The Pence pick has potential

The silver lining in Donald Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as VP could come specifically from Pence’s past humiliation over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), not in spite of it.

The two differ sharply on everything from trade to foreign policy and don’t appear to have great chemistry. Pence called out Trump for his Muslim ban statement in the past and supports trade deals that Trump has likened to “rape.” Trump doesn’t share the Indiana governor’s passion for social conservatism.

{mosads}But, picking Pence is about compromise and bringing the party together, as Trump said in his rambling announcement. To be fair, for his part, Pence gave quite a rousing speech at the event. Political compromise is a first for Trump’s political brand. The real estate tycoon reportedly tried to dump Pence the night before his announcement and wanted Chris Christie. Instead it was go home for Christie and welcome aboard to the pro-TPP, pro-Iraq War Pence.

To complicate matters, Pence gets mixed reviews from leading social conservatives. Some see him as a traitor who “crumbled under pressure”, after he backed down from contested parts of Indiana’s RFRA, a bill which was pilloried by activists, media pundits and Democratic politicians as anti-LGBT. 

But there’s a potential plus in picking Pence that lies specifically in this past capitulation. Indeed, Pence’s shaming last year over the RFRA could serve as a powerful symbol. 

In his waffling on the controversial aspects of the RFRA and eventual walk back under activist and boycott pressure, the strongly pro-life, pro-traditional marriage Pence is a visceral symbol of those who feel fundamentally opposed to things like gay marriage and abortion, but are cowed by the wider, increasingly libertine culture and left-wing political climate. Trump may not personally care much about social conservatism, but he undoubtedly realizes there are huge numbers of evangelicals in the United States who do. That’s not to mention the many millions of other non-evangelical conservative Christians and non-religious social conservatives.

Despite being many, American social conservatives face scorn from popular media and invective from the left. Some feel increasingly beset upon to go against their beliefs, and consider themselves to be marginalized. Trump appearing to “champion” this group could turn out to be a savvy symbolic gesture. Partnering with Pence, a man who folded under pressure in the past, Trump could help him cross the finish line as a winner this time. Doing so would be a taunt to the “dishonest media” and “elites” Trump so often derides, even as Pence fulfills the basic political task of approximating some kind of party reconciliation and covering Trump’s social conservative blind spots.

Overall, Pence is largely unknown to voters, so despite some conservative pushback mentioned above, Trump and Pence have the chance to craft their own narrative. 

Pence is the unseen guy who gets a chance to win glory with the football team (think Rudy). He’s the politician who hesitantly put one foot aboard the Trump train but couldn’t quite get up the nerve to hop aboard — until now.

Trump won’t so much get a boost from Pence, as give Pence a boost. By extension Trump is backing those social conservatives and Tea Party types who feel they, like Pence, have been backed in a corner. Sure, some might resent Pence now for folding into a politically correct pretzel during his past moment of crisis and liberal Trump supporters may bash Pence for being the kind of Jeb Bush neoconservative Trump spent the primaries lambasting, but as the attacks from Clinton and media figures ramp up Pence will engender more solidarity.

Pence is the “silent majority,” the instinctively-conservative everyman who needs a larger-than-life steamroller to batter down the doors of political correctness. He’s the sedate sidekick who will add a veneer of business-as-usual as Trump ramps up his attacks on Clinton.

The more Clinton and various media outlets paint Pence as a despicable anti-womananti-minorityanti-gay monster, the more it will harden up Trump support from Evangelicals and religious, traditional Americans who otherwise may have dismissed Trump and not voted. Evangelicals already poll high for Trump, but there’s major untapped potential. Some estimates claim as many as 17 million evangelicals stayed home in 2012, handing Barack Obama victory.

Pence isn’t necessarily the end of #NeverTrump, but he’s a continuation of the political marketing strategy that Trump through his enthusiasm and largesse can make people who aren’t doing great do great again. He’s a double down to try to get any of the currently-unconvinced religious right to vote.

The optics of Pence represent those who feel talked down to and resented by the media and political establishment, people who Trump promises to elevate one “Merry Christmas” at a time. Make America Great Again in this case would be Make Mild-Mannered Humiliated Conservatives Like Mike Pence Great Again.

Brian is a freelance journalist whose interests include politics, religion, and world news. He has written for The Federalist, Roads and Kingdoms, BBC and Reuters. His website is and he is on Twitter @paulrbrian

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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