Indiana Gov. Mike Pence would bring constitutional fidelity, conservative credentials, traditional faith, foreign policy, Washington know-how, and a calm, steady, Midwestern demeanor to a national ticket with Donald Trump, boosting the New York businessman with several types of voters that may prove to be the key to building an electoral coalition that could propel Trump into the White House.
Trump told Fox News’s Brett Baier this week that there are perhaps four individuals the presumptive GOP nominee is considering for his running mate. There are reasons to think that those four might be: Pence, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Governor Chris Christie, and Senator Jeff Sessions.
Each of the four potential VP picks would bring different strengths to Trump’s national ticket. Presidential nominees typically choose a vice presidential candidate who can help the nominee reach a broader swath of the electorate, either geographically, or in terms of issues. No candidate is perfect, so presidential nominees weigh the differing strengths of various potential running mates.
Mike Pence would bring at least six positive values to a Trump-Pence ticket.
Pence began as an outsider who served 12 years in Congress and rose to leadership.
Pence was an Indiana talk show host who took on the party establishment to get into Congress. Once there, he was regularly a thorn in the establishment’s side, routinely opposing the go-along-to-get-along establishment playbook. But he did so as a “happy warrior” who kept disagreements focused on policies, while being friendly and personable with his opponents.
Over time, Pence became very popular among conservatives, and effective at communicating a conservative message through the national media. He was elected the chairman of the Republic Study Committee (RSC), the organization for stalwart conservatives in the U.S. House so that they could coordinate their efforts to maximize conservative outcomes. (Over time it became “cool” to join the RSC, and with the influx of moderates it became both larger and less conservative. That led to the creation of the House Freedom Caucus in 2015, filling the same role originally performed by the RSC.)
Pence repeatedly opposed George W. Bush’s proposals to expand government. When Republicans lost the U.S. House in 2006, Pence took the ultimate anti-establishment step of running against John Boehner to be the leader of House Republicans. He lost that bid, but garnered almost 30 votes against the future Speaker, making a name for himself as someone willing to oppose anyone who Pence believed would not lead as a conservative.
All this made Pence too big to ignore, so eventually Boehner and the GOP establishment had to offer him a position in House leadership, making him the chairman of the Republican caucus (the number-four position in the majority, after the Speaker, majority leader, and majority whip).
Pence was regarded as an effective legislator under both Republican and Democratic presidents. Trump has no experience negotiating with Congress or experience with the vast complexity of the federal government. Pence could remedy all that.
Pence is an evangelical Christian with a model family.
Mike Pence became a born-again Christian in college, and has lived a personal life consistent with his devout faith for almost four decades since becoming an evangelical. He and his wife Karen study the Bible, pray regularly, and regularly attend church.
Pence frequently quotes the Bible in his speeches, showcasing his deep personal knowledge of the Scriptures from decades of devotional reading, and evincing the fact that biblical principles inform both his public and private life. At his inauguration as Indiana governor, Pence invited Keith and Kristyn Getty—singers whose worship music is wildly popular in evangelical circles—to provide the music at a worship service and prayer meeting before Pence’s swearing-in.
Mike and Karen Pence have been faithfully married for 30 years, and by all accounts have an ideal marriage, deeply caring for each other and their three children. Their life paints a Norman Rockwell-type picture of a close, wholesome traditional family and domestic life that hearkens to a bygone era, one that millions of Americans would like to see again.
Pence would help energize America’s Christian community, connecting with tens of millions of Americans who feel under siege to such an extent that many now speak of a War on Christianity in America, a war that Trump has acknowledged by name and promised to fight.
He would also appeal to older voters, which is ironic given that Pence is much younger than Trump, insofar as Pence embodies an image of a national figure that millions of elderly and late-middle-age voters have trusted for much of their life. Pollsters keep talking about the youth vote, but in doing so have lost sight of the reality that older voters turn out on Election Day in far greater numbers, and can easily decide a presidential election.
Observant Christians have been sharply divided on Trump. Putting one of their own on the ticket could excite millions of American evangelicals, and millions of senior citizens as well.
Pence has constitutional conservative credentials.
Although Pence’s faith impacts every aspect of his life, his political philosophy is broader than his Christianity. “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” Pence would often say in speeches, making it explicit that he considered conservative principles more important than party loyalty or partisan politics, and that his faith in Jesus Christ trumps everything.
His declaration horrifies liberals, but made Pence a darling of the Right earlier in his congressional career. He regularly invokes Ronald Reagan, and references the “three legs” of Reagan’s coalition: economic, social, and national-security conservatives.
Taxing, Spending, and Regulation
Pence became one of the Tea Party’s favorite legislators on Capitol Hill. When the Tea Party held its first major rally in 2010 in Washington, D.C., Pence was the only member of leadership from either the House or Senate to speak. He denounced an out-of-control federal government and Barack Obama’s imperial presidency, and the Tea Party crowd loved it.
