Why Mike Pence Is Good for GOP Conservatives — and for Cory Booker
Donald Trump’s VP candidate is a solid choice for mainstream Republicans, but it also opens the door for a smart parry by Hillary Clinton.
It just got a lot easier for conservatives to vote for Donald Trump in November. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is a solid, traditional, respectable conservative whose presence on the presidential ticket will reassure conservatives who may understandably have concerns about the top of the ticket being held by a recent convert to the party whose eclectic views are often at odds with the principles and tenets of conservatism.
In fact, the most striking aspect of Trump’s choosing Pence is how extensive are the differences in their stated views. Trump claims (dishonestly) to have opposed the Iraq war; Pence voted for it while in Congress. Trump opposes free trade; Pence supports trade for both economic and foreign-policy reasons, and voted in favor of eight trade treaties while in Congress. Trump would sanction China as a currency manipulator; Pence voted to maintain normal trade relations with China. Trump favors a ban on Muslims entering the United States; Pence called that “offensive and unconstitutional.”
Pence also has good relations with Republicans on Capitol Hill, something Trump demonstrated as recently as a week ago he lacks the skill to manage. Handing Pence the congressional liaison portfolio would dramatically increase the prospect of legislative accomplishment in a Trump administration. More immediately, the selection of Pence will foster party unity and perhaps cajole the elected officials closest to voters into turning out the vote for Trump. At a minimum, having a solid conservative on the ticket provides someone other than Trump to campaign for down-ticket Republicans, who are very worried about a bloodletting in the legislative elections.
The choice of Pence also saves Republicans the indignity of a presidential ticket with a combined six marriages and 10 wartime draft deferments that would reinforce the perception of the candidate as erratic (Newt Gingrich), an unpopular governor whom many Republicans blame for costing Romney the 2012 election with his embrace of President Barack Obama (Chris Christie), or a pro-choice registered Democrat deeply divisive among the military (Gen. Michael Flynn).
Seen from Pence’s perspective, it is a prudential match, too. Having endorsed Trump in the primary, he had already incurred whatever cost he would pay for association. He was in a tight gubernatorial race against the speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives (Indiana does not allow him to run for both positions), and so he gets a graceful exit from what could have been an ignominious loss attributable to alienating both liberals and conservatives for his fumbling management of an abortion law. Instead, he has the prospect of a second act: If Trump should lose, it would certainly not be seen as Pence’s fault; if he should win, Pence would be credited with making Trump more acceptable.
As for how this affects the Democratic presidential candidate’s VP choice, I’d say it makes Sen. Cory Booker’s prospects brighter. Clinton now has less chance of picking up Republican voters than if Trump had chosen any of this other finalists, so less need of Sen. Tim Kaine as a draw for moderates and independents. She has national security voters locked up, which also dims Kaine’s contribution (he’s on both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, among others). She also has little need of tacking left, because the very liberal are unlikely to vote for Trump-Pence. Countering a ticket of old white men with a Clinton-Booker slate would recast the race to one in which Dems have an eye to the future.
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Kori Schake is the director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a former U.S. government official in foreign and security policy, and the author of America vs the West: Can the Liberal World Order Be Preserved? Twitter: @KoriSchake