his wife; Trump has been married three times and regularly flaunted his sexual prowess in the New York tabloids.
Pence was a committed deficit hawk in Congress; Trump has shown little concern with growing the deficit to facilitate his tax cuts and other policy proposals.
Pence is a creature of government, having been in elected office since 2001; President was the first office Trump ever ran for.
Trump is all brash New Yorker; Pence is a reserved Midwesterner.
Trump disdains the legislative process and institutional Washington; Pence was a member of House leadership.
On and on it goes. If you were picking a polar political opposite for Trump – not just in tone but in policy emphasis as well – you’d be hard pressed to find someone better than Pence.
None of that seems to matter to Pence, whose lingering image over the first 16 months of the Trump presidency is of a clapping, unquestioning supporter of anything and everything Trump does.
That, of course, is exactly how Pence wants you to think of him.