On taxes, in Congress Pence called for abolishing the current income tax system in favor of a flat tax, under which all Americans would receive a standard deduction and additional credit or exemption for children, and beyond that all Americans would pay the same percentage in taxes. As governor, Pence has cut taxes repeatedly, passing the largest tax cut in Indiana history.
On spending, Pence took the ultimate hardline approach, as one of the original cosponsors of a House Joint Resolution to be offered with the Senate for a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to the U.S. Constitution, to be sent to the states for ratification. The BBA would have permanently ended America’s deficit spending, guaranteeing that America could start paying down its crippling $19 trillion debt.
As governor, Pence has been pushing a balanced budget amendment to the Indiana Constitution, as well. It is working its way through his state legislature, then must be voted upon by the people.
Pence also opposed federal bailouts and economic interventions, called for returning control over education to states and local communities, and opposed numerous power grabs from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Federal Communications Commission. He was also one of the foremost lawmakers opposing Obamacare, both before and after its passage.
As a congressman, Pence’s foreign policy was Reaganesque. He has always staunchly supported wartime operations, and also fought attempts to cut military funding. But he voted against Barack Obama’s airstrike war in Libya because, citing Article I of the Constitution, Pence insisted that only Congress can declare war, and therefore that Obama’s launching a unprovoked military campaign against Libya was unconstitutional.
Pence has always advocated a strong commander-in-chief for military matters, national security, and foreign diplomacy, but never at the expense of Congress’s enumerated powers, maintaining the balance between Article I and Article II of the Constitution. He has continued this philosophy as a law-and-order governor at the state level.
Trump’s Signature Issues: Immigration and Trade
When it comes to the two issues that became central to Trump’s rise—immigration and trade—Pence is a good fit. Some hardline commentators will try to find fault with him, but American voters will likely side with Pence on these issues.
First is immigration. In 2006 when the GOP was considering full-scale amnesty, Pence categorically rejected the concept, saying that because part of what makes America exceptional is the rule of law, an immigrant’s first action joining this country cannot be breaking that law through illegal entry. So he called for legislation requiring every illegal alien to leave this country at a point of entry, and once there, to register at that point of entry to be able to re-enter legally if he passed a background check and fulfilled other requirements, such as being needed to fill a job.
Some hardliners panned this approach as “shadow amnesty,” but it is surprisingly similar to Trump’s own proposal. Secure the border, then build a “big, beautiful door” in the security wall so that the federal government can lawfully admit however many immigrants the country needs, at whatever level serves the national interest.
Instead of faulting Pence on any aspect of his plan, analysts should focus here on the Overton Window—the range of public debate on an issue at any given time. In 2006, Pence took on Congressional Democrats, establishment Republicans in the House and Senate, and a president of his party to take a much tougher stand on immigration, one that political experts said was a losing position, but which has now become the ascendant position in the Republican Party.
Second, on trade. One of the hallmarks of Pence’s governorship has been to create vocational training in high school and for high school graduates to learn a trade or vocation leading to high-paying manufacturing and blue-color jobs. His trade missions to Japan and other nations have been to convince them to do business with Indiana and provide Hoosiers with good-paying jobs. All this is consonant with Trump’s approach of focusing on American workers and seeking a resurgence of American-made goods.
Pence’s record as a conservative has been consistent, though not perfect. It is ironic that such a bold Christian hit a speed bump on one of his signature issues.
One of his few missteps occurred in 2015, and concerned religious liberty. Pence was caught flatfooted when the mainstream media joined the LGBT Left condemning Pence’s signing of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which guaranteed that Hoosiers could live their daily lives and operate their businesses consistent with their religious faith. This created a legislative backlash in which Pence eventually signed a “fix” of RFRA, one that left faith-owned businesses without the protection in the first statute, while preserving protections for clergy, churches, and faith-based institutions.
The very next year, in 2016 Pence regained his footing to push for religious liberty, opposing a proposed “SOGI” bill (sexual orientation and gender identity) that would have conferred special rights upon LGBT individuals. He opposed the legislation because SOGI laws were being used to attack people and institutions of faith nationwide, and was the leading cause for passage of a RFRA to begin with. Pence’s promise to veto the SOGI bill, and his leadership against this attack on religious liberty, fueled the bill’s opponents in the Indiana legislature, killing the legislation.
Supreme Court and Judges
Rounding out his conservative credentials is Pence’s passion for originalist judges. An originalist is someone who believes that a judge must always assign to the words of any law—whether the Constitution, as the Supreme Law of the Land, or to a statute or regulation—the public meaning that the American people understood those words to carry when they were adopted.
As a lawyer, Pence is a committed originalist (non-lawyers often use the terms “strict constructionist” or “constitutionalist”), and has spoken at events sponsored by the Federalist Society. Pence has made one appointment to the Indiana Supreme Court during his tenure, choosing one of the most consistent legal conservatives in the Hoosier State, Justice Geoffrey Slaughter.
