Andrew Downs is Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been unconventional, but the naming of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as Trump’s vice presidential choice is quite conventional. Pence balances the ticket in almost every way.
What many people may notice first is how Trump’s and Pence’s personalities balance each other. Trump is unpredictable, forceful and, at times, impolite. Pence is predictable, some might say to a fault. Pence does not shy from a fight, but “forceful” is not a word that is used often to describe him. Pence is Midwestern polite.
Both of them have a knack for dealing with the media, but in different ways. Trump has honed his skills through decades of media exposure, as a business executive and as a reality television star. Trump is spontaneous and delivers an embarrassment of sound-bite riches. Pence has honed his skills as a talk radio show host, frequent guest on news and opinion shows, and as a speaker at political gatherings. Pence gets on message and stays there.
Trump and Pence see many issues the same way, but there are significant differences between them. Social issues and trade may be the biggest. These may appear to be obstacles to their collaborative efforts, and they are, but they also provide ways to appeal to the electorate more broadly. Whether you like protectionist trade policies or free-trade policies, the ticket has something for you. The danger is that voters who want a hard-line position will not be happy, but voters who understand that most legislative and executive action results from compromise will recognize that they have a seat at the table through Trump or Pence.
The differences between the two on issues also results in them being able to reach out to independents, moderates and, perhaps, estranged Democrats as well as to secure the Republican base. Trump enjoys support that many Republican candidates would not be able to obtain: self-identified moderates, independents and even some Democrats. Pence believes what he believes and possesses impeccable credentials among social conservatives and tea party members. He also has credibility among some pro-business voters. The result is that Pence should be able to secure the conservative part of the party if not the Republican base generally.
The role of money in campaigns today cannot be ignored. Trump certainly has personal wealth he can invest in the campaign. He also has contacts with people who can afford to be very generous. What he does not have is support from two of the most influential Republican supporters today, the Koch brothers. Here is another way Pence helps to balance the ticket. Pence has a personal connection to the brothers, and at least one former staffer has held a senior position in a Koch brothers-sponsored organization.
The résumés of Trump and Pence also balance each other. Not since Indiana-born Wendell Willkie has a major party nominated a presidential candidate with no significant electoral or military experience. Trump’s lack of electoral and military experience earns him the label of outsider. Being an outsider is part of the reason he appeals to many voters, but the political landscape is littered with people who were outsiders. Pence brings 12 years of experience in the United States House of Representatives, with time served in the leadership of the caucus and experience as an elected executive officer. Trump has done things differently and is likely to govern in unusual ways, but he will be more effective if he knows how the legislature operates. Pence has an insider’s perspective that few people have.
Adding Pence to the ticket has brought balance and benefits, but it comes with potential costs. Pence may stay on message, but he also can come across as uninteresting. The disagreements between Trump and Pence, and Pence’s commitment to his principles, may make it difficult for Pence to be a full-throated representative for Trump on the campaign trail. Finally, Trump will benefit from the insider perspective that Pence has, but they do not appear to share a common view of the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. Trump sounds like a candidate who wants to expand the power of the presidency. As governor, Pence has ceded some power back to the legislature that his predecessor had.
Indiana may be the home of vice presidents — five of them — but it has not been a swing state in decades. The Republican presidential candidate has won Indiana in 17 of the past 19 presidential elections. What Pence can do for Trump in Indiana is not the reason he is Trump’s running mate. It is what Pence can do for Trump just about everywhere else that matters.
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