Presidential Campaign

Mike Pence out-of-touch with New Midwest

Donald Trump has, begrudgingly, made his V.P. pick official. Much to my disappointment, it didn’t come about through an episode of The Apprentice: Vice President Edition featuring Dennis Rodman and Gary Busey fighting over the geopolitical implications of the Turkish military’s failed coup while seeing who can sell the most Nathan’s Red Hots during the lunch rush.

No, instead, the sacrificial lamb offered up to stabilize Trump’s campaign was Indiana Governor and Just for Men ‘before’ picture, Mike Pence. At first blush, the humdrum Hoosier appears to have been picked to act as counterweight to Mr. Trump’s unpredictable, firebrand style of oratory. In temperament, the two men are polar opposites, Trump’s brain controlled as it is by a magic eight ball of racism, misogyny, and egomania, whereas Pence’s personality is so bland and uninteresting that instant oatmeal stopped texting him back.

However, like the rest of this Republican campaign cycle, the rollout was not without drama. Word leaked from the campaign that Donald was dissatisfied with the selection and was looking for ways to unpick Pence late into Friday evening before aides talked him out of it. 

{mosads}Then, the logo that launched a thousand memes was introduced to hilarious fallout before being, ahem, ‘pulled out’ less than twenty-four hours later. Then, just today during the formal announcement, Trump introduced Governor Pence to the background music of, and I swear I’m not making this up, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” by The Rolling Stones.

Indeed, the only people who seem genuinely excited about the news appear to be the citizens of Indiana themselves who were relieved to hear Pence and his 40% approval rating would have to abandon his reelection campaign for Governor.

The buzz around the conservative blogosphere trying to justify the reasoning behind the pick is that Pence’s presence on the ticket will reassure evangelicals and other social conservatives who have reason to question Trump’s dedication to their pet project of making sure every uterus in the country has at least one fetus inside it at all times. 

Pence’s public expressions of faith, dedication to “religious liberty” at the expense of basic human rights for the LGTBQ community, and his support of extreme anti-choice legislation such as mandating funerals for fetuses and banning abortions for any women carrying a fetus with physical or genetic abnormalities, signal to the anti-choice crowd that the GOP is still firmly in their corner.

But of course conservatives don’t come right out and say that. Instead, they couch their extremism in more flowery, patriotic language. For the last few days I’ve been hearing about how Governor Pence represents “Midwestern values,” that idyllic image of the Heartland populated with “Real Americans”, who conveniently happen to be overwhelmingly white, Christian, and rural.

Here’s my problem with that.

I was born in Westfield, Wisconsin in 1980. Westfield’s population amounts to a rounding error. The most important thing to happen to my town was the McDonald’s that went in off the I-39 exit when I was a sophomore in the high school, which was filled with students from Westfield and three other even smaller towns bussed in from all over the county. We had drive-your-tractor-to-school day every spring. So I have some insight into the mindset of the part of the country “coasties” only see out of a window at forty-thousand feet, and only then because the in-flight wifi is broken again.

“Midwestern values” conjures images of folks with dirt under their fingernails working from sun-up to sun-down on their quaint family farm, struggling to get by, yet proud of their efforts and strengthened by their faith in God and the support of their communities. Midwestern folk value honesty, a firm handshake, strong work ethic, family life, and show genuine hospitality. They know how to save up for a long winter, and would rather fail on their own than accept a handout.

And you know what? That’s all true. Midwesterners are some of the most authentically kind and supportive people you will ever meet. They work hard, look out for their own, and will be the first to offer a hand up without any expectation of a reward.

So how does the Trump/Pence ticket hold up against those values? Well, Donald Trump has a long pattern of stiffing smaller businesses and daring them to sue him to recover the money they earned fair and square. He is dismissive of the struggles of “losers.” Trump is the antithesis of traditional Midwestern values.

Pence’s sin has been to fundamentally misread what the Midwest is becoming. It’s easy for anyone who doesn’t live here to picture flyover country as nothing but endless acres of corn and cows, but the reality is very different. The Midwest is home to some of the most progressive cities in the country. Communities like St. Paul, Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago for Christ’s sake.

My home of Wisconsin may be stuck with Scott Walker, but in 2012 we sent Tammy Baldwin to the Senate, the first openly gay Senator in the country’s history. Milwaukee’s Pridefest is one of the city’s most celebrated and well-attended festivals. Chicago’s Boystown ranks among the most vibrant gay neighborhoods outside of New York or San  Francisco.

As a stand-up comic, I’ve worked rooms all over the Midwest, in cities from Des Moines to Indianapolis. From bustling downtown comedy clubs to sleepy corner bars in farm towns. You can learn a lot about a people based on what they’ll laugh at, and one thing that Midwestern crowds won’t laugh at is discrimination and hate.

Mike Pence found that out the hard way in 2015 when he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and was immediately attacked by the LGTB community and its allies, sparking a national conversation on antigay discrimination once more. Business leaders throughout Indiana, normally stalwart GOP supporters, attacked the law as needlessly divisive and simply bad for business, citing tens of millions of dollars of revenue lost as conventions, sporting events, and concerts cancelled their events in protest.

Pence was eventually forced to fix the bill to some extent, but in many ways he ended up with the worst of both worlds. Progressives won’t forget that he signed the original bill in the first place, while social conservatives view his backtracking as a craven capitulation to the Left. And no one likes a flip-flopper.

It was in the aftermath of the RFRA that Pence’s approval rating went from a healthy and respectable score in low 60’s into the 40% basement, where it has stubbornly remained for the last year. Why? Because contemporary Midwestern values are moving rapidly towards inclusivity and tolerance. Because Midwesterners are community builders who understand somewhere deep in their bones that we can accomplish more together than we can divided.

It takes the whole village to raise a barn.

I truly believe the Midwest is the heartland of this great country, just as strongly as I believe Trump and his hijacked party has completely lost touch with what the Midwest and its people stand for today. Which is why when pundits and poly-sci students look back on 2016, they’ll see Pence as just another in a long line of fumbles returned for touchdowns the GOP committed during this campaign season.

And God bless Aaron Rodgers.


Tomlinson is an author and comedian. Follow him @stealthygeek



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Tags 2016 election campaign Donald Trump GOP Midwest Mike Pence Pence Republican Tammy Baldwin Trump vice president VP VP Pick
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