Trump has unveiled a list of renowned conservative judges to replace the irreplaceable Justice Antonin Scalia, including many originalists. But on an issue so momentous voters require more than one encouraging sign. The next president will appoint a couple hundred federal judges over a four-year term, as well as likely two or three Supreme Court justices. Pence would give conservatives further reason to hope that Trump might appoint a number of constitutionalists to the federal bench.
Pence is from the Heartland.
While Trump was born and raised in New York City and has led a business empire headquartered on the East Coast, Pence was born and raised in a small Midwestern community, where as a boy he would stand in his backyard looking out over cornfields. Pence epitomizes small-town and rural America, with a full understanding of the vast interior of this nation, which coastal elites derisively dismiss as “flyover country.”
Like many people from Indiana, Pence is polite and well-mannered, almost to a fault, and would balance Trump’s energetic, larger-than-life style that is frequently confrontational. Pence is a fighter, but Hoosier fighting is very different from New Yorker fighting, and Pence’s gentlemanly style should appeal to a great many voters in key Midwestern states like Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, parts of Pennsylvania, and the must-win state of Ohio.
The governor of the Crossroads of America also has a comprehensive knowledge of agriculture, natural resources, and a host of issues with which Trump is less familiar, and has earned a perfect rating from the National Rifle Association. Pence could connect with farmers, hunters, and outdoorsmen, and give rural Americans assurance that a Trump administration would understand the challenges people face in the interior of the nation.
In many of his public addresses, Pence is fond of invoking one of his favorite presidents, saying of the Great Emancipator, “Lincoln made Illinois, but Indiana made Lincoln.” (Abraham Lincoln grew up in Indiana.) Pence believes that the virtuous character of Indiana’s values and citizens is vital to nurturing a prosperous and just society, and would likely project this wholesome optimism to the country.
Pence is a governor.
As Indiana’s 50th governor, Pence has been an effective chief executive. He has helped maintain Republican control of both chambers of the Indiana Statehouse, and has done so with a legislature dominated by business interests that are centrist at best, and sometimes (such as on LGBT issues) lean left.
Following immediately after the extremely successful governorship of Mitch Daniels, Pence sought to build on Daniels’s legacy and has had to invent new approaches to government, while continuing to follow his small-government Republican philosophy of cutting taxes and spending while abolishing unnecessary regulations.
Pence has learned how to listen to competing factions, and assemble a governing coalition. For years as a legislator he learned to negotiate with chief executives, both of his own party and the opposition party, and now for years as a governor he’s learned the other side of the equation about how chief executives negotiate with legislators and legislative leaders, and lead them to enact a legislative agenda.
In an age where tens of millions of ordinary Americans see Washington as the problem—Pence loves Ronald Reagan’s famous saying, “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.”—having someone who once served in Washington, but now governs a state far from Washington—enables Pence to be an outsider who can attack the Federal City’s dysfunction.
Pence also looks the part of a national leader. At age 57, Pence’s silver hair, bright eyes, and button-down style makes him look like someone out of central casting to be a national politician, helping voters connect with the idea of a federal administration bearing the names of Trump and Pence.
Trump has outlined a very bold legislative agenda, requiring a great deal of heavy lifting among lawmakers. Pence could be invaluable in getting Trump’s agenda through Congress. It’s a safe bet that while President Trump would be selling an agenda directly to the American people, Vice President Pence would be spending quite a bit of time on Capitol Hill doing the daily work of negotiating details with legislators to turn those proposals into bills landing on Trump’s desk in the Oval Office for signature.
Pence would support Trump without competing for media attention.
Pence’s low-key and modest style would compliment Trump’s style. Pence would never compete with Trump for media attention, instead carrying out whatever role was assigned to him, and focusing on the top of the ticket.
A couple of the other names on Trump’s list are personalities that sometimes generate and consume considerable media attention. Pence, by contrast, is a safe and conventional choice who would not accidentally steal the spotlight from the top of the ticket.
As a candidate, and later as vice president, Pence would know that there is only one head of state and commander-in-chief at any one time, and would make sure that President Trump owns the stage that belongs to that office, and to the nominee seeking that office during the election season.
Pence’s “safe” style would also give Trump more room to keep “being Trump.” Evangelical Christians who consistently live out their faith are the bane of gossip journalists. There would never be any drama with Pence, and nothing even resembling a scandal.
With Pence’s dignified, gracious, and traditional approach that epitomizes the classical statesman, Trump would have more freedom to retain many of the characteristics that fueled his innovative success through the primaries.
Mike Pence is not a perfect candidate, because such a thing does not exist in American politics. Each of Trump’s possible veep picks has pros and cons. But a good case can be made that the governor of Indiana would be an excellent fit to create a ticket that would pave Trump’s way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.