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Donald Trump’s VP pick Mike Pence is soft on Trump’s core issue: winning

Pence in 1991: In political campaigns, winning comes “very much last.”

Left: Gage Skidmore/Flickr Right: Scott J. Ferrell/CQ via Getty
Left: Gage Skidmore/Flickr Right: Scott J. Ferrell/CQ via Getty

Donald Trump is all about winning. He tells us all the time. Trump doesn’t worry about little things like politeness, personal attacks, or accuracy in campaigning. He is trying to win: for himself, and for America.

You would think he would pick a vice presidential nominee who shared his insatiable, decades-long thirst to win. But you would be wrong.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump's running mate, has been suspiciously soft on the crucial issue of winning. In fact, he once wrote it was "very much last" as a goal of a political campaign — and that it was not important enough to indulge in negative campaigning.

In 1991, after two consecutive failed runs for the House of Representatives, Pence wrote a short essay for the Indiana Policy Review called "Confessions of a Negative Campaigner." (The essay isn’t available online in its original form, but it was posted in full by journalist Craig Fehrman as a supplement to a profile Fehrman wrote about Pence in 2013.)

As you might expect from the title, the essay is a lament of a win-at-all-costs approach to winning political campaigns — and, specifically, a lament that negative and personal campaigning distract from the issues at play in the race.

"Yes, it was personally wrong for me to waste my moment and limited campaign dollars talking about how an opponent might or might not have financed a rural retreat," Pence writes. But in my party’s defeat, as unaddressed issue piled upon unaddressed issue, it seems more grievous that the faithful were left with so few clues as to how I would have governed differently."

To Mike Pence — or at least to Mike Pence circa 1991 — there are three core principles of a political campaign. The first is "to demonstrate the basic human decency of the candidate." ("That means your First Amendment rights end at the tip of your opponent’s nose," he adds, in an aside that might be a surprise to his reputed new boss.)

The second principle is the advancement of issues. The third principle is winning — and Pence says it is "very much last."

"A fellow member of the Failed Politician’s Club told me recently, ‘Our only mistake was that we thought that winning was the most important thing we could do,’" Pence writes.

"One day soon," he concludes, "the new candidates will step forward, faces as fresh as the morning and hearts as brave as the dawn. This breed will turn away from running ‘to win’ and toward running ‘to stand.’"

This is ... not exactly how it happened. Pence’s party did return to power in Congress (and Pence joined it in 2000), but not by eschewing negative campaigning and personal attacks.

Pence wasn’t always a forgiving, yielding, come-together sort himself, as this anecdote from Mike Grunwald shows:

But this is exactly how you would expect Pence to respond, given the principles laid out in his 1991 essay. They didn’t win — the stimulus passed. But they made their stance on the issues clear.

That’s a moral victory for Pence. But Donald Trump doesn’t believe in moral victories — the only victories he believes in are the literal ones. If Pence still believes winning is not the most important thing a politician can do, he might want to inform Trump of that.