- By Molly O’TooleMolly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Republican convention in Cleveland was intended to unite the GOP behind its nominee and his “America First” foreign policy, but the days since have shown it may instead be the two men at the top of the ticket, Donald Trump and Mike Pence, who need to come together.
“This party is united, this movement is united, and we’re going to make Donald Trump the next president of the United States of America!” Indiana Gov. Pence, the New York businessman’s vice presidential pick, shouted to a small crowd in a ballroom here in Virginia Beach, Va., on Thursday.
Criticizing President Obama’s recent remarks that Trump is unfit to serve as commander in chief, Pence continued, “We can’t have four more years of apologizing to our enemies and abandoning our friends.” In contrast, Trump, he said, “will stand with our allies.”
Not surprising for a stump speech in a battleground state by a former congressman who was a reliable party line vote from international trade deals to the Iraq War, and then a consistently conservative governor. But now that he is Trump’s running mate, he must gel with the candidate’s “America First” foreign policy pronouncements. Those have sparked alarm among global leaders by calling into question several of the United States primary multilateral military alliances, from NATO to troops stationed in Japan and South Korea.
The seemingly mixed message came on the heels of Trump and Pence splitting on their support for two of the party’s highest-profile leaders. Trump said he isn’t willing — yet — to lend his endorsement to House Speaker Paul Ryan, the GOP’s highest-ranking elected official, or Arizona Sen. John McCain, the party’s perennial national security veteran, who are both up for reelection and facing primary challengers.
“I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country,” Trump told the Washington Post on Tuesday. “We need very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership. And I’m just not quite there yet.”
Pence, on the other hand, enthusiastically backed Ryan, who he called a friend from their time together in the House. “I believe we need Paul Ryan in leadership in the Congress of the United States to rebuild our military, to strengthen our economy and to ensure that we have the kind of leadership in this country that will make America great again,” Pence said.
The governor also met with McCain on Tuesday in Arizona in a meeting scheduled before the nominee’s remarks about the senator, though en route to the Virginia Beach event, Pence ignored a question from reporters as to whether he’d endorse McCain.
The split and Trump’s refusal to back Ryan and McCain have prompted full fledged panic in the GOP and incensed the Republican National Committee powerbrokers, though the candidate, his campaign chief Paul Manafort and Pence, have all sought to sew up the schism by calling it overblown.
On Thursday in military-rich Virginia, Pence repeatedly recognized the veterans and military in the audience, saying as the father of a son who serves in the Marines, Clinton should be disqualified from the presidency for her role in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, as secretary of state. Trump, on the other hand, will “rebuild our military and stand with our soldiers,” he said.
Yet this week, a number of veterans groups and national security officials from across the American political spectrum condemned a series of controversial statements by Trump that seemed to imply the opposite about his views on military service. The GOP nominee and his surrogates have sparred with the parents of a Muslim-American Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004, with Trump seeming to equate his business experience with them losing their son.
And on Wednesday, after a veteran supporter presented him with what Trump said was his Purple Heart, the businessman who received a handful of draft deferments during the Vietnam War quipped, “I’ve always wanted to get a Purple Heart. This was much easier.”
Pence sent out a statement regarding the growing Kahn controversy with a drastically different tone, calling Humayun Khan an “American hero” and saying his family “should be cherished.”
The difference in tone if not in substance was apparent to many observers on Thursday, even one young attendee of an event earlier that morning. The 11-year-old asked Pence at an event in Raleigh if he was on the ticket to “soften up” Trump.
“To restore our country at home and abroad, we need new leadership,” Pence said, “and I’m looking forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with Donald Trump.”
That would mean they’d have to be in the same place, which, clearly, they are not.
Photo credit: Sara D. Davis / Stringer