With the exception of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, there is no GOP politician who has debased himself more for the sake of accommodation with President Trump than Vice President Pence, who once enjoyed respect as a decent, consistent conservative. His ploy on Sunday shows he has permitted himself to be reduced to the status of the Washington Generals, the hapless stiffs the Harlem Globetrotters humiliate again and again.
The plan had been for Vice President Mike Pence to attend the Indianapolis Colts game at which Peyton Manning’s number was to be retired, a gala celebration of the former Colts quarterback’s contributions to Pence’s home state.
The former governor of Indiana and his wife, wearing a Manning No. 18 jersey, left Lucas Oil Stadium after the national anthem, following instructions from President Trump after a number of San Francisco 49ers players, as they usually do, took a knee during the anthem.
“I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled,” Trump posted on Twitter. “I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”
The first rule of blatant political stunts is not to let on that they are blatant political stunts. Pence was acting not out of spontaneous patriotism but out of blind loyalty to a president who reduces everyone around him to a sleazy character on a reality TV show.
The obnoxious play-acting had the intended effect in stirring more racial animosity. The Hill reported:
San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid slammed Vice President Mike Pence’s walkout during his team’s game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, calling it a “PR stunt.”
Reid [was] was one of the players to start kneeling with then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem to protest racial equality. …
“So this looks like a PR stunt to me. He knew our team has had the most players protest. He knew that we were probably going to do it again,” Reid said.
“This is what systemic oppression looks like. A man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple of things out and leaves the game with an attempt to thwart our efforts. Based on the information I have, that’s the assumption I’ve made.”
Well, at least Trump supporters can no longer accuse protesting players of “politicizing” football. Trump has done more than anyone to turn the protest against police violence into yet another battlefront in his populist war designed to stoke white grievance. This shameful, unprovoked attempt to fan racial tensions is beneath the dignity of the office of vice president and should make clear that Pence is as morally unfit as Trump to hold high office.
For a self-styled fiscal hawk, Pence grotesquely wasted taxpayer money for a political stunt. The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington tweeted a rebuke: “This twitter stunt cost American taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Likewise, former director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub denounced the charade. He wisecracked on Twitter: “Price of flight: $30,000 per hour. Security: $1 bazillion. Ticket: $93. Hotdog: $17. Choreographed denigration of 1st Amendment: Priceless!”
The Post tried to pin down an estimate: “It costs the federal government about $43,000 an hour to fly Air Force Two, according to a 2012 estimate by the Air Force. Assuming a total flight time of six hours for the journey east [from Las Vegas to Indianapolis] and then west again [to California], the tab for the flight alone would have topped $250,000.” He or the Republican National Committee should pay back every dime to the U.S. treasury.
To recap: Pence wasted taxpayer money, participated in a Trumpian divisive gambit to stoke racial animosity and made himself look like a spineless errand boy. Those who cheer him — including his legion of evangelical conservative supporters — should reflect upon the extent to which Trump has corrupted (morally, politically, intellectually) Pence — and them.