Whether Donald Trump selects Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate remains, at least by this article’s filing deadline, a mystery, albeit one not requiring the services of Father Brown — Charlie Brown would do — to solve. No matter. By the time you read this, the Republican vice presidential candidate begins morphing into Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle’s lovechild.
The politician embracing the role of Republican attack dog inevitably assumes the role of the media’s punching bag. The fact that so many vice presidential nominees of the opposing party became walking punchlines makes this a remarkable case study in perception trumping reality.
Thomas Eagleton submitted to becoming George McGovern’s running mate (Ted Kennedy soberly declined) after submitting himself to electroshock therapy the decade previous. The choice partly affirmed Eagleton’s anonymously offered characterization of McGovern as the candidate of abortion, amnesty, and acid (the last part).
John Kerry picked John Edwards. Then John Edwards picked his wife’s replacement — impregnating her and placing her on the political payroll — as his spouse fought a losing battle with cancer. You can take the personal injury lawyer out of the trailer park but you can’t take the trailer park out of the personal injury lawyer.
The current vice president fabricated a spot on the University of Delaware football team, invented numerous academic honors that eluded him in real life, and even appropriated the biography of British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock as his own — coal-mining forbears and first in his family to go to college and all that — in a campaign speech. A courtier press eventually imagined away Joe Biden’s imagination.
“May the Light of Northern Shamballa lead you and the Guru and the true expedition toward the eternal glory of the New Age,” Henry Wallace wrote in one of his infamous “Dear Guru Letters.” The Iowa oddball penning the fawning missives also employed Alger Hiss, John Abt, Lee Pressman, and other Communists in the Department of Agriculture. Had Franklin Roosevelt died a few months earlier, Henry Wallace rather than Harry Truman would have decided on dropping the atomic bomb, going to war in Korea, and weeding out Communists from government.
One of John Nance Garner’s fellow vice presidents under Franklin Roosevelt disproved his aphorism that the office didn’t amount to “a bucket of warm piss.” Another proved that the people more than the post fit the description.
Donald Trump’s presumptive pick for second in the line of succession offers no history of gurus, mistresses, plagiarism, or electroshock therapy. “Mike’s kind of a laid back guy,” Todd Meyer, the producer of Pence’s radio show in the late 1990s, tells The American Spectator. “He’s just got a calm demeanor. He really enjoyed talking to Hoosiers here in the state of Indiana.”
The reality television star and the radio talk show host, for worse and better, provide America a snapshot of the Republican Party circa 2016. This isn’t your father’s GOP. It certainly isn’t George W. Bush’s father’s Republican Party. And it isn’t George W. Bush’s father’s father’s Republican Party, either. Or George W. Bush’s father’s father’s father’s — okay, you get the point.
Pence offers Trump neither an attack dog like what Richard Nixon gave Dwight Eisenhower nor the boost of adrenaline that Sarah Palin provided John McCain. Trump, who unconventionally fills these needs from the top of the ticket, benefits elsewhere from Pence’s strengths. “I think he does a couple of things,” Meyer explains of the solid conservative governor and former Ted Cruz supporter. “He helps solidify the base to some extent.”
“In terms of how he operates with Congress, this was a big plus,” Pence’s old producer notes. “He will be a great conduit to Paul Ryan and the Republican leadership [in the House] and the same to the United States Senate. He knows a lot of folks up there from his time in Congress.”
Pence brings balance to a candidate oft accused by critics of being unbalanced. He gives insider political experience to the outsider businessman. He assuages the fears of conservatives worried about a Johnny-come-lately to their cause serving as the Republican Party’s standard bearer. And, most importantly, his character, bearing, and resume speak well of Donald Trump’s judgment.
These positives inevitably entice the Negative Nancys to cavil and snipe. For people who could see no wrong in putting a serial plagiarist or a coddler of Communists a heartbeat away from the presidency, adding an “e” to “potato” or a candidate’s comedic doppelganger boasting of seeing Russia “from my house” strangely indicate terrible, horrible, no good, very bad choices.
Will a peanut gallery emerge to caricature this candidate of high character?
“I’m counting on it,” Meyer deadpans. “It didn’t matter who Donald Trump picked. It doesn’t matter who the Republican [presidential candidate] is, it doesn’t matter who the Republican running mate is. The media, the Left, the progressives are all going to get the pitchforks out and they are going to demonize whoever it is.”