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Who is Mike Pence?


Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s recently announced running mate, was my Congressman when I lived in Indiana. I have a special loathing for the man.

Currently the governor of Indiana, Mike Pence achieved infamy relatively recently when he signed a bill into law that legalized discrimination against LGBT people. That he soon passed a revised version in response to public outcry got less press–the damage had been done. But this is hardly the worst entry in Pence’s resume.

The best way to describe him would be as man who hides his abhorrent beliefs behind a veneer of modesty. In his political career, he has essentially failed upward. He was rarely involved with important legislation, voting against plenty of measures that were passed during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. His views have been staunchly conservative in such a way that it’s difficult to believe he has a mind of his own: anti-choice, against birthright citizenship, for a balanced budget amendment, denies climate change, favors military intervention in Iraq, virulently anti-LGBT, and so on. He’s a low-rent Ted Cruz.

As proof of his existence as an individual, though, he forward such crackpot notions as tobacco smoking not being deadly. This might be because he’s a long-time recipient of tobacco industry money, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars during his Congressional career. Which is worse, to tell a lie because you’re ignorant, or because you’re being paid to? You tell me.

His approval rating as governor is underwater at 40%. This is in a state with strong conservative leanings. His predecessor, relatively moderate Republican wonk Mitch Daniels, had a 63% approval rating during his final year in office. No doubt Pence burned many bridges with his divisive views and crank beliefs.

Historically, Vice Presidential picks don’t matter that much. They’re worth maybe one or two percentage points at the polls, and Trump’s going to need a lot more than that to win. It’s likely Pence was chosen both because he’s a bona fide conservative and because he doesn’t have the profile of a Chris Christie or a Newt Gingrich. He’s not a complete nobody, but he simply doesn’t have the national name recognition of Trump’s other two choices. Given Trump’s egomania, this may be exactly why Pence was chosen: Trump’s not a fan of sharing the limelight, and Pence’s relatively low name recognition and humble demeanor will keep the VP pick from taking any attention from Trump.

Is Pence’s poor approval rating fair? Well, what’s he done for the state of Indiana? The state had one of the slowest-growing economies under his tenure. He also worked to regulate and ban abortions. His support for education mostly included increasing funding for voucher programs and charter schools–both darlings of conservative Republicans. He’s also against Common Core, which is a favorite boogeyman of the right lately.

On the other hand, he allowed the opening of needle exchange programs in parts of Indiana during an HIV outbreak. (I’ll note he didn’t offer to fund them, making this move only a half-measure.) He also agreed to engage the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion for the state of Indiana, albeit with modifications that place more financial responsibility on patients. In fact, those are the only two somewhat decent things I could find in his entire gubernatorial career. Everything else is a parade of typical conservative nonsense: anti-poor, anti-women, anti-children, anti-immigrant, anti-public-education, pro-Christian.

The man’s conservative credentials are certainly not in doubt.

As a silver lining here, Pence is legally barred from both pursuing reelection as governor and running on a Presidential ticket simultaneously. He had to pick one, and he chose to be Trump’s VP. This means that, should Trump lose, he will be out of a office. Of course, he’ll likely land on his feet as part of a tobacco company board, which would be a perfect symbol of the declining relevance of his belief system.

Reportedly, Trump didn’t even want Pence, and tried to change his mind at the last minute. And being friends with New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Trump didn’t know how to break the news to Christie, either, causing a brief rift between them and almost scuttling the original announcement. Fortunately for Trump, the attack in Nice, France happened, giving him an excuse to postpone, after which he announced Pence on Twitter anyway, then gave a press conference where he barely spoke of the man, followed by a disastrous 60 Minutes interview.

Trump is being made the official Republican candidate this week at the Republican National Convention. He can’t even hold himself together long enough to handle something as momentous as his Vice Presidential pick. It’s hard to imagine him keeping a cool head in a crisis, isn’t it?

Mike Pence sure wouldn’t be much help, either. If it was possible for Trump to pick someone who’d be a net drag on his ticket, he managed to achieve just that.

Photo by Gage Skidmore