For Republicans who have been convinced by the liberal media that Donald Trump is too erratic and unpredictable to have “his finger on the button,” his apparent choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as a running mate should come as a welcome surprise. He could, after all, have nominated Ivanka, or Tom Brady, who is supposedly a friend. But no, Trump decided to take the “safe” path, which should be reassuring to those who have bought Hillary Clinton’s Goldwater-era attack line that Trump is “dangerous.”
As the veep selection process wore on, the betting had focused on Pence, Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie, with Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, considered a long shot.
Many in Trump’s inner circle were apparently pushing Gingrich, though he carries nearly as much baggage as Hillary Clinton. Multiple marriages and romantic escapades, ethics charges and eventually fines and reprimands from the House and some shady business dealings cloud Gingrich’s past. It’s hard to convincingly go after “Crooked Hillary” when you’ve got some explaining of your own to do.
On the other hand, the former House speaker was considered a rare advisor who was capable of standing up to Trump, and he came with the backing of big-time GOP donor Sheldon Adelson. Perhaps most important, Gingrich is popular with Trump’s family and has the Hill experience that the billionaire will sorely need if he becomes president. From the start, Trump had intelligently put legislative expertise at the top of his criteria for picking a running mate. It’s one thing to talk about reforming Obamacare, it’s quite another to craft and guide the bills that might actually make our health care system acceptable, or even solvent.
Newt was an early Trump supporter, which was considered by many an invaluable asset in winning the VP nod; Pence, on the other hand, was not. In fact, when Indiana became (improbably) the critical state in finishing off the GOP primary battle, both the Trump and Cruz camps fought for Pence’s endorsement. Ultimately Pence picked Cruz, which turned out to be a non-event, as Trump nonetheless trounced the Texas senator, 53 percent to 37 percent. That choice, many of us reckoned, would have doomed Pence’s chances.
Instead, steady voices in the campaign (and apparently in the family) saw Gingrich as too risky, too provocative and possibly too eager to reassert himself onto the national stage. Sharing the limelight is one thing; hogging it is quite another.
At the same time, Christie seemed a poor choice. His star started to fade in the primary battles the minute Trump showed up. Christie’s tough guy New Jersey persona, willingness to go off script and ability to slam opponents was trumped by Trump. You don’t need identical twins running for the Oval Office.
So Pence it appears to be — a sound conservative, a six-term Congressman who is close to House Speaker Paul Ryan and others in the conservative GOP establishment, and a running mate who will help solidify Trump’s standing among white evangelicals and could help in the Midwest. He’s articulate (he used to have a radio show) but not a screamer; he’s measured and, by the standards of this election, understated.
The biggest knock on Pence, a born-again Christian, is that last year he signed into law a "religious freedom" bill, which was criticized as crimping gay rights. After some backlash, which the Chamber of Commerce and others claimed threatened the state’s economy, the governor signed a watered-down version of the bill, which angered conservatives. Undoubtedly, the Left will pounce on Pence’s strong anti-abortion stance as buttressing what they call the GOP “war on women”; opponents will also hammer his underwater approval ratings in Indiana, where he is judged to be in a tight reelection race.
Pence’s history of waging culture battles makes him fair game for liberals but a valuable warrior for the Trump ticket. Trump needs to woo conservatives; picking Pence will help him do that. Most important, the pick deflates the characterization of Trump as unhinged; more of the same will help him woo the country.