Sunday’s NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Indianapolis Colts was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Eastern time. By 1:24 p.m., Vice President Pence’s official Twitter account had posted this.
That graphic — complete with the appropriate social media information — was the tail end of a thread of tweets that conveyed the same message. The thread began at 1:08 p.m., without a typo to be found.
This reinforces the obvious conclusion that Pence’s appearance at the game and his well-coordinated exit from it was staged. It was a Colts-Niners game — pitting his home-state team against the team from the liberal hotbed where the players’ protests over racial violence began. Pence’s press pool was informed that, in essence, there probably wasn’t any reason for them to join him inside the stadium. Why get out of your press van when Pence would go in, take a quick patriotic picture, and leave?
As President Trump said on Twitter on Monday morning, Pence’s trip to Indianapolis for this game was long-planned. An event that necessitated some modicum of effort and expense, for one reason: to reinforce the divide at the center of the protests, a divide that overlaps almost completely with racial politics.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on the cost of the trip, for understandable reasons. CNN figured that the flight alone cost about $200,000 on net — $242,500 in flying time from Las Vegas (where Pence was holding an event in the wake of the massacre there last week) and back to Los Angeles (where he had a political event scheduled). An Air Force Two flight from Vegas to L.A. alone would have cost about $45,000, so: about $200,000.
A spokesman for the vice president told The Washington Post in a statement that this was actually a cost savings, because Pence would otherwise have flown to D.C. for the night instead of Indianapolis. “Instead,” the statement read, “he made a shorter trip to Indiana for a game that was on his schedule for several weeks.”
But CNN’s analysis excludes a lot of other costs, of course. As the Indianapolis Star reported, Pence’s appearance introduced another level of security for fans attending the game, prompting the Colts to encourage people to show up early to navigate that security. That extra security cost extra money — as did Pence’s travel from the airport to the stadium and back.
There’s a ripple through a city whenever a president or vice president visits: street closures, added security, added nuisances. The full costs of those visits are probably incalculable, because they have effects beyond the places directly affected. In this case, it’s worth remembering that the ripple was for the purpose of allowing Pence to spend less than an hour at the stadium so he could spend 30 minutes bragging about his principled stand on social media.
A few hours after Pence’s stage-managed hand-wringing on Twitter — the digital equivalent of the disappointed head-shake he perfected on the campaign trail — Trump took to his favorite social-media platform to address a different subject.
“Nobody could have done what I’ve done for Puerto Rico with so little appreciation,” Trump said. “So much work!”
It was an odd tweet for a lot of reasons, including that it framed Trump, once again, as one of the victims of the ongoing disaster on that island. But it also reminded Americans that, as Pence was saving us money by not flying all the way across the country, federal authorities on the island were scrambling to pour resources into fixing a problem that, to some extent, resulted from a lack of adequate planning from the government.
The time of the president and vice president are valuable, and what they do and where they go reflect the things that are important to them. You can always scrounge up more money; you can’t create more time. And Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico last week lasted only a few more hours than Pence’s trip to Indianapolis. Of the 520-odd cumulative days that Trump and Pence have been in power, one was spent traveling to Puerto Rico and one was spent going to Indianapolis. Time is spent in other ways, too: As we’ve noted before, the president has spent a lot more of his time tweeting about the NFL than he has the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
Pence’s flight to Indianapolis was planned for weeks; his social-media response ready to go with a graphic immediately after he left the stadium. It’s an impressive level of preparation for an administration, as it turns out, focused on goading the president’s base into anger at black athletes.
The trip wasn’t free, and the idea that it was a cost savings is ridiculous. But the really galling aspect of Pence’s jaunt was that it demonstrated the sort of issue on which the administration is deliberate about having its act together.