Two weeks after they won the election, it's time to start the tracker again. This time, the two diverge on a much softer diplomatic issue: how to react to Pence's very public calling-out Friday by the Broadway cast of “Hamilton,” and — to the extent we can extrapolate this one incident — how to react more broadly to public criticism of the incoming administration.
On Friday, a lead actor in “Hamilton” read a letter from the cast to Pence (who was in attendance) during the show's curtain call saying that diverse Americans are “alarmed and anxious” about a Trump presidency.
On Saturday morning, Trump demanded an apology, describing Pence as being “harassed” by the cast.
Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2016
Pence stayed quiet until appearances on Sunday morning news shows. When he finally spoke, he declined to request an apology when directly asked whether he wanted one. Instead, he insisted that he wasn't offended by what happened at the show, even when he was booed by some in the audience.
“I nudged my kids and reminded them that’s what freedom sounds like,” he told Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace.
Pence responded to the concerns the “Hamilton” actor raised:
“I just want to reassure anyone, anyone, including the actor who spoke that night, that President-elect Donald Trump is going to be president for all people,” Pence said on CBS's “Face the Nation.”
How Pence and Trump reacted to the incident couldn't be more different. One was combative, the other conciliatory. Trump was clearly offended by what happened and couldn't resist punching back. (In one of his three tweets devoted to the flap, the president-elect called one of the most popular Broadway shows of all time “highly overrated.")
In the grand scheme of the incoming Trump presidency, the “Hamilton” showdown is probably a minor — if not fascinating — incident. As The Fix's Aaron Blake so eloquently put it, the new administration colliding with a cultural phenomenon is an undeniably sexy story. (And no, he argues, the media was not too distracted by “Hamilton” to cover Trump's $25 million settlement of Trump University fraud cases.)
But we'd argue that Pence and Trump's reaction to this relatively minor incident is not insignificant. The two men showed very different instincts on how to approach criticism of their administration. Trump has demonstrated (mostly on Twitter) that he's unwilling to tolerate even minor levels of it.
With the “Hamilton” incident, Pence has shown that he's not only tolerant of criticism, he expects it and is willing to engage with it.
Trump's and Pence's willingness to accept criticism is a substantive difference that goes beyond just style and personality. How an administration engages (or doesn't engage) with those who disagree with it plays a major role in how a torn nation will feel about its new leader. And because criticism is one of the only guaranteed reactions to any presidency, much less one who lost the popular vote by 1.7 million votes and counting, it's possible this "Hamilton" divergence could become a recurring theme in the Trump-Pence administration. This is only one incident of public disagreement, but it feels like a notable one.